Sophie Lewis is a literary editor and translator from French and Portuguese into English. She has translated Stendhal, Verne, Marcel Ayme, Violette Leduc, Emmanuelle Pagano, Colette Fellous, Leila Slimani, Sheyla Smanioto and Joao Gilberto Noll, among others. In 2018 her translation of Noemi Lefebvre's Blue Self-Portrait was shortlisted for the Scott Moncrieff and Republic of Consciousness prizes.
In this new novel by the acclaimed author of Blue Self-Portrait, a poet-narrator existing on a diet of cannabis, bananas and books on oppression under the Third Reich muddles through a national state of emergency. Their ten lessons to today's young poets form a blistering treatise on survival skills for the wilfully idle.I was trying not to think about looking for work, which is immoral, I wasn't hoping to earn a living, which is pretty unusual, I couldn't have cared less about the cash, which is reckless in these times of very grave threats, but I was scraping a living already, which was repugnant, on the miniscule royalties from a thickwit novel, which is scandalous, which I'd created from the stories of a brilliant and brittle grand dame of theatre, survivor of a romance full of stereotypes, which makes you think though I don't know what about.' Sparring with the spectre of an over-bearing father, torn between the push to find a job and the pull to write, the narrator wanders into a larger debate, one in which the troubling lights of Kafka, Kraus, and Klemperer shine bright. Set against the backdrop of police brutality and rising nationalism that marked the state of emergency following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Poetics of Work takes a jab at the values of late capitalism. Hence these ten 'lessons to today's young poets' - a blistering treatise of survival skills for the wilfully idle
‘Poetics of Work by Noemi Lefebvre, translated by Sophie Lewis, is set against the backdrop of terrorist attacks and rising nationalism in France. It takes the form of exploratory reflections on philosophy, poetry, language and work, interspersed with conversations with the narrator’s Socratic “superego” father. The narrator finds relevant insights in Kafka, Kraus and Klemperer, only to slam against the brick wall of her father’s gruff, everyman logic. It’s a neatly-made point: perhaps civilisation, with all its nuance and complexity, is too easily out-muscled by simpler arguments, even wrong ones. The book’s propositions are refreshingly low-tech. We are spared facile arguments about the role of the internet in all this, in favour of considering the deeper roots of societal darkness and its palpability in real life.’ - Ronan Hession, Irish Times; 'A smart, timely, and novel manifesto for poetics in the age of personal and political patriarchy.' -Joanna Walsh, author of Break.up; 'This experimental novel is partly a tongue-in-cheek manifesto for poets and partly a Socratic dialogue with a superego called Papa, who thinks poetry is pointless. An unnamed, genderless narrator wanders around Lyon, smoking joints and questioning society's ideas of usefulness. ... They read obsessively about the Third Reich and see echoes in the xenophobic tenor of contemporary France, hinting that capitalism and fascism share a disregard for anything considered unproductive.' - New Yorker; 'Lefebvre's shiftless narrator searches for the place of poetry in a world gone mad, where the "culture sector is a graveyard for the soul's repose." ... an interior monologue filled with sharp observations, hysterical asides, and a sincere search for personal truth. Lefebvre succeeds in mapping out an unquiet mind in the midst of crisis.' - Publishers Weekly; 'Noemi Lefebvre refines a form of vital poetic resistance that ultimately liberates a strange and subversive political animal, half orang and half utan. At once lyrical and feverish, Poetics of Work will do you a power of good.' -Le Monde des livres; 'Lefebvre writes like a hiker who enjoys nothing more than staying where they are, following dead ends or winding, risky paths.' - Les Inrockuptibles; 'Lefebvre stands up to the language of capitalism. She invents her own to elude the law of market forces, which exists in the name of the father. In doing so, she insinuates herself between the lines of the dominant discourse, swimming against the tide of prevailing neoliberalism and its categorical imperatives.' - L'Humanite