AUP students enjoying an evening picnic at the Seine river.


Artful Magic: A Talk with Sylvia Brownrigg

Home>News & Events>

The 30th Edition of the Cahier Series – Invisible Countries

Sylvia Brownrigg

This semester the Center for Writers & Translators reached a milestone in its groundbreaking Cahiers Series with the publication of the 30th cahier, Sylvia Brownrigg’s Invisible Countries. On November 21st, Brownrigg came to AUP to talk with our community about Invisible Countries and what it meant to be the author of this landmark edition. Students, faculty and staff of AUP in attendance were treated to a short interview — conducted by Professor Dan Gunn, editor of the Cahiers Series — as well as a selective reading by Brownrigg from Invisible Countries before the evening wrapped up with a short Q & A session and author signing.

“Last year,” Brownrigg said, “I was staying at Dan’s place in Paris and was thinking about Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. These stories by Calvino are all about the travels of Marco Polo and, at their root, are all variations on Venice.”

It was this concept of Calvino’s that prompted Brownrigg to break from her usual realist writing and begin the series of surreal stories that would become Invisible Countries, her homage to the great Italian writer and her long-awaited contribution to the Cahiers Series.

“You know, I’ve been bugging Sylvia for a long time to do something for the Cahiers Series,” Gunn said.

In this collection, I wanted there to be a country from each continent. Though each of the countries are imaginary, they very much come from the seven continents. This gave me a shaping principle.

Sylvia Brownrigg Author of Cahier #30

Throughout the collection, a solo, unnamed woman traveler arrives to one “invisible” country after another, each country stranger and more enigmatic than the last, each full of dark secrets and possible terrors, coated with the all-too familiar, sometimes sterile, often intrusive, veneer of the modern consumer culture and security state. There is a mystery surrounding this unnamed woman. In some of the stories she has clearly suffered some kind loss while in other stories it is clear she’s living alone. “In fact,” Brownrigg said, “I don’t think she’s the same person at all. Or perhaps she’s the same person at different stages of her life, but we’ll never know.”

She and Gunn thought these stories — or fables, as Brownrigg prefers to think of them —  would be perfect for the 30th cahier as each story deals with dislocations, crossings and arrivals to strange locations — all of these topics familiar to our campus-wide population of global explorers.

As in every other cahier, an artist is paired with the writer. When Gunn asked what made Brownrigg think of the British artist Tacita Dean for this edition, Brownrigg said she has been familiar with Dean’s work for many years. Dean had made two films, both very nautical and melancholy in tone, Brownrigg said. From these films, she was inspired to write her short story: “Interview with a Dead Deceiver.”

“It was kind of what came to my mind after immersing myself in her images. My character was invented, but I could imagine this character in the settings of her films. So, it was really interesting to have an opportunity after so many years to work again with her work but the other way around. In Invisible Countries, Tacita uses found postcards and draws and sketches over the top of them to create her pieces. Her landscapes are so specific yet indistinct, I thought it would work well. I think there's always such care in the Cahiers Series in pairing the magic of a writer with an artist.”