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September 18, 2014



Port Franks

_______________________


Reception & Effusion: fragments on asemic objects, after Ponge
Kit Schluter

There is one activity can always engage in: the gaze-of-such-a-sort-that-it’s-spoken, the comment upon what surrounds him and upon his own state amidst what surrounds him. Right away, this lets him recognize the importance of each thing and its mute supplication, the instances when, in their silence, they make us speak them, according to their value, and in themselves,—outside of their habitual signifying value,—with no alternative, and yet measured. By what measure?: their very own.

      – Francis Ponge, “Les Façons du regard” [Ways of Seeing]i

I swear language is capable of getting in the way of my use of it.

Sometimes I can’t bear the effects of its having a mind of its own . . . !

*

To hold a pebble in your palm once is to understand how every pebble behaves,
how every pebble has ever behaved (since well before the flood,)
is to understand that a pebble wouldn’t move, or couldn’t move,—
that a pebble shouldn’t move,—
unless acted upon by an external force (to quote a phrase),
is to feel that a pebble has no force,
but has been brought by what it is not to where it has come to rest—
inertly.

*

Ponge: “It is sometimes the case that the stone itself holds signs of having been stirred. In its final stages, as pebble, gravel, sand, dust, it is no longer able to play its role as bearer or supporter of animate things.”ii

Is this what it means to be without will:
“inanimacy,”
moving only passively through the space on the side of things,
being moved, breaking down, until there is nothing left but pebble, gravel, sand, dust,
until there is not enough left of you to even house or support your suppressors, the ones who caused
you to stir, to disintegrate?

And does a stone continue to possess its body as it falls away to pebble, grave, sand, dust?

And is there even such thing as totality in geology, or has all that was once integral broken into discrete bodies? A sort of incomplete whole.

And to what whole, beyond the pebble itself, could the pebble belong?

_______________________




_______________________


Sky High, Skin Deep
dark technologies of mediation
Renata Lemos Morais

(....)

What I propose in this article is a theoretical approach to processes of mediation that are not visual. I address unattainable and invisible processes of technological mediation in which mediation itself becomes, parallel to the overabounding surrounding excess of visual percepts, a form of inaccessibility that in its totality becomes unfathomable. Such understanding of mediation goes against simplistic notions that reduce its meaning to "that which makes communication accessible."

Not every instance of mediation can be easily accessed in a world of pervasive media. Dark technologies of media, which range from drone-mediated to nano-mediated networks, lead to partial and absolute degrees of inaccessibility. Pervasive media produces two different realms of non-access: informational and physical. Parallel to the informational obscurancies of dark data and drone-mediated surveillance, weird tales are told about the physical inaccessibility that is a property of nano levels of mediated matter. Dark mediation belongs to science-fact just as it belongs to science fiction. It pertains, simultaneously, to the combined material ecologies of culture, technology, and nature. Pervading data systems and matter itself, our dark technologies of mediation are hidden in plain sight.

Dark mediation presupposes different degrees of inaccessibility. It is, therefore, mediation that leads to partial or absolute noncommunication. This inaccessibility can belong to the realm of disappearance, in which we find the forbidden, the hidden, the forgotten--or it can belong to the absolute, the ethereal, the ontological. The materiality of media technologies and their technological dust are not only causing a lack of breath -- they are also creating a curtain of fog that obfuscates mediation.

_______________________




_______________________


The Cahiers Series: Center for Writers & Translators, The American University of Paris
Sarah Gerard

Translation as visitation. Translating silence, or the inability to translate silence. A word that does not want to be translated. Translation as story. Attempting to translate grief. Translation as unanswered letter to the dead. Translation as discovery, biography, or history. Invisible translator. Translation with seams, as weave, as warp or weft, as continuity via femininity. Translation as architecture, music, painting, or poetry. Translation as inevitable failure. Translation of the body, of text into movement or gesture. Translation as transportation, transformation, reformation, performance, puppetry. A translation scrambles the syntax of daily life.

Translation as conversation. The twenty-three pamphlets in The Cahiers Series echo each other, recombining as cells into a larger body, as, “An instant / translation of / what was splitting / into cells / or wasn't” (from Idra Novey's Clarice: The Visitor, the most recent cahier). Or as Anne Carson in Nay Rather, #21, seems to be saying to Isabella Ducrot (Text on Textile, #6): “My white paint is your broken weft of Penelope.” The series makes a story that does not want to be linear, as if rearranged by Carson's random number generator in “By Chance the Cycladic People.” It asks: Does translation spring forth from an inalienable desire to retrace our many steps to the source, to before-language—to the story as it is so many stories before they become text—so as to rediscover, each of us, our own individual paths back to language?

BOMB 129, Fall 2014



September 15, 2014



_______________________


Draft 98: Canzone
Rachel Blau DuPlessis

(....)

Yet this part of the work remains closest to darkness.
The knowledge of yearning will not be complete.
There is no there; it’s all degrees of here.
Cannot touch them whom we are marked by.
But they are palpable and enter this place.
Be nomadic, nomad. Wander with the wanderers,
yet safe in the room. There is at once too much
and much too little. Wait it out.
“The bit of ugly, the glitch, the torn, the sweeper, the tender,
the constant reminder that things are being made, unmade
and tended”--you are now one part of all of this.
You will be it, help it, answer and feed that
surface of cries, chirps. You will call out.
Live in empathy. Let the agony be. Comfort it.

Reject the whole that someone claims is rule.
A hole, a line, a hold, a lie, a hope,
a hype will slide you through this most dangerous spot.
Resist only rectitudes, resist the crazed
and driven knowers. Find and replace.
Though the mechanism to depict this is
called documentary, still it needs the stinging
pulse of lines. This matches that.
All “ofness” exists
for much more Of.
The beyond moves to two places: here and there.
To achieve connection,
is there just one route of passage?
There is not.

_______________________


Pawel Kuczynski

_______________________


There Is Madness In This Method:
Commentary on a fragment from Deleuze and Guattari’s What Is Philosophy?
Terence Blake

(....)

It is often said that people are indifferent to the dreams of others, that only the dreamer finds the story he is recounting of any interest; I have always been perplexed, even shocked, by such received wisdom. I usually find people’s dreams very interesting, even the seemingly banal ones where nothing strange or untoward happens. I like Deleuze and Guattari’s association of dreams and philosophy, for I find dreams very philosophical, and Deleuze’s philosophy very oniric. I used to (30 years ago!) express this by saying that Deleuze’s philosophical style incarnates a constant “pulsation between the conscious and the unconscious”, but though I still agree with the thought I find the vocabulary too academically “recognizable”.

People are indifferent to others’ thoughts, just as they are indifferent to an other’s dreams. Until some danger crops up, and their attitude changes. If the danger is to them, they panic and run, or at least give a wide berth. If the danger is to the dreamer or the thinker, people may find an unhealthy interest in observing al that from afar. But it is not the recognizable, “obvious”, dangers that count, recognition is for the indifferent. The dangers, the risks, are in the experimentation, the doing of things outside correct thought that are tied to getting one thinking. If you are not on the lookout you will perceive nothing: “they often remain hidden and barely perceptible”. Hidden in plain sight, if you are willing to use the eyes of the mind.


via Synthetic_zero

_______________________


Pawel Kuczynski

_______________________


The scream of geometry
Andrzej Tichy
(modified excerpts)
Translation by Linda Rugg and Andrzej Tichy

(....)

These things are on your mind as you sleep: (1) a landscape (2) two bodies (that is: one animal and one human) (3) the car. The landscape includes the rain. The car includes the bottle. The human includes the eye and the hand. The animal includes the idea of mortality. The rain includes the soldier. The bottle includes the idea of Albania. The eye includes the mother. The hand includes the wall. The idea of mortality includes the witness. The soldier includes the father, the idea of Bulgaria the names, the mother the end, the wall the moment, the witness the shot, and the shot the shot.

[...]

Animals, landscapes. Direction, journey. One hundred soldiers shooting a Romanian policeman. A Macedonian. What is your image of this? You anticipate – but what? Which words are included? One hundred professional boxers shooting an Algerian news announcer. There are deserts, oceans, mountains, lowlands, savannas. Then there are evergreen forests, broadleaf forests, cultivated soil, tundra. Finally glaciers, prairies, pastureland, tropical rain forests, and taiga. Rank these. Animals, landscapes. One hundred Lebanese shooting a Belarusian maid. An infinite number of ways of not knowing. But the number of directions is infinite only from a mathematical perspective, in reality it is finite to such an extent that it spoils the whole journey.

_______________________


Pawel Kuczynski

_______________________


It’s the sea
refusing to be worn.
Any laugh is a laugh at structure
the audacity of it
to carry off
our share. Our brevity. Only a fool, or the inspired folk
would laugh at the sea,
listen to its silver-tongued absurdities.

All along,
stretched out
under your stone shoulder, holding sun up
one’s live long day.

            The smell of salt haunts
                  an answer—
a village with the
howls
mad howling, an answer for the gibber of waves:

castanets
of broken plates
cackling at the edge of town.

                        —Tamas Panitz

Eyeland
The Cuttyhunk Photographs of Charlotte Mandell
with texts by Lynn Behrendt, Billie Chernicoff,
Robert Kelly, and Tamas Panitz

Metambesen
exploring "the flanges of words"

As citizens in the commonwealth of language, we are anxious to make new work freely and easily available, using the swift herald of the internet to bring readers chapbooks and other texts they can read and download without cost. The first publication in this series is Eyeland, photos by Charlotte Mandell with texts by Lynn Behrendt, Billie Chernicoff, Robert Kelly, and Tamas Panitz.

In future weeks, we will make more texts available, including the long poem The Language of Eden by Robert Kelly.



September 12, 2014

Abandoned City
1904
Fernand Khnopff
b. September 12, 1858

_______________________


An Alchemical Journal (6)
Robert Kelly

(....)

It has been my intention to banish all learning from these pages. Only what I have stood under will serve our purposes, gentlemen. Say the blessing &, we will begin. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one being to sever the biological bonds that have held it to life & amber waves of grain. The purple mountain’s majesty (Yesod) above the fruited plain (Malkuth). Learn the colors. Defer invention. Isnt it just like a burnt-out painter to invent the telegraph. What hath man wrought indeed. I know so little of history I can almost breathe.

_______________________


Clear Sky
2011
Unseasonal
Stephanie Valentin

_______________________


mapping space in fiction:
joseph frank and the idea of spatial form
Aashish Kaul.

(....)

Joyce was among the first, if not the first, to upend, after the manner espoused by the Russian Formalists, the traditional hierarchy of form and content in the novelistic tradition. But unlike them, and perhaps unaware of them, Joyce here offers a more nuanced understanding of the creative process, which does not hasten to remove the artist entirely from his creation, but allows him to fade into it, becoming an invisible presence, behind or beyond or above his work though still very much there.

As Joseph Frank points out in his early study from 1945, Spatial Form in Modern Literature, Joyce, in Ulysses, works with the assumption that his readers are Dubliners, intimately acquainted with Dublin life and the personal history of his characters, thereby allowing him to refrain from giving any direct information about them; information that, contrary to his intentions, would have betrayed the presence of an omniscient author. What Joyce does, instead, is to present the elements of his narrative in fragments, as they are thrown out unexplained in the course of casual conversations, or as they lie embedded in the various strata of symbolic reference, allusions to Dublin life, history, and the external events of the twenty-four hours during which the novel takes place. The factual background, which otherwise is so conveniently summarized for the reader, must be reconstructed in this case from fragments, sometimes hundreds of pages apart, scattered through the book. As a result, Frank argues, the reader is forced to read Ulysses in the manner he reads modern poetry – continually fitting fragments together and keeping allusions in mind until, by reflexive reference, he can link them to their complements. Indeed Joyce himself, although his model was Aristotle, says as much of Ulysses in a letter to Ezra Pound of 9 April 1917: ‘I am doing it, as Aristotle would say – by different means in different parts.’

Taking his cue from Sergei Eisenstein, Frank observes that the juxtaposition of disparate images in a cinematic montage automatically creates a synthesis of meaning between them, which supersedes any sense of temporal discontinuity. This is equally true for the poetry of Mallarmé, Pound, and Eliot, as it is of the modernist novels of Faulkner, Woolf, and Dos Passos. Frank extends this thesis from Joyce and Proust to Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, but the same may well be said about a disparate list of works from Nabokov to John Hawkes, Julio Cortázar to Italo Calvino. Indeed the study of spatial form in narrative is ever more relevant today than any time in the past.

_______________________


Water Cycle 2 (undercurrent)
2011
Unseasonal
Stephanie Valentin

via junk for code

_______________________


Reading Violette Leduc’s La Bâtarde
Deborah Levy

“At the age of five, of six, at the age of seven, I used to begin weeping sometimes without warning, simply for the sake of weeping, my eyes open wide to the sun, to the flowers. . . . I wanted to feel an immense grief inside me and it came.”

La Bâtarde (1964) is a harsh title for an autobiography that is full of animals and children and plants and food and weather and girls falling in love with girls. It’s true that Violette Leduc was the illegitimate daughter of a domestic servant who was seduced by theconsumptive son of her employer, but to choose such a melodramatic and reductive title, “The Bastard,” tells us how hard it was for Leduc to escape from the way her mother described her, and in that description gave her daughter an internal crucifix on which to nail her life’s story.

It’s not surprising, then, that the furnace at the center of Leduc’s autobiography, and indeed all her writing, is stoked by her ambivalent steely-eyed mother, of whom she writes, “You live in me as I lived in you.” Yet if the young Violette’s tears spill from eyes that are open to the sun, the older Violette’s words spill from the same place too. She is not blinded by her tears, nor are her eyes shut to the pleasures of being alive. Which is to say Leduc was a writer very much in the world despite the distress she suffered all her life. What’s more, she was a writer who was going to give maximum attention to the cause of her distress and create the kind of visceral language that often irritates men and makes women nervous.

Foreword to Violette Leduc’s La Bâtarde
Simone de Beauvoir
(....)

“I am a desert talking to myself,” Violette Leduc wrote to me once. I have encountered beauties beyond reckoning in deserts. And whoever speaks to us from the depths of his loneliness speaks to us of ourselves. Even the most worldly or the most active man alive has his dense thickets where no one ventures, not even himself, but which are there: the darkness of childhood, the failures, the self-denials, the sudden distress at a cloud on the sky. To catch sight suddenly of a landscape or a human being as they exist when we are absent: it is an impossible dream which we have all cherished. If we read La bâtarde it becomes real, or nearly so. A woman is descending into the most secret part of herself and telling us about all she finds there with an unflinching sincerity, as though there were no one listening.

“My case is not unique,” says Violette Leduc at the beginning of this narrative. No; but it is singular and significant. It demonstrates with exceptional clarity that a life is the reworking of a destiny by freedom.

On Violette Leduc: Interviewing Sophie Lewis
(....)

... my work on Leduc was very slow. I felt that I needed to make decisions about tense, about tone, about degree of disclosure for almost every sentence. There seemed to me to be an oscillation between an almost forensic, dispassionate detailing of thought and feeling, and a lyricism that aimed to paint feeling more passionately—yet Leduc would never intentionally sacrifice clarity or exactness. So I somehow had to marry the two impulses all the way. It was tough work.

(....)

I’m wary of translations that are guided more by the translator’s personal approach than by their feel for the text. I do occasionally turn down books for which I don’t think I have much sympathy—that’s a principle. I don’t have the flexibility (yet?) or the command of English or simply the ear to translate anything and everything. I’m much surer with some voices than with others. I think translators should have a commitment of sympathy to the texts they work on and be open about this. Of course I’m ready to work hard to capture and recreate a new or challenging voice. But there’s no gain in working against one’s personal linguistic grain.

_______________________


The Day Comes to an End
Fernand Khnopff
1891

_______________________


The Death of Adulthood in American Culture
A. O. Scott

Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn’t only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It’s that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?
_______________________


An Investigation Into the Reappearance of Walter Benjamin
Adam Leith Gollner

History tells us that the influential German literary critic died more than seventy years ago. So how is it then that Benjamin is now out doing lectures and has published a new book?
_______________________


So much of therapy – and I use that term precisely – is about making other people comfortable and society feel safe. Analysis differs in that it suspects that accommodation is the problem the analysand suffers from.

  -  larval subjects


September 11, 2014

Carel Weight
b. September 10, 1908

_______________________


Four Poems
Alan Gilbert
Dumb Luck

(....)

We’ve come so far, and yet we’ve barely left
the porch. Still, there are children involved,
and monsters to defeat, some of which are inside me.
Luckily, they’re susceptible to spells resting
our shrunken heads on a mushroom blooming
everywhere else amid the knife play banned
along with opposable thumbs. Each new era
gets shorter and shorter. Soon they won’t
bother to call our names, as every desire
exceeds its object, even in the dark,
and I’m a machine of consequence, such as
Operation Empty Candy Wrappers is in full effect.
Right here, right now. There is no other place
I want to be. Unless we’re talking about a medevac.
Or maybe just more meds and a refrain
that goes hurt, hurt, hurt I took on tour with me
to sell T-shirts along with a round of hangman,
because when a hum tickles between the teeth,
a poem is close to being finished.


Allegories of Art, Politics, and Poetry
Alan Gilbert
(....)

In a world where a fundamental strategy of ruling ideologies is to make themselves appear natural, the absurd can be its own form of critique. “Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things,” Walter Benjamin writes in The Origin of German Tragic Drama.6 Allegories need time to unfold, but all time is scented with death—to use a description in the spirit of Benjamin’s analysis of the German baroque. The danger with allegory is that it so easily turns into myth when lifted out of time and history. Hence Benjamin’s desire to keep allegory directed toward death and ruins.


more poems by Alan Gilbert 1 2 3

Alan Gilbert in the Boston Review

_______________________


Waiting
Carel Weight

_______________________


poems by Romanian poet Andra Rotaru
translated by Florin Bican
The Voice

(....)

today I’ll pretend:
every touch is voluntarily guided. we’re leaving behind
the abandoned territories
I cannot walk
straight. we are getting into each other’s way,
you laugh and your jaws then lock back.
we’re seemingly serene, I’ve got to walk straight:
you can walk.

each of our inclinations,
the most crooked and cleanest of them,
the wide-open mouth of a child
twisted by atrocious language.

_______________________


The Silence
Carel Weight
1965

_______________________


The Naysayers
Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture.
Alex Ross

(....)

The Internet threatens final confirmation of Adorno and Horkheimer’s dictum that the culture industry allows the “freedom to choose what is always the same.” Champions of online life promised a utopia of infinite availability: a “long tail” of perpetually in-stock products would revive interest in non-mainstream culture. One need not have read Astra Taylor and other critics to sense that this utopia has been slow in arriving. Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon—presiding over unprecedented monopolies. Internet discourse has become tighter, more coercive. Search engines guide you away from peculiar words. (“Did you mean . . . ?”) Headlines have an authoritarian bark (“This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind”). “Most Read” lists at the top of Web sites imply that you should read the same stories everyone else is reading. Technology conspires with populism to create an ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes.

This, at least, is the drastic view. Benjamin’s heirs have suggested how messages of dissent can emanate from the heart of the culture industry, particularly in giving voice to oppressed or marginalized groups. Any narrative of cultural regression must confront evidence of social advance: the position of Jews, women, gay men, and people of color is a great deal more secure in today’s neo-liberal democracies than it was in the old bourgeois Europe. (The Frankfurt School’s indifference to race and gender is a conspicuous flaw.) The late Jamaican-born British scholar Stuart Hall, a pioneer of cultural studies, presented a double-sided picture of youth pop, defining it, in an essay co-written with Paddy Whannel, as a “contradictory mixture of the authentic and the manufactured.” In the same vein, the NPR pop critic Ann Powers wrote last month about listening to Nico & Vinz’s slickly soulful hit “Am I Wrong” in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and catching the song’s undercurrents of unease. “Pop is all about commodification: the soft center of what adapts,” Powers writes. “But sometimes, when history collides with it, a simple song gains dimension.”

(....)

There is no telling how Adorno and Benjamin might have negotiated such contemporary labyrinths. Perhaps, on a peaceful day, they would have accepted the compromise devised by Fredric Jameson, who has written that the “cultural evolution of late capitalism” can be understood “dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together.”

These implacable voices should stay active in our minds. Their dialectic of doubt prods us to pursue connections between what troubles us and what distracts us, to see the riven world behind the seamless screen. “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism”: Benjamin’s great formula, as forceful as a Klieg light, should be fixed as steadily on pop culture, the ritual apparatus of American capitalism, as it has been on the art works of the European bourgeoisie. Adorno asked for only so much. Above all, these figures present a model for thinking differently, and not in the glib sense touted by Steve Jobs. As the homogenization of culture proceeds apace, as the technology of surveillance hovers at the borders of our brains, such spaces are becoming rarer and more confined. I am haunted by a sentence from Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves”: “One cannot live outside the machine for more perhaps than half an hour.”

_______________________


Carel Weight

_______________________


e-flux journal issue 57: The End of the End of History, Issue Two

with Arseny Zhilyaev, Jonas Staal, Hassan Khan, Miran Mohar, Sotirios Bahtsetzis, Eduardo Cachucho, Bilal Khbeiz, Suzana Milevska, Keti Chukhrov, Knut Åsdam, Edit András, and Ilya Budraitski

Hope in a Hopeless Situation
Ilya Budraitskis
translated from the Russian by Thomas Campbell
Why is there no antiwar movement in Russia? Why are so few people willing to take to the streets to publicly accuse the government of furthering the war in Eastern Ukraine? People who supported the March 15 peace march in downtown Moscow still pose these questions to each other. Their numbers are constantly shrinking, but the point is that even those people who still support the spirit of protest no longer have any confidence that protest can change anything.

If the new war (or prewar) footing into which Russian society is sinking deeper has a point of consensus that unites different social and cultural strata, it is the smothering, eerie awareness of society’s total powerlessness in the face of interstate conflict. The flood of news has overwhelmed the already fragile system of coordinates used by individual citizens. Their psyches cannot withstand the strain, surrendering to the unknowable, opaque logic of events, a logic seemingly less and less amenable to anyone’s specific will. “It is not the mind that controls the war, but the war that controls the mind,” wrote Leon Trotsky about a war whose start one hundred years ago has been somewhat timidly commemorated this summer.



September 09, 2014

Léon De Smet
d. September 9, 1966

_______________________


Passion for Solitude
Cesare Pavese
Born: September 9, 1908 Translated by Geoffrey Brock

(....)

All things become islands before my senses,
which accept them as a matter of course: a murmur of silence.
All things in this darkness—I can know all of them,
just as I know that blood flows in my veins.
The plain is a great flowing of water through plants,
a supper of all things. Each plant, and each stone,
lives motionlessly. I hear my food feeding my veins
with each living thing that this plain provides.

The night doesn’t matter. The square patch of sky
whispers all the loud noises to me, and a small star
struggles in emptiness, far from all foods,
from all houses, alien. It isn’t enough for itself,
it needs too many companions. Here in the dark, alone,
my body is calm, it feels it’s in charge.

_______________________




_______________________


peripateticism in robert walser
Shawn Huelle

To walk, we have to lean forward, lose our balance, and begin to fall. We let go constantly of the previous stability, falling all the time, trusting that we will find a succession of new stabilities with each step.

— Robyn Skynner
Robert Walser’s work is defined by the action of walking. A walk is an attempt to remain upright while continually moving forward. So is an essay. This essay proposes to take two large steps (made up of many smaller steps). It will attempt to define the concepts behind walking in Walser’s work, and then show the where and how of those concepts in several examples of Walser’s writing. It will attempt to remain upright. It will attempt to move forward. It may stride. It may tiptoe. It may circle back or zig-zag. It may even lose its balance. It will attempt to catch itself.

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Walking, among other things, is also an act of self-effacement: while out on a walk, one begins to lose oneself in one’s surroundings. Walter Benjamin notices this in Walser’s writing: “Everything seems lost; a surge of words gushes forth in which each sentence only has the task of obliterating the previous one” (emphasis added).

This self-effacement is related to Walser’s ideas of servility and becoming zero. Instead of losing oneself in one’s surroundings on that walk, one realizes one’s smallness in comparison. In his essay “Unrelenting Style,” Martin Walser (no relation) not only describes how this realization works, but also that it becomes part of Robert Walser’s writing practice: “Instead of letting go, a person has oppressed himself a little. And lo and behold, he has a much clearer sense of himself as his own oppressor. . . . this becomes method.” Elias Canetti understands this servility (for what is servility if not self-oppression?) in terms of the fear evinced above by Kudszus: “His work is an unflagging attempt at hushing his fear. He escapes everywhere before too much fear gathers in him (his wandering life), and, to save himself, he often changes into something subservient and small.”

Another aspect of this smallness is Walser’s use of bricolage. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word bricolage as being rooted in the French word bricoler, which means “to do small chores” (emphasis added). Bricoler, in turn, has a Middle French sense of “to go to and fro.” The word bricolage itself means “construction or . . . creation from a diverse range of materials or sources,” and carries the connotation of “use of what is at hand.” Peripatetic literature is by necessity bricolage in that it is always appropriating what the eye sees next. Peter Bichsel has the following to say about Walser as bricoleur and walker: “He takes whatever he happens to need at the moment”; “[h]e doesn’t invent walking, it’s quite simply what’s nearest at hand—when he wants to describe himself he has to describe a walker.” And in a much quoted, but never fully translated prose piece, “Eine Art Erzählung,” Walser has this to say about himself: “If I am well-disposed, that’s to say, feeling good, I tailor, cobble, weld, plane, knock, hammer, or nail together lines.”

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Léon De Smet

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Poems by Cesare Pavese
Translated by Richard Jackson
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The Boy That Was In Me

I want to know why the grave of evening settled in the meadow.
Perhaps it was because I collapsed, exhausted from sunstroke,
Pretending to be some wounded Indian. In those days the boy
Tried to escape loneliness by seeking models for ancestors,
And drew his imagined painted arrows and shook his lance.
The evening sky itself was colored with war paint.
Every day the air was so fresh, and the aroma indeed was
So plush, so deep, from sprays of flowers that were also
Reddish gray, and then suddenly the clouds and sky
Caught fire among the early stars. The boy turned
To the village feeling he should preserve it by celebrating it.
But the sunset dulled his senses. It seemed best to squint
So he could enjoy and embrace what he saw. As if immersed in water.



Translation, Adaptation and Transformation: The Poet as Translator

Why translate? Kenneth Rexroth, one of the most influential translators, writes in his essay, “The Poet as Translator,”– “The writer who can project himself into exultation of another learns more than the craft of words. He learns the stuff of poetry.” Translation is at the heart of poetry– a poet like Rilke writes in his “Ninth Elegy” that when the poet
returns from the mountain slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window–
at most: column, tower….But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.
Rilke’s notion that words only metaphorically stand for ideas, sensations and feelings suggests that they are themselves a form of translation. Of course, this could lead us quickly into a maze of problems and suggest that even a poem in our own language must be “translated.” What is at issue in translating poetry is the very nature of poetry, and the very nature of language. The main problems and debates that arise concerning the translation of poetic works occur when one realizes to what extent the essence of a poem lies, as Rilke and Rexroth suggest, beyond the words per se.

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My personal history of ideas by poet-translators on their art is a far ranging one that extends from the Romans like Catullus who saw it as a “combat” with the original, to poets like Petrarch and Samuel Johnson who judged a version by its effect in the so called “target language,” to Robert Lowell’s and Alexander Pope’s loose “imitations.” I know that some of these practices would startle if not horrify most of my language teachers. Yet even a respected academic like Wilhelm Humbolt, in his introduction to his translation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, says: “the more a translation strives toward fidelity, the more it ultimately deviates from the original, for in attempting to imitate refined nuances and avoid simple generalities it can, in fact, only provide new and different nuances.” This is perhaps why a poet like Jane Hirshfield, also a translator from Japanese, writes: “Translation’s very existence challenges our understanding of what a literary text is.” I think what has intrigued me about the various possibilities of various kinds of translation is precisely that challenge; it offers a way to understand my native language better, to pay more conscious attention to kinds of detail that I approach on a more subconscious level in writing my own poems, and to appreciate some relationships between my own poems and those of poets in another language with whom I have found a kindred spirit.

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