Archive for July, 2020

Sur(rendering), by Mario Martin Gijon. Published by Shearsman Books, 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Terence Dooley.
ISBN 978 1 84861 704 9.

Every writer will know the difficulties of their craft, finding the right word, the one with the nuances, cadences, sound, and syntactical relatedness to the whole.
How do you express many variations of an experience in, say, one word? 
The Spanish poet Mario Martin Gijon, in this new dual-language book, Sur(rendering) (originally published in Spanish in 2013), gives an example:

compusimos 

And so, how does a translator then convey just what the writer means? Translation theory attempts the conclusion that there can only ever be a rendering of the work, if you like, a work based on the original. Look at that ‘rendering’ word, with its breakdown into rend, render….

Terence Dooley, renders the Spanish term ‘compusimos’, with its roots similar to English ‘compose’, as in write, as

(w)ri(gh)ting

And so, look at that term, with its wright, write, and also the contextual sense of right-ness of two people together. And that is the ‘write’ of the author’s presence in the work.

The whole poem in Spanish is seven short lines, and this degree of concentration/consideration could only work in short pieces:

Contra viento y marea (recuerdo comun)

siempre unidos

di

   vertidos

del mun

                do

                     loor

compusimos

The translation:
into the wind, against the tide (shared memory)

always one

two

a(muse)d

in(fuse)d

in the hurt

            earth

             we t(w/o)o

(p)raise

            (w)ri(gh)ting

The book, Sur(rendering), consists of four sections of such concentrated poems that respond to the breakdown, loss, rediscovery, celebration and re-establishment of a relationship. The form and meaning-concentration portray the switch-back emotions, momentary doubts, self-doubts, feelings of unworthiness, of regressive anger, in a phrase the whole gamut of the whirlwind emotions that can occur in such an experience.
The form and meaning are one.
This is the aim, and rare success, of poetry to attain this level of reciprocity.

padecir la espera is rendered as hearing the w(a/e)i(gh)t, and it is surprising how the mind tunes into the usages, reads their equivocations and shuttling meanings. They do not encumber but enhance.
Another short poem: five lines –

enardecerme
para enardecirte
en al ard(ol)or
que me (re)ce
tu aus(es)encia

is Englished as:

(h)ard(ou/e)r
to (ki/ca)ndle
in you the cand(i/e)d
fire fanned
by your incandescent
(ab/es)sence

We get a sense of the music of the piece in the Spanish original, the careful rhythm, the silence and space in and around the piece that is full to brimming with potential expression.

So, how does this use of words differ from, say, punning on a word? There is a more elaborate system in use, for one. For two, the intent in use of words yoking together/bringing forward meanings, has far greater semantic range.

The last section poems incorporate lines, phrases from the poems of Paul Celan, in the original German. The translator has kept that, but added A short note on quotes at the end of the book, citing sources.
I had first thought he had used these refererals to Paul Celan because of that author’s technique and skill in ‘coining’ (Terence Dooley’s phrase) new words. In Paul Celan’s case he was purportedly making a usable German language, that is, remaking an oppressor’s and destroyer’s vocabulary into one laden with conscience and responsibility.

One excerpt is from Paul Celan’s early poem Corona, translated as ‘It is time’; it is used because it illustrates his referral-use, though. Corona is from the period of Paul Celan’s full relationship with Ingeborg Bachmann, and the line comes at the end of the poem, that is, the defining emotive stance that the development of Corona achieves: a statement of readiness, stating the need for grounded fulfillment i.e. commitment.
It is apposite and entirely appropriate to the usage by Mario Martin Gijon.

Recent translations by Terence Dooley:
10 Contemporary Spanish Women Poets, translated by Terence Dooley, Shearsman

German writer, poet, Elke Erb won the Büchner prize for literature in May.
This is a prestigious German writer’s prize, and a prestigious literature prize overall.

She has lived most of her life in East Germany, managing a living working on translations from e.g. Russian and Soviet writers in German.

What first grabs me about her poetry is the pared-down and essentialness of the writing. She address that most fundamental question in writing, that of how to address the voice, to whom do we write, and how is that voice pitched. These considerations determine the range and type of imagery appropriate to the the poem, as well as the psychological impact and invitation of the poem.

Take, for instance, Incomprehensible (1)

‘Between the gas stove and the table the thought

a lonely donkey at the edges of a field
a distant – Bulgaria! – memory
Apparently lonely donkey –

Between the gas stove and the table the thought
that we die
– …………..’

(Translation by Rosemarie Waldrop, for Poetry International.)
Many of Elke’s poems are available at:

https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/22585/Elke-Erb/en/tile

This poem excerpt gives so much:
the basic setting, and the ranging memory;
the simple, single-person address, and the fundamental realisation of all our personal dying.

The donkey did belong to someone, we find. It was a working donkey. Here we get the impact of contrasts between the industrial, modern, urban, world, and the seemingly unmechanised world of the east European life-experience.

This in itself is an illusion that we collude in: our lives, no matter where or how we live: East, West, are propped up on these building blocks of how we are seen and read by others; how our lives depend on others, whether machines or animals; how our whole economic and industrial systems are formed from our bodies and minds in space, in place, and in ordered functions.

We can read here how the simple domestic setting and activity can also release the mind, the memory, the creative faculties. This is something that has bubbled away in the back of my head for quite some time. It was while washing up the breakfast dishes I found time to think through the implications of these five and a half lines.

Karen Margolis, who I would like to address as my friend, posted the news of Elke Erb.
https://karenmargolis.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/welcome-to-my-21st-century-sweatshop-latest/

Karen’s own poem to Elke calls to many lines from Elke’s works.

In Elke’s writing another technique she uses is that of repetition. A recursive process is in motion. We could read this as how the mind wanders, and is repeatedly brought back, or grounds itself again and again in what is unclear, not understood, ‘Incomprehensible’.
Recursive loops are also part of neuro-phenomenology: how the body and sensory import of the world weave a sense of self in the world.
Is this part of Elke’s references? we cannot dismiss or rule-out it out, but look for signs elsewhere in her work.

‘the mind fell silent
self-love at an end’

she ends her poem …Where After the Town

Neuro-phenomenology, existentialism, and post-Marxism – awareness and immediacy, the self in the world.
Her writing continually seizes on the concrete, the hard world and its shadows. There is almost objective-correlative at work here, but the distance between T S Eliot’s concept, and the 21st century experience, is too great, too difficult to get a clear signal, if there really was one.

In Theme, she writes

‘potter round: then you become things. Their prey.
Take care or your eye
as you potter will pop.

The light of your eye: a lantern. Outside.
Good for the night. And passenger traffic.

………………………………..’

I find this constant switching of register: the private thought-voice, the public and outward brought in, quite invigorating.
It requires a quick ear, an attentive ear.

I am all ears.

Malina, by Ingeborg Bachmann. Published by Penguin Modern Classics, 2019.
ISBN 978 0 241 36624 0.

The novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, is considered by many to be a seminal work in the oeuvre of Austrian writer, Ingeborg Bachmann.
She is mostly now known for three volumes of post-War poetry. She has also written radio works, essays, short stories, two operas, a ballet. She was also very close to Paul Celan, and associated with major German post-War writers.

The novel is part one of a projected three-part trilogy, temporarily entitled Ways of Dying. The other two parts were incomplete on her death, but have since been published from notebooks and papers.

Oh yes, she is also known for her death. 
Since 1951 she had mostly listed her residence as Rome. It was here in 1973 that she died, alone, due to an apartment fire. The official cause was given as being due to smoking in bed. 
Readers atuned to her works have long wondered about that given cause.

Malina is not a comfortable read.
It is a novel in three sections – well four, if we accept the Cast prefix. They are:
Happy with Ivan; The Third Man; Last Things.

It is uncomfortable because as the book opens we meet the narrator, who incidentally shares many attributes with the author, in a period of withdrawal, leading to crisis. She refuses all invitations out to address talks, ceremonies, awards. Even the letters she dictates or attempts to write herself are unravellings rather than explanations.

Is the narrator happy with Ivan? It is a toxic relationship, and yet she is fixated on him; her every action and thought is centred on him. And yet he abuses her verbally, is dismissive of her personality, abilities. And she seems quite accepting of this, and dotes on this.
This is a deep exploration of toxic relations.

And it gets worse in Section Two, The Third Man. Here, Malina the character, is cool, objective, says little. The whole section is a deep exploration of the character’s relationship with her father. It is given in a wide and varied series of abusive vignettes. The narrator approaches the term ‘Incest’ early on. Yes, she writes, There was incest
And there was also the game of jealousy, of gaming for affection, playing off each other. With Ivan. With Malina. With the sister Melanie, whose father flaunts as his new source of affection. And there are the violent outbursts, breaking furniture, throwing of household objects to hurt by the act, rather than contact.
And yet, as the section works through its nightmare scenarios, we see the narrator gain self mobility again, the strength to fight back. To leave.

But what of Malina?
Published in 1971, we see here the period’s reliance on therapy as cure-all, the psychiatrist as psychopomp walking the therapee through traumas.
Malina has that about him: cool, rational, reasonable; not dismissive but gently easing the narrator back to the centre of the problems. Walking through the battlefields together.

Ivan, in turn, in retrospect, comes to assume something of the mantle of the abusive father: that relationship being played out again. And the narrator is the willing, indeed, even eager, participant.

Did Ivan want that? Did he fall into a toxic hole? Was he also incapable of climbing out? We do not know.
Was it, possibly, a post-war psychic turmoil that wrapped them all in its coils? Was this the fall-out , the further play-out, of the War?

Or is that serpent with all in its coils the Nazism of past experience, or Western post-War capitalism, or, further, patriarchy itself?

There are no discernible big Politics in the novel. The father-figure as authoritarian, and, by extension, as leader, is written out clearly.
And Ivan, the name? The character is married, with children. He is Hungarian. Is he suggestive of Soviet-model authoritarianism? 
As the novel was being written Leonid Brezhnev was Soviet leader. The Hungarian Uprising had been bloodily crushed (as had the Prague Spring).

This Soviet period is what is now known as the Era of Stagnation.

How does this help? Other than as re-emphasising the intial A in authoritarianism?
The Cold War was dropping down further degrees on the thermometer, and any youthful hopes of a glorious turn to the red – in Germany in particular – were becoming ossified. After 1968’s disintegration of hopes and revolutionary fervour, all was played out.
Later, of course, the extreme groups emerged out of the frustrated hopes: The Red Brigade etc.

A static situation, under authoritarian power; loss of hopes of change; and the unresolved foment of psychic horrors from the war. Ingeborg Bachmann’s own father had been an early and willing Nazi Party member.

Why is the second section called ‘The Third Man’? Is there a connection with the Carol Reed film of 1949?
Both book and film are set in Vienna. Ok.
Both have one of the central characters – Harry Lime, The Father – as betrayers, morally repugnant, and who degrade all who they come into contact. And yet, they also have devoted friends/relations who seek them out. The outcome, in each case, is disillusion and broken relationships.

It may be that the setting of Vienna has a meaning I cannot as yet ascertain. The narrator is insistent on this setting; Ungargasse in particular acquires an importance. It maybe the importance of groundedness, that is, of a specific that she clings to for safety, security.

There are two forms of conversation exchanges in the book. One consists of fulsome and developed sentences, and is the ME:, (other): form. The other form is of truncated conversations, fragmented and half said things the reader must fill out.
In light of Ingeborg Bachmann’s great interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works, I was wondering whether this latter form was an approach to the ‘private language’ that Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested was an impossibility.

If a language was private to oneself, then communication would be impossible. In the novel we see innumerable attempts to communicate inner turmoil, to move from private language/world experiences, to common speech communication with others. Ivan’s responses tend to be evasive, colluding. Malina remains objective, he companions the narrator through her difficulties, but does not judge, control, nor direct her.

Is he the ideal therapist, or philospher? For Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher must become a therapist in order to untangle the knots of reasoning that hamper philosophical discourse.
The Ungargasse in Vienna is in part very close to the Wittgenstein family home, between Parkgasse and Kundmanngasse, on the Geusaugasse corner.

The book opens with letters that cannot be written, and ends, in Last Things, with a postman who cannot deliver letters. He stores them up, unread, unopened. Communication, with one self, and with others, as social glue, as life-saving, is paramount here.
The book opens with the narrator fully taken up with Ivan, and by Last Things has turned against men altogether, finding their limited range of romantic and sexual responses ridiculous, a symptom of men’s ‘sickness’. She admits an interest in men, oh yes, and cites examples, but in the telling it becomes a matter of observation, as of another species.

We find in her telling of post-War Vienna Sigmund Freud’s case-studies incorporated into the text; we find direct reference to Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Is there Robert Musil here as well? Does the desultory interest in chess reference Stefan Zweig’s short story? Interestingly Stefan Zweig’s Post Office Girl novel’s title has a different meaning in the German: The Intoxication of Transformation. Is this intoxication what we find played out in Last Things?
Does the change in the narrator, then, play with bildungsroman formats?
It is also possible that the general tone of the book, of enervated and denigrating references the works of Thomas Bernhard.

The narrator’s character has developed in Last Things, she is more outward-looking, out-going, extrovert, even. And so has that of Malina; he is no longer the objective, cool character, but rather limited in response, outlook.
At one point in this last section the narrator makes some rather strong comments.
Ooo-kay.
So she’s provoking, challenging, confronting. But to what purpose?
This is part of the piece where she takes on Freudian case-study.
Shortly after this section Malina slapped her face. Was she furious? No. Was she distressed? No. Was he? No.
Both carried on as normal – she looked for a suitable blusher to hide the marks so she could go to a meeting; he suggested a shade.

The toxic-relationship is still being played out, on another level.

Does Ivan appreciate how difficult to is for a woman to have integrity, autonomy? Does Malina? Each time the answer is No.
How can a woman exist as a whole person in that world? The narrator approaches the dilemma of the options available: to be a ‘part-ner’, or to try to be a whole person. There seems little to possibility of the two being one.

The crack in the plaster – is it an indication of demise/complete collapse? Or a way out of an enclosed space?

*

One other thing struck me – the father-vignettes in Section Two of Malina remind me of the extensive father-vignettes that make up a huge section of Hungarian writer, Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies, published in 2000. Here the novel fictionally negotiates the true-life Esterhazy patriarchal family line. In particular, and colouring the vignettes, is the discovery of the author’s own father’s role as secret police agent: betrayer and smiling State accomplice. Or entrapped, caught in the coils of State security machinations?

Why do I find the book so difficult to read? The subject matter, obviously. But there is also that, as readers, we unable to help with the distress. We are held as helpless witnesses to partially seen scenarios, and experience some degrees of the suffering of the narrator.
The writer also had periods of hospitalization due to psychological states.

We become party to degrees of that, and those states of distress. We are unable to help or assist, and so the narrator’s inability to cope becomes ours, by our empathetic reading.

This is part of the power, and responsibility, of a work of fiction.

Publishers Weekly, noted, on the book’s publication:
Part of the problem derives from the veiled yet critical references to Austrian history, which are satisfactorily explained only in the excellent afterword.

We no longer have that ‘excellent afterword.’ A pity.

On the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, is the Tanabata Festival in Japan.
Why only then?
It is all based a story from early Japan.

This is the story, one of the many, connected with the Milky Way in the night sky. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky.

It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, at the River of the Sky.
It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’.  It can be traced back, in turn, to an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. The corresponding Chinese festival is the Qixi Festival, of the 7th of the 7th.

The Weaver Girl,  was, of course, a princess, and… was she weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations? Her father grew concerned that in her lonely profession she was not able to meet any young men. He invited the cowherd (who herded the cows of heaven?), to meet her.

The meeting went very well, and in time they fell in love. They were able to marry.
On marriage, however, they neglected their duties.
It was thought best for all if they were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting, though, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. Orihime wept so much and so hard that a flock of magpies took pity, flew down and made her a bridge with their wings.

If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, though, the magpies may not be able to come.

Tonight he takes his one journey of the year
             Over the Heavenly River, passing Yasu Beach –
He, the love-lorn Oxherd longing for his maid,
Whom he can never see but once a year,
Though from the beginning of heaven and earth
They have have stood face to face across the Heavenly River

……………………………………………………………………………………….
 Tonight, this seventh night of the seventh moon – 
Strangely it thrills my heart.

(excerpted from: Japanese Love Poems, Selections from the Manyoshu. Edited by Evan Bates, Dover Publications Inc., 2005)

People write messages, poems, prayers, and hang them from trees on this day.

Astronomically, on this date, the distance between Vega, part of the Harp constellation, and Altair, The Eagle constellation, is bridged by a group of stars called The Coathanger, more properly Brocchi’s cluster.
This arrangement forms a straight line with a few dotted stars above this in the centre.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocchi%27s_Cluster

600px-Collinder_399_Paslieres_2007_08_05

Is this Hikoboshi’s boat?