The current New York Review of Books includes Radmila Lazic’s “Psalm of Despair.” She was born the same year I was. I would like to write a poem about despair myself. On a long, dark, cold night it caught my mood perfectly.
My reading of Serbian novels is now expanded by a poet I hadn’t known. I wonder what Zarko knows about her? Thinks about her work? Lazic’s A Wake for the Living, translated by Simic, was published by Graywolf Press in 2003. I once wrote Simic and asked if he would translate Zarko’s half of our Repetitions (available HERE). He sent back a nice note of praise for the text and lamented that he didn’t have time for the project. Fortunately, Ivana Djordjevic was available and produced a lucid translation.
What an unlikely, unexpected, and productive connection to Serbia Zarko has provided and provoked over what are now three decades.
On David Albahari’s recommendation, I have just finished reading Svetislav Basara’s novel The Cyclist Conspiracy, translated by Randall A. Major and published by Open Letter.
Simultaneously, I’ve been reading the galley proof or proof copy of Sam’s and my book Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes—a cyclist conspiracy of quite a different sort.
At least I think it is of quite a different sort.
While Sam and I are reliably unreliable narrators, the narrator of the first text in Basara’s book is omniscient (if apocryphal). Charles the Hideous begins the tale of his kingdom with these sentences: “Although the square kilometer as a unit of measure has not been invented yet, my kingdom stretches over 450 square kilometers. But no one knows that.”
History is the subject of the book, and members of a cyclist conspiracy are the actors in that history. As Charles the Hideous predicts, various thinkers will do their best to make sense of that, including, he prophesies, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sigmund Freud, Oswald Spengler, and Joseph Kowalsky.
Historians of the movement have only fragments to work with, most prominently the design of the bicycle or velocipede. In 1347, for instance, the Inquisitor of Paris followed rumors of a Satanic society to the riders of two-wheeled vehicles:
The machine which master Enguerrand publicly and shamelessly rode through the streets of Paris, proved that he was inspired by Satan who is the author of all evil things. Frere Guillaume describes it like this: “Instead of two wheels connected by an axel, one next to the other like on a normal cart, master Enguerrand has built a vehicle where the wheels stand one behind the other connected by a beam which is topped by a seat. It is clear to everyone that such an apparatus cannot stand upright, and it certainly cannot be ridden. And yet master Enguerrand, obviously with the aid of the powers of darkness, accompanied by the great noise of frightened children screaming, rides down the steep streets on this hellish contraption and scandalizes all those who pass there.”
That, I think, might also be a good blurb for Sam’s and my book, at least the wild rides part.
In Basara’s text, various writers summon the basic forms of the bicycle to document their theories about a transhistorical conspiracy whose members communicate through dreams.
As the page to the right notes, the bicycle is teeming with ancient symbols.
The representation of the male soul differs from that of the female soul only by the addition of the crossbar to the frame of a woman’s bicycle.
It is difficult to discount the conclusions of this learned discourse.
History, the novel argues (playfully), is discontinuous.
That would apply to our book as well.
With an inconclusive story about Sherlock Holmes, a troubled Freudian analysis, the Collected Works of Joseph Kowalsky (complete with poems and prose), Basara’s novel (can this be called a novel?) delights and disconcerts as it reveals the dementias that so predictably disrupt our lives. At the end of the book a “Secret List of Members of the Evangelical Bicyclists” includes several Serbian writers, including Milos Crnjanski, at least one Serbian assassin (Gavrilo Princip), an almost mythical bicycle racer (Eddy Merckx), Zarko Radakovic’s friend the performance artist Slobodan Milivojevic-Era, and Homer Simpson.
In conclusion, because Sam’s and my Wild Rides and Wildflowers is appearing after Basara’s book, we did not make the list of conspirators. But our work too can be read as a case study of this important assertion: such an apparatus cannot stand upright, and it certainly cannot be ridden.
Cannon Magazine / The Last Books, Amsterdam, has just announced that my translation of Peter Handke’s long poem To Duration will be published in December. 48 pages. Click HERE to pre-order the book.
And here a foretaste:
. . .
Duration cannot be relied on:
not even the pious
who attend mass daily,
not even the patient, the masters of waiting,
not even the loyal
who will always, steadfastly, be yours,
can be assured of its lifelong presence.
I know, perhaps,
that it becomes possible only
when I am able
to stay at my task
and to be vigilant at it,
presence of mind to the tips of my fingers.
And what is the task
that demands my persistence?
It will manifest itself
in affection for the living
– for one of them –
and in the awareness of an attachment
(even if only imagined).
This task, it is not large,
not special, not unusual, not superhuman,
not war, not a landing on the moon,
not discovery, not the work of a century,
not the scaling of a peak, not a kamikaze flight:
I share it with millions,
and with my neighbour as well as
with the dwellers at the ends of the earth
where, through a common task,
a world-centre arises identical
to my own.
Yes, this task from which, over the years, duration springs,
it is fundamentally inconspicuous,
not worth talking about
but worth holding on to through writing:
for it must be my main task.
It must be my true love.
And I must,
if the moments of duration are to spring from me
and give my stiff face a form
and insert a heart into my empty breast,
practice, year in and year out,
The newest addition to the Elik Poetry Series (the brainchild of Andy Hoffman) and to Alex Caldiero’s extensive body of work (his Body/Dreams/Organs was also published by Elik Press) is the volume titled sonosuono.
Does the title mean “we are sound”? I decide to ask Alex. He answers by email:
scott, sono(i am)suono(sound) or i am (sono) as “I play music” or sound out(suono)….and then there is the micro-phonems so…no..su…on..o…visual circumnabulation of the u and n …. the opening vibration of the successive o’s and s’s….(this is a sonosophical exegesis of the word). all this to articulate in one word, the movements of my life in terms of sound…nuf sed…it s getting thick…..til later…..alex
Yes, it’s thick—and tasty. Thanks, Alex.
The book begins with a dual-language “Proem”:
Pirchi nun speru di riturnari chiu
nti la terra mia amata,
libriceddu, vacci tu
nti dda casa abbannunata
e rapicci na finestra
quantu pigghia n’ariata.
Because I don’t hope to return again
to my beloved land,
little book, go yourself
into that forsaken house
and open a window
to let in the fresh air.
The little book (it’s not really so little—145 pages, and beautifully designed pages at that) is indeed a window opening into that forsaken house, an act of return to Sicily where Alex spent his first nine years, a reclaiming of his native language, a reunion with family and food and landscapes that have become so unfamiliar that they are the stuff of dreams.
The drawing on the cover depicts a face whose nose is what Alex calls a “jaws harp.” It bears the inscription con voce miscata! In 2004 Alex made a series of drawings, many done in the hours before dawn, variations on the shape of a jaws harp that all feature the little hook at the end of the metal reed. In 2009 he published a chapbook of the drawings called With Voice Mixed. The cover of sonosuono reproduces one of the drawings. And here’s another:
sonosuono is indeed a text “with mixed voice” — Sicilian and Italian and American (Alex’s preference over “English”), poetry and prose, tragedy and comedy, the familiar and the strange, the drawn and the written, the old and the new, the imagined and the real, the traditional and the modern. In fact, when I put my ear up to the open book I think I can even hear the faint buzzing of a jaws harp.
The mixed voice is necessary for an account of emigration from the perspective of an immigrant (or is this an account of immigration told by an emigrant?).
The mixed voice issues from a multiple and thus fecund identity:
Because I grew up in America, I can only ever be part islander. As proof of this, let me recount the incident of swollen testicle.
. . .
Born on the island of Sicily.
Raised on the island of Manhattan.
Growing old on the island of Utah.
All my life surrounded by water.
. . .
not being able to read
my native language;
how the language
I learned to speak in school
the one I speak every day.
With mixed voice Alex celebrates the multitudes he is. He does so in the most profound and thus moving book about immigration/emigration I have ever read.
[My friend Zarko has two books on the subject, the one titled "Emigration" and the other "Fear of Emigration." Because he writes in Serbian, and because I can't read his language, I'm left to trust that they are the shadows to Alex's light, the light to his shadows.]
sonosuono is available for purchase here:http://www.kensandersbooks.com/shop/rarebooks/index.html
Reading the first pages of Jean Paul’s novel, I have rediscovered how difficult it is. And it’s the narrator’s fault! He knows so much about so many things that he can’t help stuffing it all into every sentence. He is also impatient—and here the first moment of reading when I burst into laughter.
The narrator is describing why Albano’s father has summoned him from Germany (where he has undergone two decades of education) to northern Italy where they will see one another for the first time. Perhaps it’s this, the narrator thinks, or maybe it’s for another reason, or . . . and here he comes to a stop and declares that he would be a fool if he were to burden the beginning of his book with a detailed and meticulous and magnetically declined astronomical chart of all the reasons behind the thinking of this great man who is the father of Albano: “—he, not I, is the father of his son and he is the one to know why he has so gruffly summoned him.” And that’s that.
I just found an 1862 translation of Jean Paul’s Titan, done by Charles T. Books and published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields. He writes in his translator’s preface about some of the difficulties he encountered:
“The Translator (or Transplanter, for he aspires to the title) of this huge production, in his solicitude to preserve the true German aroma of its native earth, may have brought away some part of the soil, and even stones, clinging to the roots. . . . He can only say, that if he had made Jean Paul always talk in ordinary, conventional, straightforward, instantly intelligible prose, the reader would not have had Jean Paul the Only.
“And yet it is confidently claimed that, under all the exuberance of metaphor and simile, and learned technical illustrations and odd digressions, and gorgeous episodes and witching interludes, that characterizes Richter, every attentive and thoughtful reader will find a broad and solid ground of real good sense and good feeling, and that in this extraordinary man whom, at times, his best friends were almost tempted to call a crazy giant, will be found one whose heart (to use the homely phrase) is ever in the right place.”
In the Modern Language Review, 1947, C.T. Carr wrote the following about Carlyle’s earlier translation of works by Jean Paul:
“In attempting a translation of Jean Paul, Carlyle was fully aware of the difficulties of his task. ‘If the language seem rugged, heterogeneous, perplexed’, he wrote in the Introduction, ‘the blame is not wholly mine, Richter’s style may be pronounced the most untranslateable, not in German only, but in any other modern literature’. Nevertheless, the translation of Schmelzles Reise nach Flädtz and of Quintus Fixlein is the most successful Carlyle ever accomplished. Even though he failed here and there to understand Jean Paul’s quips and quiddities and even though the puns are missing in the English version, Carlyle did succeed in reproducing to an extraordinary degree of fidelity Jean Paul’s bizarre style.”
“Nein, begleitet mich, mein Herr (sagte Schoppe ungestüm) . . . ich wäre jetzt alleine vis-a-vis de moi.”
(No, come with me Sir, Schoppe said heatedly, . . . otherwise I will be alone vis-a-vis myself.)
“Ich versteh´dich nicht (sagte Albano), wovor scheuest du dich?”
(I don’t understand you, Albano said, what are you afraid of?)
“Albano . . . der Ich könnte kommen, ja ja! . . . Herr, wer Fichten und seinen Generalvikar und Gehirndiener Schelling so oft aus Spaß gelesen wie ich, der macht endlich Ernst genug daraus. Das Ich setzt sich und den Ich samt jenem Rest, den mehre die Welt nennen. Wenn Philosophen etwas, z.B. eine Idee oder sich aus sich ableiten, so leiten sie, ist sonst was an ihnen, das restierende Universum auch so ab, sie sind ganz jener betrunkne Kerl, der sein Wasser in einen Springbrunnen hineinließ und die ganze Nacht davor stehen blieb, weil er kein Aufhören hörte und mithin alles, was er fortvernahm, auf seine Rechnung schrieb . . . Sapperment, es gibt ein empirisches und ein reines Ich — die letzte Phrasis, die der wahnsinnige Swift nach Sheridan und Oxford kurz vor seinem Tode sagte, hieß: ich bin ich — Philosophisch genug!” (420-421)
(Albano . . . the Ego could come, yes, yes! Sir, whoever has read Fichte and his Vicar-General and Mind-Servant Schelling so often for fun like I have will finally face serious consequences. The Ego posits itself and also posits the Ego along with everything many call the world. When philosophers derive an idea or themselves from an idea, then they derive, if there is something to themselves, the rest of the universe as well, and then they are like the drunk who peed into a fountain and stood there the whole night because he heard no end to it and supposed everything he heard was due to his own efforts . . . Damn! there is an empirical and a pure Ego — the last words the insane Swift spoke shortly before his death, at least according to Sheridan and Oxford, was “I am I — that’s philosophical enough!”)
Like the flowerville blogger, I’m going to read Titan again. (Her earlier suggestion led me to Stifter’s Witiko, a long and exquisitely boring novel that was fruitful for my explorations of the standing metaphor.)
I get out my beautiful 1908 critical edition, a gift from Viktor Lange, with whom I read Goethe’s novels, and begin to read the novel in two volumes (@800 pages):
An einem schönen Frühlingabend kam der junge spanische Graf von Cesara mit seinen Begleitern Schoppe und Dian nach Sesto, um den andern Morgen nach der Vorromäischen Insel Isola Bella im Lago Maggiore überzufahren.