Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Displaced Persons

Not being entirely foreign to displacement myself lately, albeit merely through a minor transposition of keys, that such a theme should be ubiquitous in recent reading was unsurprising. Best first:

Imre Kertész, Liquidation (trans Tim Wilkinson): Mr. Waggish [spoilert] gets at the gist; I'd add that comparison to Ozick's The Messiah of Stockholm seems apposite (though my timing in reading this, just after the fate of Nabokov's unfinished novel was resolved, was purely coincidental).

Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz (trans Alfred Mac Adam): The deathbed being the point of departure, Cruz takes leave of his senses (or vice versa) while recollection of his life (Fuentes, el memorioso?) encapsulates the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, not to mention other displacements, well, just one: it's modernism/stream-of-consciousness adapted to new ground. While I don't know quite how I missed this during the Boom, waiting for retranslation proved rewarding.

Anita Desai, Baumgartner's Bombay: The epigraph is the opening of T.S.Eliot's East Coker, the whole of which resonates through the novel (the closing could serve above as well). Baumgartner, a German Jew settled in Bombay, abides his time as the life he has pursued and the death pursuing him from Berlin to Calcutta catch up with him. I found it well executed but structurally conventional (though in curious contrast to her trajectory); YMMV. It's the first I've read of hers, and won't be the last.

Bruce Schechter, My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdös: Biography of the itinerant mathematician and Hungarian refugee, retailing many anecdotes and light (and sloppy) math along the way; essentially another magazine treatment (JAPaulos thereon). The topic just can't miss, but Erdös deserves a better biographer.

Elsewhere, snark-hunter extraordinaire Mahendra Singh has made available his work in progress for your exagmination. Wonderfully befitting as it is, the blog adds the frisson of his running commentary, which I hope he'll append as backmatter when the time for publication rolls around (promise binding?) ...


Extreme translation

Increasing the degree of difficulty: three canonical authors that resist translation, each in his own way:

Witold Gombrowicz, Trans-Atlantyk (trans Carolyn French and Nina Karsov): Betwixt the Poles of Form and Chaos, Spurred like Buridan's Ass, running on Empty ... an extended riff on gawęda, a storytelling form of the early provincial gentry that itself riffs extensively, but which in time gave rise to the national epic, Pan Tadeusz; Fatherland here takes the place of the father in Bruno Schulz for this prodigal son. This makes for challenges to English rendering that the translators tackle à la Pevear and Volokhonsky, but into a 17c style (the OED [?!] their primary reference book)—not to everyone's satisfaction—Stanislaw Baranczak's introduction is essential to setting context, and my having essayed other Gombrowicz helped to mitigate the inevitable untowardness of this approach (or any other). A romp, exitentially. No extract can be prised from the midst of this feast, so I offer only the opening course:

I feel a need to relate here for Family, kin and friends of mine the beginning of these my adventures, now ten years old, in the Argentinian capital. Not that I ask anyone to have these old Noodles of mine, this Turnip (haply even raw), for in the Pewter bowl Thin, Wretched they are and what is more, likewise Shaming, in the oil of my Sins, my Shames, these Groats of mine, heavy, Dark with this black kasha of mine—oh, better not to heave it to the Mouth save for eternal Curse, for my humiliation, on the perennial track of my Life and up that hard, wearisome Mountain of mine.

Arno Schmidt, Collected Novellas (trans John E. Woods): [dalkeyarchive links still broke] Here the difficulty is in how well wordplay travels. Woods respects the text, punctually and contra, of the late Schmidt, belatedly—preserving the obscure, the arcane: how many translations send you to the dictionary of your native tongue? These have something of the flavor of John Hawkes, from the German post-war perspective, whether set there and then or in more distant peripheries of classical or apocalyptic times. Not quite up to Nobodaddy's Children (down the scroll), but that's praise by faint cavil—my only plaint is the lack of apparatus to identify allusions to prior German literature. I'll let Woods select an extract, gone fission, from "Lake Scenery with Pocohontas":

And so alone in the boat : meeting the wavelets head-on; often slapping and thumping below the bow (and Pocohontas always in my eye, my playful one; I managed once to sail right over her; the great flailing girl.) / Think. Don't be content with belief : go further. Once more through the circles of knowledge, friends ! And foes. Don't interpret : learn and describe. Don't futurize : be. And die without ambitions : you were. At best full of curiousity. Eternity is not ours (despite Lessing !) : but this summer lake, this slough of haze, gaily checked shadows, the wasp sting on your forearm, the printed yellow-plum sack. And there, the long diving maidenbelly. / Another tender snap, and a lacewing vanished within : fish ! : bream, dace, shiner, chub, bleak, sucker, rudd, roach, chevin, loach, tench, gudgeon, ide : D' you speak English ?

Stéphane Mallarmé, Divagations (trans Barbara Johnson): A different problem, in recasting the finely braided threads of a close-mesh net into foreign waters, unavoidably fraying and entangling the style. Divigation it may be, but salmagundi it's not: one thing leads (how? inexorably) to another, and Dr. Johnson captures the convolutions (though no doubt importing some as well), the warp and weft, and the interstices (but isn't it all?) ... relating theater and music to verse (from "Solemnity"; a lone glint from this many-faceted expository):

The record of a real Poem, as here, seems to me to be that—arising from conditions that authorize its visible unfolding and its interpretation—it first lends itself, and then little by little, ingenuously if need be, it only replaces all for lack of all. I imagine that the cause of going out together and assembling, in view of festivals inscribed in the human program, will not be the theater, limited or incapable of responding all by itself to subtle instincts, nor music, which in any case is too fleeting not to disappoint the crowd: but founding in oneself something vague and brutal that these two isolate—an Ode, dramatized or cut up knowingly; these heroic scenes making an ode in several voices.

Addendum 7.5: CONTEXT offers notes on translation in Reading Culture.