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Jeremy's journal

If there is a scheme,
perhaps this too is in the scheme,

Charles Reznikoff


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Friday, April 30th, 2010

Weapons-grade homeopathy

The funny is over here:

posted evening of April 30th, 2010: Respond

In the beginning was the fly

The rest of the piece I started yesterday -- Monterroso explains some of the role flies play in our universe.

...And think about what I believe Milla said (an author whom of course you will not know but whom thanks to having occupied yourself with the fly, you are hearing mentioned for the first time today), that the fly is not as ugly as it appears at first sight. But this is because, at first sight it does not appear ugly -- precisely because nobody has ever seen a fly for the first time. Nobody ever thinks to wonder, were there flies before me? will there be flies after me? In the beginning was the fly. (It's practically impossible that such a phrase would not appear here -- in the beginning was the fly or some such thing. We live out these phrases. Phrases which --fly--, like sorrow --fly--, mean nothing. Grievous phrases which fill up our books.) Forget it. It's easier for a fly to land on the Pope's nose than for the Pope to land on the nose of a fly. The Pope, or the king or the president (the president of the country of course -- the president of a financial company or a corporation or a maker of product X is in general foolish enough to be considered better than that) is not able to call out his Swiss Guard or his Royal Guard or his Presidential Guard to kill a fly. On the contrary, he is tolerant; perhaps he will just scratch his nose. You know. And you know that the fly knows too, and watches out; you know that what we actually have is a guard of flies, who take care at every hour lest we fall into mortal sin -- which would require a guard of angels, who would soon slack off and turn into accomplices, like the angel in Hitler's guard or the one in Johnson's. But it doesn't have to be that way. Let's return to noses. The fly who lands on yours is a direct descendant of the one who dropped in on Cleopatra's. And once again you fall into these prefabricated rhetorical allusions which everyone has used already. And still you want to create literature. The fly wants you to wrap it in this atmosphere of kings, popes and emperors -- and it wins out. It is your master. You cannot speak of it without an inclination towards grandeur. Oh Melville, you had to sail the seas in order finally to make up this great white whale on your desk in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, without realizing that all the while, since the hot evenings of your childhood when Evil would flutter around your strawberry ice cream and, as the years passed by, over you yourself in the dusk as you pulled out one by one the brown hairs of your beard, reading Cervantes and polishing your style; and not necessarily in that enormous mass of bones and sperm incapable of doing any evil, but rather in him who interrupts your nap, like the crazy Ahab, and Poe and his raven? Ridiculous. Take a look at the fly. Observe. Think.
...Well, much of this is pretty rough. That last sentence in particular, about Melville, is a monstrosity that is going to take a while to figure out. The author Milla whom Monterroso refers to at the top of this piece is José Milla y Vidaurre, who has an essay about flies in his Book Without a Name. Not sure why Monterroso doesn't think his audience would have heard of Milla -- the Wikipædia entry makes it sound like he was an important author in Guatemala. Come to think of it I don't know if Monterroso was writing for a specifically Guatemalan audience, or if he was even living in Guatemala when he wrote this book. Lots to find out... The next book Milla wrote was called Book With a Name.

posted evening of April 30th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Augusto Monterroso

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

To have been a fly on that wall!

Monterroso writes, "There are three topics: love, death, and flies" -- and right away I'm thinking of Robyn Hitchcock... This is the introduction to part II of Monterroso's collection Complete Works (and Other Stories).*

There are three topics: love, death, and flies. Since humanity has existed, this sentiment, this fear, these presences have accompanied him everywhere. Let others deal with the first two; I will occupy myself with flies, which are greater than men (if not than women). For years I've had in mind the idea of putting together a universal anthology of the fly. I still mean to do it -- but, I soon came to realize the task was practically infinite. The fly pervades literature; anywhere you cast your eye, you are sure to find the fly. There is no true author who has not taken the opportunity to dedicate a poem, a page, a paragraph, a line to him; if you are an author and have not done this, I advise you to follow my example, to hurry up and do it. Flies are the Eumenides, the Erinyes; they are chastisers. They are avengers, for what we don't know -- but you know that they have persecuted you; as far as you know, they will go on persecuting you forever. They are vigilant. They are the avatars of something unnameable, something benevolent or malign. They pursue you. They follow you. They watch you. When at last you die, it's likely (and it's too bad) that one fly will suffice to carry your poor, distracted soul who knows where. Flies convey -- and they come over the course of the ages to own their cargo -- the souls of our dead, of our forebears, who thus remain close to us, accompanying us, determined to protect us. They are a means for our small souls' transmigrations; they accumulate wisdom -- they come to know everything that we do not dare to know. Perhaps the ultimate propagator of our tired western culture will be the body of this fly, who has come down through the course of the centuries, furthering his line without enriching himself....
You can read the original at valdeperrillos.com, where they have the beginnings of the anthology Monterroso dreams of -- I am surprised not to see Denevi's God of the flies in there as well.

* It appears this piece is actually from a different collection, Perpetual Motion; the two collections were published together in translation under the title of the first.

posted evening of April 29th, 2010: Respond
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Monday, April 26th, 2010

Down on the Corner

Alexandra Birnbaum of Maplewood Patch published a very nice photo of The Lost Souls from when we were playing in Maplewood's Open Market on Saturday (except she cropped Eric out of the picture, to the right). I think this must be from when we were playing "Old Joe Clark" at the beginning of the second set:

posted evening of April 26th, 2010: Respond
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Odiseo en Nicaragua

Pablo Antonio Cuadra's poem "El barco negro" (in Poets of Nicaragua) inspired me to buy the book Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea, which is Grace Schulman's selections and translations from Cuadra's Cantos de Cifar, because I was so dissatisfied with White's translation. A really powerful poem, but the translation is nothing at all...

Well: the book arrived in the mail today; I'm looking at it and enjoying Schulman's translations by and large. But her selections not so much: she did not include "The black boat." Rats... Ok, so here is my first attempt at a translation of a poem.*

El barco negro

Cifar, entre su sueño oyó los gritos
y el ululante caracol en la neblina
del alba. Miró el barco
    —inmóvil—
    fijo entre las olas.

    —Si oyes
    en la oscura
    mitad de la noche
    —en aguas altas—
    gritos que preguntan
    por el puerto:
        dobla el timón
            y huye


Recortado en la espuma
el casco oscuro y carcomido,
(—¡Marinero!, gritaban—)
las jarcias rotas
meciéndose y las velas
negras y podridas
             (—¡Marinero!—)
Puesto de pie, Cifar, abrazó el mástil

    —Si la luna
    ilumina los rostros
    cenizos y barbudos
    si te dicen
    —Marinero ¿dónde vamos?
    Si te imploran:
    —¡Marinero enséñanos
    el puerto!
    ¡dobla el timón
    y huye!


Hace tiempo zarparon
Hace siglos navegan en el sueño

    Son tus propias preguntas
    perdidas en el tiempo.

The Black Boat

Cifar, inside his dream he heard the cries,
the ululating conch out in the mist
of dawn. He saw the boat
    —immobile—
    fixed among the waves.

    —If you hear
    from the darkness,
    the middle of the night
    —on high seas—
    cries, cries that beg you
    for the port:
        turn your tiller back
            and flee


Outlined in the raging surf
the boat's hull dark and eaten away,
(crying, —O Seafarer!—)
the broken rigging
swaying and the sails
black and rotting
            (—O Seafarer!—)
He held his ground, Cifar, he clung to the mast

    —If the moon
    lights up their faces
    ashy, bearded, jinxed
    if they ask you
    —Seafarer, where you going?
    If they implore you:
    —Seafarer, show us the way
    to the port!—
    turn your tiller back
    and flee!


They set sail long ago
They're sailing for ages, in the dream

    The questions are your own
    forgotten in the ages.

...A different selection of Cuadra's "Cifar" poems (an objectively better selection since it includes "El barco negro") is on offer at Pelele's blog, Muchacha Recostada. Also the whole book is online at turtleislands.net.

* Wait no, that's wrong. So, the next attempt in an extremely infrequent series of poetry translations by Jeremy.

posted evening of April 26th, 2010: 4 responses
➳ More posts about Poets of Nicaragua

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Spring colors

A rainy April day today... I took some pictures of flowers on our block -- though the colors are more satisfying when the sun is shining on them, there's something to be said for the way they offset the grayness, too.

This morning was Spring cleaning (Spring cleaning has been stretching out, a little bit each weekend; our house and yard are looking much better though our nerves are getting a little frayed...) and reading, music with Bob and Janis in the afternoon.

posted afternoon of April 25th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about the Family Album

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Who remembers Roberto Altmann nowadays?

(and after all, text is a picture and the reverse as well)*
Certainly not me -- this story is the first time I had ever heard of him (after a brief bit of confusion where I thought Bolaño was talking about Robert Altman) -- I'm grateful to Bolaño for mentioning him, and getting me to look up some lovely images. Altmann's work (or the bit of it that I'm looking at right now) is strongly reminiscent of the Codex Seraphinianus (in a way that much other logogram art is not, I think the addition of comix to the mix really makes it into something very different) -- and of course in the same vein, of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.Domingos Isabelinho of The Crib Sheet provides scans of Altmann's story Zr + 4HCl → ZrCl4 + 2H2/ U + 3F2 → UF6 (and see also his previous post for more context) -- just beautiful, tantalizing stuff. I feel drawn to imagine a storyline for these beautiful, impossible creatures and their heiroglyphic tongue and their alphabetic decorations.

* (Note: I'm pretty sure the translation I quote at the top of this post is not quite right, that Bolaño is just saying in the case of this magazine, text is the picture and vice versa, not making a more general statement -- but I've sort of fallen in love with this formulation.)

posted evening of April 24th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Comix

Wandering in France and Belgium

(I see other translators have rendered it "Roaming" or "Vagabond" in F and B, these may be closer to an accurate translation -- I'm leaving it "Wandering" thinking that reflects the directionless feeling I get from reading the story and trying to inhabit B's character.) In this paragraph B is thinking about how he knows the authors listed on the magazine's cover. Notice something interesting with tense, which is that the story having been told up to here in the present, here Bolaño wants to loosen the focus a little so he shifts into a mix of past tenses and actually goes so far as to alert the reader that's what's going on.

La Revista, que aparece o aparecía tres veces al año por iniciativa de Marc Dachy, está editada en Bruselas, por TRANSéDITION, y tiene o tenía su domicilio social en la rue Henry van Zuylen, número 59. Roberto Altmann, en una época, fue un artisto famoso. ¿Quién recuerda ahora a Roberto Altmann? piensa B. Lo mismo con Carlfriedrich Claus. Pierre Guyotat fue un novelista notable. Pero notable no es sinonimo de memorable. De hecho a B le hubiera gustado ser como Guyotat, en otro tiempo, cuando B era joven y leía las obras de Guyotat. Ese Guyotat calvo y poderoso. Ese Guyotat dispuesto a comerse cualquiera en la oscuridad de un chambre de bonne. A Mirtha Dermisache no la recuerda, pero su nombre le suena de algo, posiblemente una mujer hermosa, una mujer elegante con casi total seguridad. Sophie Podolsky fue una poeta a la que él y su amigo L apreciaron (e incluso se podria decir que amaron) ya desde México, cuando B y L vivían en México y tenían apenas algo más de veinte años. Roland Barthes, bueno, todo el mundo sabe quién es Roland Barthes. De Dotremont tiene noticias vagas, tal vez leyó algunos poemas suyos en alguna antología perdida. Brion Gysin fue el amigo de Burroughs, el que le dio la idea de los cut-up. Y finalmente Henri Lefebvre. B no conoce a Lefebvre de nada. Es el único al que no conoce de nada y su nombre, en aquella librería de viejo, se ilumina de pronto como una cerilla en un cuarto oscuro. Al menos, de esa forma B lo siente. A él le gustaría que se hubiera iluminado como una tea. Y no en un cuarto oscuro sino en una caverna, pero lo cierto es que Lefebvre, el nombre de Lefebvre, resplandece brevemente de aquella manera y no de otra. The magazine, which appears (or was appearing) three times a year under the initiative of Marc Dachy, is published in Brussels, by TRANSéDITION; it has (had) its home office on rue Henry van Zuylen, number 59. Roberto Altmann, at one time he was a famous artist. Who remembers Roberto Altmann nowadays? thinks B. The same with Carlfriedrich Claus. Pierre Guyotat was a noteworthy novelist. But noteworthy is not synonymous with memorable. In fact B would have liked to be like Guyotat, in another age, when B was young and was reading Guyotat's works. This bald, powerful Guyotat. This Guyotat who was fixing something for dinner, in the darkness of a chambre de bonne. He can't place Mirtha Dermisache, but her name reminds him of something, maybe of a beautiful woman, almost certainly an elegant woman. Sophie Podolsky was a poet whom he and his friend L had appreciated, you could even say adored, way back in Mexico, when B and L were living in Mexico and were hardly over twenty years old. Roland Barthes, well good, everyone knows who Roland Barthes is. Of Dotremont he has heard vague reports; perhaps he has read some of his poems in some lost anthology. Brion Gysin was that friend of Burroughs, the one who gave him the idea of cut-ups. And then at last Henri Lefebvre. B hasn't seen Lefebvre at all. That's the only one whose name he has never seen at all; in that anticuarian bookstore, the light comes on right away, like a match struck in a dark room. Or at least, that's about how B feels. He would like if it would light his way like a torch. And not in a dark room but in a cavern -- what's for sure is that Lefebvre, the name Lefebvre, shines briefly in just that manner, not in any other.
I am not satisfied with certain bits of this translation, most notably the sentence about Guyotat fixing something for dinner, and the last couple of clauses of the last sentence. And whether B and L are adoring Podolsky's work or the poet herself. If you notice anything that sounds off or see a way to improve the way it sounds, please mention it in comments.

One thought running through my head as I go over this passage, is how Bolaño can write using bits of his experience, and I don't necessarily need to label the writing a form of memoir -- I have a habit of thinking of The Savage Detectives as if it were, or were in parts, a work of autobiography -- the bit about Sophie Podolsky references a bit of Bolaño's experience, and also a bit of Belano's experience, and I don't really see any need to untangle which is which.

posted evening of April 24th, 2010: Respond
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Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Referencing

Bolaño spends a lot of his time in these stories talking about other authors. A long, climactic scene in "Days of 1978" is spent explicating the plot of Andrei Rublev; a central point of interest in "Wandering in France and Belgium" is the cryptic writing of Henri Lefebvre (whom I hadn't heard of before reading this story but who appears oddly not to be the same as the Henri Lefebvre whom I can find via Google -- his dates of birth and death and his life story and (afaict) work are all distinct. Seems very strange to reference a name, a name "B does not know from anywhere" and which gets B interested in deciphering his scribblings, and then have it be a different person from the historical owner of that name...

(Lefebvre is supposed to have contributed a piece to an issue of Luna Park which also contains writing by Sophie Podolsky, Brion Gysin, Roland Barthes, Roberto Altmann.):

The second day, after finishing a novel in which the murderer lived in a retirement home (although this retirement home seemed more like Carroll's looking glass), he makes the rounds of the anticuarian bookstores; he finds one on the rue de Vieux Colmbier and here he finds an old issue of Luna Park, number 2, a monograph devoted to graphics and typography, with texts and pictures (and after all, text is a picture and the reverse as well) by Roberto Altmann, Frédéric Baal, Roland Barthes, Jacques Colonne, Carlfriedrich Claus, Mirtha Dermisache, Christian Dotremont, Pierre Guyotat, Brion Gysin, Henri Lefebvre and Sophie Podolsky.
And then a page is given over to describing B's acquaintance with the work of each of these authors except Lefebvre... It seems very unlike what I am used to. Not complaining, not at all.

Further... The issue Bolaño is referencing is the actual Luna Park #2, which features actual logograms by an actual Lefebvre. If the biographical information Bolaño gives is accurate (and it's hard for me to see how it wouldn't be), this is just a different person with the same name as the Lefebvre profiled in the Wikipædia article linked above.

posted evening of April 23rd, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Roberto Bolaño

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Interruptions in the Journey

In southern New Jersey photographer Bryan Graf has caused a minor setback for some plastic bags, in their ultimate journey to The Vortex.

Meanwhile in Seattle, a gray whale has beached itself, and an examination of its stomach finds (among many other pieces of human garbage) 20 plastic bags.

posted morning of April 22nd, 2010: 1 response

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