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Los verdaderos poemas son incendios. La poesía se propaga por todas partes, iluminando sus consumaciones con estremecimientos de placer o de agonía.

Vicente Huidobro

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Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Reading and Understanding

Two readings that were rattling around my brain this past week as I practiced understanding Spanish:

¿Que lee? Novelas policiales en francés, un idioma que apenas entiende, lo que hace que las novelas sean aún más interesantes. Aun así siempre descubre al asesino antes de la última página. What is B reading? Detective stories in French -- a language he scarcely understands, which makes the novels even more interesting. And even so, he always figures out who was the killer before he reaches the last page.
This is from Bolaño's "Wandering in France and Belgium" -- I like the way he points out that not fully understanding the language can make the reading experience (even) more interesting. This ties in very nicely with B getting interested in Altmann's asemic writing later in the story.

And a longer passage, from Borges' lecture on Dante published in Seven Nights -- Borges is talking ("now that we are among friends") about his own introduction to the Comedia:

El azar (salvo que no hay azar, salvo que lo que llamamos azar es nuestra ignorancia de la compleja maquinaria de la causalidad) me hizo encontrar tres pequeños volúmenes... los tomos del Infierno, del Purgatorio y del Paraíso, vertido al inglés por Carlyle, no por Thomas Carlyle, del que hablaré luego. Eran libros muy cómodos, editados por Dent. Cabían en mi bolsillo. En una página estaba el texto italiano y en la otra el texto en inglés, vertido literalmente. Imaginé este modus operandi: leía primero un versículo, un terceto, en prosa inglesa; luego leía el mismo versículo, el mismo terceto, en italiano; iba siguiendo así hasta llegar al fin del canto. ...

He leído muchas veces la Comedia. La verdad es que no sé italiano, no sé otro italiano que el que me enseñó Dante y que el que me enseñó, después, Ariosto cuando leí el Furioso.

Fate (except of course there is no Fate, of course what we call Fate is our failure to understand the complex machinery of causality) led me to three slim volumes... the books of Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, rendered in English by Carlyle (not by Thomas Carlyle, of whom we will speak later). They were lovely little books, published by Dent. They fit in my pocket. On one page would be the Italian text and facing it, the text in English, rendered literally. Picture this modus operandi: first I would read a verse, a tercet, in English; then I would read the same verse, the same tercet, in Italian; and I went on this way until I reached the end of the canto. ...

I have read the Comedia many times. But the truth is, I don't know Italian, I don't know any more Italian than what Dante has taught me, and what Ariosto taught me later, when I read the Furioso.

Cool! Borges learned to read Dante the same way I learned to read Borges!

I'm interested in the point about not knowing "any more Italian than what Dante has taught me" -- I think that this method of learning to read a foreign language teaches a particular voice before it teaches the language in a more general sense. I am at this point extremely comfortable with Borges' voice, and pretty comfortable with Bolaño's; but opening up a book in Spanish by some other author, I may understand it (like Soldados de Salamina, which I picked up yesterday and have just been breezing through), or it may be like reading Greek (like Hernández' La paloma, el sótano y la torre, which I opened a few days ago and could not make head or tail of).

posted morning of August 14th, 2010: Respond
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Sunday, August 22nd, 2010


Some beautiful stuff in this piece from Seven Nights. (Some nice writing about this lecture at I've Been Reading Lately.)

Yo he tenido -- y tengo -- muchas pesadillas. A la más terrible, la que me parecío la más terrible, la usé para un soneto. Fue así: yo estaba en mi habitación; amanecía (posiblemente ésa era la hora en el sueño), y al pie de la cama estaba un rey, un rey muy antiguo, y yo sabía en el sueño que era un rey del Norte, de Noruega. No me miraba: fijaba su mirada ciega en el cielorraso. Yo sabía que era un rey muy antiguo porque su cara era imposible ahora. Entonces sentí el terror de esa presencia. Veía al rey, veía su espada, veía su perro. Al cabo, desperté. Pero seguí viendo el rey por un rato, porque me había impressionado. Referido, mi sueña es nada; soñado, fue terrible. I've had -- I continue to have -- many nightmares. The most fearsome, the one which has always caused me the most fear, I used it for a sonnet.* Here it is: I was in my room, towards dawn (this was the hour in the dream, I believe), and at the foot of my bed there was a king, an ancient king; I knew in the dream that he was a northern king, a Norwegian king. He did not look on me: his gaze was fixed blindly on the ceiling. I knew he was an ancient king, for his face was one that would be unthinkable today. Then I felt the horror of his presence. I was looking at the king, looking at his sword, at his dog. At the end of all this I awoke. But I lay continuing to think of the king for a while; he made an impression on me. Retold, my dream is meaningless; dreamt, it was fearsome.
I love the way Borges discounts this imagery in his final sentence -- it is similar to the first few lines of his story Ragnarök (a story which I hold out hope that Winston Rowntree someday will decide to illustrate).

*What poem is he speaking of here? Anybody with knowledge about this (or whether this is a red herring) speak up in comments please. The only reference to a Norwegian king I can find in his poems is in El reloj de arena when he speaks of the Saxon king Harold offering Harald Hardrada "six feet of English soil."

posted evening of August 22nd, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Bilingual editions

"Or discendiam qua giù nel cieco mondo,"
cominciò il poeta tutto smorto.
"Io sarò primo, e tu sarai secondo."
'Now let us descend into the blind world
down there,' began the poet, gone pale.
'I will be first and you come after.'
In Borges' lecture on the Commedia, he says that his experience of reading the Italian text with a parallel, line-by-line translation taught him that "a translation cannot be a replacement for the original text: the translation may however serve as a means, a stimulus to bring the reader closer to the original." This seems arguable to me as applied to translations in general,* though I'm pretty sympathetic to the thought; but I think there's no arguing with the idea that this is the proper role for a bilingual edition of poetry, to bring the reader closer to the original, foreign text.

Last night Borges' lecture on Nightmares sent me off to review Canto IV of Inferno; I was reading it in the Princeton Dante Project's bilingual edition, and finding to my happy surprise that I could follow the Italian pretty well, using Borges' method of reading a tercet at a time slowly in Italian, then in English, then in Italian... This evening I wanted to take another look at the canto and sat down with Pinsky's translation (which is published as a bilingual edition), and discovered that a poetic translation does not serve the function of a parallel translation. Not recommended -- I am finding it strange that Farrar, Straus & Giroux thought it would be a good idea to print the original and Pinsky's translation side by side. Back to the bare-bones parallel translation for me, thanks. Below the fold is Vittorio Sermonti reading Canto IV -- his reading is slow enough and clear enough that I was able to follow along in the text and have a fair idea which word was which...

posted evening of August 23rd, 2010: Respond
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Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The experience of deafness and blindness: 3 takes

Fini Straubinger:

Saramago (in Pontiero's translation):

The blind man had categorically stated that he could see, if you'll excuse that verb again, a thick, uniform white color, as if he had plunged his eyes into a milky sea. A white amaurosis, apart from being etymologically a contradiction, would also be a neurological possibility, since the brain, which would be unable to perceive the images, forms, and colors of reality, would likewise be incapable, in a manner of speaking, of being covered in white, a continuous white, like a white painting without tonalities, the colors, forms and images which reality itself might present to someone with normal vision, however difficult it may be to speak, with any accuracy, of normal vision.
Borges (and guess how excited I am to find the Seven Nights lectures online! At least one of them...):

posted evening of August 31st, 2010: Respond
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