Return to the Chateau by Edmond Caldwell

Edmond Caldwell’s Return to the Chateau, the second chapter of his novel Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant.

Out in the green and gold swatches of the Pays de France or back in Paris it might have been possible to escape this condition of lamination, but here on the island of hill-hotels it was inescapable, this condition of lamination in which the park was implicated as much as the invidious hotels. He turned to make his way from the prospect back to the gravel path in the hope of finding perhaps something to combat or at least counter this advancing condition of total annihilation, of annihilation by lamination, the village of Roissy was supposed to be on the other side of the hill and perhaps it would offer something to combat or at least counter this condition, either antidote or talisman. But as he turned he stumbled, and when he regained his balance he stumbled again, twisting first one ankle and then the other. It appeared there were holes in the grass of the lawn, there were burrows of some kind in the soil beneath the grass, and now as he staggered carefully back to the gravel path he saw so many of these holes that he wondered how he had escaped twisting his ankles in them on his way out to the prospect. The holes beneath the grass were clearly not for sport or a game such as golf, he could never tell whether golf was a sport or a game, nor were they drains such as those concealed beneath the laminated carpets of the small rooms back in the Chateau Roissy, they were evidently burrows of some kind, a theory which received immediate and even decisive confirmation by the emergence of a rabbit some meters ahead, the rabbit whisked away across the lawn but its ears and the white flash of its tail had been unmistakable, as had the overall hopping gait produced by the motions of its large haunches and feet. Nor was this an isolated incident, for now he saw himself surrounded by rabbits just as he knew himself to be surrounded by ankle-twisting burrows. In fact there were so many rabbits nibbling or whisking about in the range of his vision that as soon as he thought he had counted them all he saw a new rabbit and lost his count, unless it was a previous rabbit which had shifted to a new location as he had been counting a new rabbit in a different location, it was too hard to tell, he concluded that there was an uncountable number of rabbits, certainly more rabbits than people because except for him and the rabbits the park was completely empty, they were all back in their rooms nursing their ankle sprains with complimentary ice from the hotel ice machines. And meanwhile the rabbits were burrowing away, hollowing out the hill underneath the loops of the roadways with the loops of their rabbit warren, the loops of the rabbit warren under the loops of the roadway under the crisscross contrails of the Air France jets. The rabbits reproduced in a geometric progression, their population did not advance by addition but by explosion, a metastasizing of the rabbit-kind into a rabbit horde, wave upon wave of rabbits spilling out over the tarmac of the roadways and the Charles de Gaulle airport runways, and thence to the fertile farmlands of the Pays de France. His only hope of escaping the Zone Hôtelière island was by shuttle-bus, whereas the rabbit horde had simply to charge across the tarmac to make their escape, and even if they did not wish to make their escape in this manner they would be pushed to it by the exploding rabbit population behind them. There were seasons when the automobiles and the shuttle-buses on the roadways skidded and slid on the bodies of all the rabbits they ran over, so much rabbit blood on the tarmac that the automobiles and the shuttle-buses were in danger of hydroplaning, or in this case hemoplaning, multiple-car pile-ups were a real danger in the season of the rabbit horde, and worse was the appearance of the rabbits in droves on the runways of the Charles de Gaulle airport, at times an unbroken carpet of rabbits receding to the smudge of the horizon, like all of those birds surrounding the house in the final scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, except in this case rabbits. And even a far fewer number of rabbits could be a danger to the landing gear of the Air France flights such as the one he hoped to depart on tomorrow should he succeed in escaping the Zone Hôtelière, mowing down a few of these rabbits could completely gum up the works of an aircraft’s landing gear, so that even if it managed to make it off the runway of the Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, France, it was still in grave danger of sliding off the short runways of Logan Airport and plunging into Boston Harbor, the aircraft would sink with everyone aboard trying to shriek their last words into their cell phones while clawing to be the first out of the emergency exits. Therefore it was necessary at regular intervals to exterminate the rabbits, to visit upon the rabbits a mass extermination of some kind, in which the environs of the Charles de Gaulle airport and especially the grounds of the Zone Hôtelière had to be put under a temporary quarantine and divided into quadrants so that the mass extermination could proceed in an orderly fashion, a phalanx of exterminators in Charles de Gaulle Airport vests with the distinctive Frutiger sans serif typeface on the badges had to line up at one end of the quadrant and plug explosives into the burrows to blow the rabbits up and release weasels into the burrows to hunt them down and pump poison gas from hoses to choke the remaining rabbits and water from still other hoses to drown them in their burrows, and those who were flushed out at the other end were met by guns and dogs, at the other end of the quadrant an orgy of gunfire and ravening fangs awaited all the terrified rabbits who had managed to survive the flames, the gas, the water, and the weasels. It was a dreadful prospect, and he wished he could side with the rabbits, in the ordinary course of things his sympathies were all with the rabbits, but his fear of flying or more precisely of crashing was so great that in this instance he had to side with the victors, against his own better nature he identified with the exterminators, in fact he even felt a little of the victor’s exultation at the extermination of the threat posed by the rabbit horde, which he knew and even exulted meant the extermination of the rabbits themselves, like blood in his mouth he could taste it, it even checked for a moment the feeling of the creeping lamination of his gorge brought on by the overall lamination of the Zone Hôtelière. He understood now why the French ate rabbit.

Echoes of Thomas Bernhard (‘annihilation by lamination’, the repeated return to lamination and the various -ations) and of Robbe-Grillet (the various transformations of things observed, but to me, done far more carelessly and enjoyably than Robbe-Grillet).


Vivek Narayanan speaks about Indian, performing and simply

poetry to Alan Gilbert, in an interview that is over three years old. But so what?

About Indian poetry:

There are no especially influential aesthetically or formally motivated “movements” today that would really be comparable, in verve or sense of purpose, to the different kinds of “new poetry” or “progressive poetry” movements that sprouted in many Indian languages after independence.

The fact that India is home to many languages has led to various kinds of rhetorical wars between languages and literatures; often this has meant a collective attack on English as a somehow “inauthentic” language, and sometimes this has also meant less publicized wars between representatives of languages other than English, jockeying for position on the national stage. For years, I think, there was an unproductive standoff between what I like to think of, to simplify, as the relative superficial and derivative quality of a lot of English poetry written in India and the relative parochialism of much poetry written in the bhashas. This is all changing dramatically, and the complex linguistic ecology of India is, for my money, coming into its own in various ways.

Travelling and the importance of the body in writing:

[T]hose initial trips in America were crucial, and were possible for me precisely because I was an outsider. On one hand, this meant I was partly a cipher to those I met, not easily locatable in terms of social or cultural or caste background, and that gave me room to maneuver; on the other hand, it was my lack of information that freed me up, the fact that I didn’t really know that much about where I was going, didn’t pre-judge what kind of situations could be “dangerous” or harmful or not.
So this is one aspect of the foreign “sojourn,” the search for alienation that opens up the space for a self to reinvent itself. Fundamentally, it’s about the importance of experience. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but I think there was a scary “pure” postmodernist sort of moment, one that some poets are still stuck in, when all was irony and referentiality, when bodily lived experience, the evidence of the senses and the innards, was considered essentially worthless.

Writing about/writing after observing:

There is a great deal of energy and activity and change on Indian streets that, unlike say with the United States, has not really been documented; one feels the need to bring it into print, and many Indians are happy just to see something that they know well described nicely in a book, to experience that recognition. Many non-Indians, needless to say, are curious, one might even say voyeuristic, to know the “plain facts” of what goes on. Looking at it less cynically, it seems also a shame, and a tragedy even, for literature to give up seeing, observation. But when the writing is in English, the question of audience is complex, and the question of legibility is troubled. To whom are these worlds being made legible? An Indian or international elite? So I guess it’s the ease, the supposed transparency, not to mention the streamlined commercial viability, of the journalistic or sociological mode that sometimes troubles me.

Performing poetry:

“Performance” in that wider sense was something I believed in, and worked on, more or less from the time I began to go public with poetry, maybe 15, 20 years ago. What did happen, however, was a disenchantment a) with the slam/spoken word style, and b) with poetry recited to a musical backdrop. Both modes I think are dead ends by now, or cul-de-sacs at best—the first because it has settled too easily into a set of mannerisms (the best poets from the movement, such as Lemn Sissay, are still great because their performances are in many ways an attack on, refusal or negation of everything the audience has come to see), the second, because hip hop with its offshoots has taken the whole word-music equation to such unbelievable heights of skill that “spoken word” just seems unable to compete.
So in thinking about what to do differently with performance in the aftermath of these disenchantments, I found myself going back to fundamentals beyond language—the context of the performance above all, which might include the temporality of a poem, the interplay between ephemeral and lasting effects in a poem, the presence or absence of the body, the role of the audience, the possibility of collaboration, the possibility of “remote” performances, how to channel and recover the long, varied history of poetry performance styles available to us on record, and so on.

Part 1.
Part 2

Planet Care by Aveek Sen

The Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, in the dusty outer reaches of Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, sounds like an unlikely setting for epiphanies.

Each window-frame presented a mix of mortality and minimalism: human beings absorbed in the antiseptic business of being ill, getting well or dying. The ILBS is the sort of place where the nurses only do specialized nursing; patients have to have their own carers staying with them day and night. So, the building holds patient and carer alike in its stone embrace, or in a giant womb of echoing silence, broken from time to time by the clatter of metal on enamel or glass, or the muted whoooosh of state-of-the-art elevators. The place is too huge for little human noises.

So, the brief vignettes one caught in the window-frames were like fragments of silent cinema — a boy sitting on a stool by his grandfather’s bed, keeping watch on the old man’s drip and trying not to topple off the stool in his drowsiness, a sweeper quickly pocketing something that looks re-usable from a bedside bin, a young doctor gazing deep into the eyes of another at the foot of a woman in coma.

It was at once touching and disturbing to see this obedience, this unquestioning dedication, on the faces and bodies of people so young. I wondered if they ever resented their time and other resources being taken for granted like this. Was there never any moment of resistance or contrariness in their compliance with what was expected of them by their families? What sort of freedom or independence from the family would they enjoy when they grew up — if they grew up at all? In the welfare states of the Western world, young people, however ill their immediate family, would never have to give of themselves in this way, or to this physical extent, because the State takes that responsibility upon itself, and that determines their experience of being young and of being old — what it means to be an adult in relation to the people we care for, or are expected to care for.

Here. Would somebody be willing to translate a small set of Aveek’s essays into Hindi for the magazine?

Experimental fiction is a pleonasm

‘Experimental fiction’ is a pleonasm. A writer chooses or finds the most appropriate way to write a work of fiction. This is the necessary experiment. If it works, it works…But of course, what does ‘work’ mean? It depends what you need from fiction. If you want to talk loudly in bars about innovation and postmodernism, I suppose the diarrheic imaginations of professional novelists is for you.

Six years old but.

A Glass of Water by Gabriel Josipovici

A short story by Gabriel Josipovici – A Glass of Water.

Going round the Chardin exhibition with Ken was a particular pleasure. Chardin is a painter we both warm to, but so little that has been written about him seems to correspond in any way to one’s experience of those mysterious still still lifes, those mysterious still figures. We stood for a long time in front of the “Glass of Water and Coffee Pot” of 1760. Someone next to us was informing his companion that the painting was all about hierarchy and inversion, and pointed out that the handle of the pot appears to be both turned towards us and seen in profile, “a veritable feat of the painter’s art.” My own thoughts were concerned rather with the strange feeling of peace and well-being the picture gave me, even in a crowded gallery on a surprisingly hot Spring morning. Ken just said: “That glass — the water is always fresh, isn’t it?”

Eliot Weinberger on translation

The most useful essay on translation I have read is Eliot Weinbergers ‘Anonymous Sources’.

I keep going back to it and I think translators in India, especially those who translate from one of the older Indian languages into English would do well to keep its lesson in mind (as Mani Rao does in her translation of the Bhagavad Gita). At a conference in Delhi, he’d spoken of how Tagore in the 1930s was one of the wildest poetic presences in the West — in spite of the bad translations — and how Indian poets now were quite mediocre, afraid to experiment, writing about the same ‘Indian’ themes (he was talking after having read an anthology of Indian English poetry). When I met him at lunch, I asked him, ‘Don’t you think it’d be easier to translate Tagore into Hindi than into English?’ for that is what I felt and he said, ‘That’s not the point, the point is the values that a particular movement privileges. Tagore’s poetry is baroque, Anglo-American modernism didn’t value that so in that context, Tagore comes across as vague and gushy” (not his words, exactly).

An excerpt from the essay:

A work of art is a singularity that remains itself while being subjected to restless change– from translation to translation, from reader to reader. To proclaim the intrinsic worthlessness of translations is to mistake that singularity with its unendingly varying manifestations. A translation is a translation and not a work of art– unless, over the centuries, it takes on its own singularity and becomes a work of art. A work of art is its own subject; the subject of a translation is the original work of art. There is a cliché in the U.S. that the purpose of a poetry translation is to create an excellent new poem in English. This is empirically false: nearly all the great translations in English would be ludicrous as poems written in English, even poems written in the voice of a persona . I have always maintained– and for some reason this is considered controversial– that the purpose of a poetry translation into English is to create an excellent translation in English. That is, a text that will be read and judged like a poem, but not as a poem.

I once witnessed an interesting experiment: average 9-year-old students at a public school in Rochester, New York, were given a text by Rimbaud and a bilingual dictionary, and asked to translate the poem. Neither they nor their teacher knew a word of French. What they produced were not masterpieces, but they were generally as accurate as, and occasionally wittier than, any of the existing scholarly versions. In short, up to a point, anyone can translate anything faithfully.

But the point at which they cannot translate is the point where real translations begin to be made. The purpose of, say, a poetry translation is not, as it is usually said, to give the foreign poet a voice in the translation-language. It is to allow the poem to be heard in the translation-language, ideally in many of the same ways it is heard in the original language. This means that a translation is a whole work; it is not a series of matching en face lines and shouldn’t be read as such. It means that the primary task of a translator is not merely to get the dictionary meanings right– which is the easiest part– but rather to invent a new music for the text in the translation-language, one that is mandated by the original. A music that is not a technical replication of the original. (There is nothing worse than translations, for example, that attempt to recreate a foreign meter or rhyme scheme. They’re sort of like the way hamburgers look and taste in Bolivia.) A music that is perfectly viable in English, but which– because it is a translation, because it will be read as a translation– is able to evoke another music, and perhaps reproduce some of its effects.