Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part VI

The poet's work ends. The words are fixed on the page and reconfirmed in various critical editions and special editions of collected or selected works. Anthologized. Rarely--after such publication history--does the poet return to the text to tease it into (another) shape. But the translator must always go back, back and forth from the original fixed poem to the recreated poem in a new language (a "new house of being" if you want to get Heideggerean about it), and onward toward a better, more authentic translation/interpretation. Here is my second (and always already still imperfect) draft.
Brueghel’s Two Monkeys (Draft II)

This is how the big final appears in my dreams:
two monkeys confined with chains are sitting in the window,
in the distance the sky is aflutter
and the sea is awash.

I’m stammering and blundering my way
through the history of civilization.

One monkey, gazing at me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be nodding off—
but when I hesitate after a question,
he nudges me along
with the stifled jangle of his chain.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part V

A trot is a word-for-word correspondence of a text during the translation process--a process, by the way, which never ends. It is supposed to reveal the various nuances and possibilities within the new language as the poet-translator seeks to recreate the original work. It is really the closest thing to a literal translation ... which (despite the inherent impossibility of being both literal and a translation--much like "literal interpretation"--another impossibility no matter the number of idiots out there who want such a reading of a so-called sacred text despite not knowing the original language ... but I digress....) ... should make obvious the multidimensional quality of interpretative/translative acts within the translation/interpretation process itself. Here is my trot of Szymborksa's poem:
Two (fem. pl.) monkeys [of] Brueghel

So/thus appears/looks my great/large/big/vast secondary-school (adj.) sleep/slumber/(dream)
[they] sit in the window monkeys chained/rooted/confined [with] chain/fetters
beyond [the] window flies (about)/flits (about)/flutters sky (the skies)/heaven(s)/firmament
and bathes/takes a bath/soaks sea

[I am] passing/standing the test/(taking a test) of history [of] people
[I am] stammering (out)/stuttering/stumbling (in one’s speech) and wading/floundering/working (my) way through/blundering

Monkey, with fixed gaze/staring/gazing intently at me, ironically/derisively listens,
second as if/as though/like/as it were this/that/it drowsily/sleepily
and/but when after question ensues silence
prompts me
[with] low/soft/gentle/muffled/quiet/stifled/silent [with] strum/thrum/thump/clank [of] chain

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part IV

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

This is what I see in my dreams about final exams:
two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill,
the sky behind them flutters,
the sea is taking its bath.

The exam is History of Mankind.
I stammer and hedge.

One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain,
the other seems to be dreaming away–
but when it’s clear I don’t know what to say
he prompts me with a gentle
clinking of his chain.

– Trans. Barańczak & Cavanagh (1993)
Barańczak and Cavanagh are probably the most prolific English translators of Szymborska's poetry. Before studying Szymborska on my own in the original Polish, I never had a problem with their versions. But now phrases like "chained to the floor" stick in my mind and sound all wrong and out of place. Why do you need to stick your own phrases into an already perfect poem, especially ones that make no sense? The monkeys are chained to the floor but they're sitting in the window?!?! I first read this poem almost 15 years ago, and it wasn't until last week that I looked up the Brueghel painting, but still that phrase rang false.

Also, the monkey's "mocking disdain" is more of a misinterpretation/mistranslation than the monkey-as-ape version from Rejak in 1978. Szymborska is known for her wit and irony, it's true. But she likes to have a good time. Her laughter is never mean-spirited but instead is playful and level-headedly optimistic (that is, not blindly optimistic). The trick is to accept the original "[he] listens ironically" as if that were purely logical and obvious, for how can one indeed listen ironically? But Szymborska insists it is something we can observe on the face of her monkey--that creature that best mimics the human creature. Is the test-taker aware of her/his own expression of irony that the monkey is mirroring? Who sees the irony of this scene? The reader/observer? The test-taker? The monkey? And yet the monkey is helping the nervous test-taker along every time she/he pauses. Would someone who listens with "mocking disdain" really care to help anyone in this situation? This double-mirroring (of both chains and expressions) is one of the truly brilliant moments in Szymborska's poetry. And there are so many more.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part III

In 1981, two translations of this Szymborska poem were published. Which do you prefer?
Two Monkeys by Brueghel

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.

I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.

One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing–
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

– Trans. Krynski & Maguire (1981)

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

Here’s what my great dream of my final exam is like:
two chained monkeys are sitting in a window,
the sky is fluttering outside
and the ocean is bathing.

I’m being examined on human history.
I stammer and cast about for words.

One monkey, staring at me, listens ironically;
the other appears to be dozing–
but when silence descends after a question
he coaches me
with the soft rattling of his chain.

– Trans. Levine (1981)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part II

The Two Apes of Brueghel

This is how I dream my final examination:
two apes chained together are sitting at a window,
outside the window the sky is flying
and the sea is taking a bath.

I'’m passing an exam on the history of people.
I'’m stammering and floundering.

The ape staring at me listens ironically,
The other seems to be dozing–
but when there is a pause after a question
he prompts me
with a soft jangle of chains.

– Trans. Barbara Rejak (1978)
I first read this poem shortly after I began studying Polish in the early 1990s. It was the first poem by Szymborska I ever read. There is something about the comedy of the chained monkey helping the person get through the history exam--is it a reminder of our own intellectual and/or political chains?--that resonates still with me after nearly 15 years ... perhaps because I'll be working on my own comprehensive exams and subsequent oral defense of my dissertation in the next few years.

As if to further corroborate that all translation is first and foremost interpretation, Rejak's mistranslation of małpy as "apes" seems acceptable both for the year of Szymborska's original composition (1957) and Rejak's translation (1978). The two apes for Poland throughout the twentieth century were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In this scene they are blocking the view out the window of the motion and movement of sky freely fluttering and sea freely bathing itself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys, Part I

Pieter Brueghel, Two Monkeys in Chain, 1562, oil on wood,<br />20 X 23 cm
Pieter Brueghel, Two Monkeys in Chain, 1562, oil on wood, 20 X 23 cm
Dwie małpy Bruegla

Tak wygląda mój wielki maturalny sen:
siedzą w oknie dwie małpy przykute łańcuchem,
za oknem fruwa niebo
i kąpie się morze.

Zdaję z historii ludzi.
Jąkam się i brnę.

Małpa, wpatrzona we mnie, ironicznie słucha,
druga niby to drzemie—
a kiedy po pytaniu nastaje milczenie,
podpowiada mi
cichym brząkaniem łańcucha.

– Wisława Szymborska (1957)
Following is my translation of this poem:
Brueghel’s Two Monkeys (Draft I)

This is how my final exams appear in my dreams:
two monkeys confined with chains are sitting in the window,
in the distance the sky is aflutter
and the sea is awash.

I’m testing on the history of civilization.
I’m stammering and blundering my way through.

One monkey, gazing at me, listens ironically,
the other is nodding off—
but when silence ensues after a question,
he prompts me
with a quiet jangling of his chain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Widest Sphere

I: Hints need the widest sphere in which to swing ...…
J: ...… where mortals go to and fro only slowly.
In this space between these two absences--the arrival and the departure--I wait for some signal. A gesture. A genuflect. A genuine presence to present itself as a present, signaling from the shore of these muddy waters. The sunbathers walk to and fro (only slowly) between the beach and the bar. It reminds me of Odesa--Ukrainian spelling, when we drank and drank and drank ourselves into the oblivion of the Black Sea. The horizon does not meet merely out there, but now and here (as in nowhere). I am the point at which sky meets earth. The point at which lips meet lips. I embrace my own mortal vastness. And you? And you?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Elaboration of Logic

I: The unbroken rule of metaphysics establishes itself even where we do not expect it——in the elaboration of logic into logistics.
A bushman begs a nun for a sip of gin. He benignly hums; she numbly sums up the tally sheet and crumples her mesh skirt into the bin. The window hinge squeaks its salutation, its resurrection. He feels snubbed. She shuns, begins to hum. The sunbeam draws nigh. The sign hung above the door swings in the breeze. She sings. The hens are nabbed and ambushed--tied into a bag. "What's on the menu?" he smugly questions. She wants to banish him. She replies in iambs. She soaks the plate in the basin. The hem unravels. My neighbor mine. The hangman leaves the diner and kicks the dog with mange. Ahem. Amen. Shame wipes its sweaty brow. What's that color? Henna? Ashen? What do you mean, "What's my name?" It's the same as the day before. The bum shags the hag. He wraps the gash. A gunman enters from the town of Nimbus. "Ha! I'm out of gas." Can I get a ham sandwich to go?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From the future

I: But origin always comes to meet us from the future.
Last night I dreamed of the aperion and of the boundlessness of all origins. You were there. And you and you. As I write, out of the corner of my eye I see a cat. It is there. And I am here. It is aware of me, sensing a pause in my typing fingers, it jumps up to meow and rub against my leg on its way to the food bowl. We stand in relation to one another. There is no Heideggerean chasm between us. It speaks its mystery to me: the meow——a greeting in passing, a dismissal, an appeal. I tug its tail and delay its passing. I call its name, and it turns to face my face. We see each other seeing each other. And you are there. And you and you.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The word that is to be said

J: We understand only too well that a thinker would prefer to hold back the word that is to be said, not in order to keep it for himself, but to bear it toward his encounter with what is to be thought.
When I called out to you, it was as if my voice were traveling through some strange, opaque medium ... like water at night ... and that this liquid was deafness itself. You never heard me when I spoke and never spoke up for me. You never spoke on my behalf. And now ... years later ... amid all the ellipses and parentheticals--all these theoreticals--you come calling again as if deafness were sound and not silence. As if you used words to stuff your ears into not hearing. As if your hand were mere gesture and not a slap on the face.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Wellspring of Reality

J: And while I was translating, I often felt as though I were wandering back and forth between two different language realities, such that at moments a radiance shone on me which let me sense that the wellspring of reality from which those two fundamentally different languages arise was the same.
And while I was translating myself across borders of not only geography--the barren logos of gaia--but the disrupture of chronology as well, I dispersed my packages and gifts. All that I had gathered unto myself was sent outward to the others. And their gathering usurped my dispersal, claiming my presencing as disrupture itself. She and I and he were one and the same ... always already arriving in departure. Arriving home before we even left.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

This Voice

J: It is that undefined defining something …
I: … which we leave in unimpaired possession of the voice of its promptings.
J: At the risk that this voice, in our case, is silence itself.
Who do I say that I am? I am that I am. Who am I to say? Simply I and no other. Who is he who recognizes his face reflected back from the face of the other? No other than he. Yet he and I are brothers--no other kinship exists between these two. And I keep him to myself, revealing my self in these small revelations. I excavate myself through his uncovering.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Gallows Humor

I love how the United States can find cause to celebrate the sentencing of Saddam Hussein to death by hanging. Here there is such a steadfast and obligatory bond between our version of democracy and capital punishment. While all modern democracies have eschewed the death penalty, the US has clung to it as an anchor in the self-deluded rhetoric of deterrence. I mean, hell, the state-sponsored murder of Timothy McVeigh on June 11, 2001, kept America real safe from terrorists for at least three months. I bet the Department of (Orwellian) Justice was real mad that the 9/11 hijackers committed suicide instead of waiting around for the government to do its job. Is this the freedom and democracy we intended to impose upon Iraq? Surely yes. Is this progress in the Middle East? Yes, but my name’s not Shirley. The true banality of this sentence (with apologies to Hannah Arendt) is that Saddam is being sent to the gallows for 148 deaths while there have been more than 45,000* civilian deaths since the US invasion. Who is going to hang for those deaths? (I can only hope it will be people like Andrew Sullivan who supported the illegal and immoral invasion in the first place.)

If you’re American, remember to vote (for the lesser of two evils) tomorrow.

* CORRECTION: The latest estimate of civilian deaths in Iraq since the US invasion is closer to 150,000.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Jacks '06

Halloween Jack-o'-Lanterns 2006
Here's the glamour shot of the Jacks this year. They look great, no? Although I have to admit that this Halloween was the crappiest one in years. I worked all day on campus yesterday--from 9:30am to 10:00pm: my typical Tuesday. I didn't dress up. I didn't go to the Oak Lawn Halloween "parade." I didn't watch The Crow or Nightmare Before Christmas--two films I almost always watch to get in the mood. I didn't listen to the Halloween compilation tape I made some time before I moved to Japan. I didn't make cards this year. I didn't even have the energy to light the Jack-o'-Lanterns when I got home last night. Wah wah wah! The only indication that it was the greatest holiday of the year was the handful of students I saw who dressed up and both Roseanne Bar and Marilyn Manson on The Tonight Show.

Next Halloween I'm going all out. And I'm taking the whole fucking day off!