[NOTE. The following was originally published in TheExquisiteCorpse in 1993 & again in ThusSpakeTheCorpse (An ExquisiteCorpse Reader, 1988-1999). Brought into the present context its central argument – as presented here – has much to say about the nature of language & identity beyond more orthodox ideas of nativism & foreignness. The emphasis on American & Jewish writings rhymes as well with matters of concern to the present editor & touched on from different perspectives in previous postings on PoemsandPoetics. It is also an acknowledgement of the role played by major figures in our recent poetry & literature who have come into English writing as a second or even a third language, but in the extract cited here goes well beyond that. A complete version of Nemet-Nejat’s once controversial essay can be found elsewhere on the web. (J.R.)]
I speak no language like a native. Though I have lived in the States since 1959, my accent still sounds foreign. I was born in Turkey, but I am not Turkish. I am Jewish. In the fifties most Jews in Turkey were Sephardim and spoke Ladino Spanish.
Caesar of ribald songs & nose & blemishes of seven birthmarks on his stomach ringworm gravel in his urine negligent of personal appearance when granted an audience with the Great Bear & on dropping off in summer slept with the bedroom door open to protect himself especially by not bathing with an oil rub after which he took a douche of water (sulfur water) on a wooden bath seat ended with a sharp sprint in the company of little boys regarding them as freaks
“There is a certain curiosity in it that exceeds melancholy.” I took this quote out of a notebook of mine, my “Praha” Moleskine that has never seen Prague, for I translate a “Praha” out of wherever I am, going to Prague by simply writing always in the pages of Praha, even when I am elsewhere, knitting these elsewheres together into Prague or Praha. At times I even take out the map of the city and use it to find where I am, though I am nowhere near Prague.
What does Prague and a notebook I bought on The Danforth in Toronto (a reject)—and have no right to use—have to do with translation, you ask? Perhaps all translation has to do with curiosity and melancholy, I respond.
I open the notebook two pages further on and find a quote from Giorgio Agamben scribbled there, from page 340 of his Puissance de la pensée: “La facticité est la condition de ce qui demeure caché dans son ouverture, de ce qui est exposé par son retrait même.”