Thinking today about Argentinian poet Juan Gelman and crossing borders, following the small essay yesterday on his work in the Madrid newspaper El País. To quote a footnote (already also a border) in Wikipedia on Gelman—(I suggest reading the whole article!): “ ‘I am the only Argentinian in the family. My parents and my two siblings were Ukrainian. They immigrated in 1928.’ In the same brief autobiographical text, Gelman states that his mother was a student of medicine and the daughter of a rabbi from a small town. ‘[My parents] never shut us up in a ghetto, culturally or otherwise. [...] I received no religious education.’ Gelman would later write some poems in Ladino, i.e., Judeo-Spanish; he is also known for being sharply critical of Israel.”
The article quotes a Gelman poem in its entirety, Confianzas, a word that in Spanish has so many echoes: confidences, liberties, intimacies, trusts: “se sienta a la mesa y escribe / ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice // y más: esos versos no han de servirle para / que peones maestros hacheros vivan mejor / coman mejor o él mismo coma viva mejor / ni para enamorar a una le servirán // no ganará plata con ellos / no entrará al cine gratis con ellos / no le darán ropa por ellos / no conseguirá tabaco o vino por ellos // ni papagayos ni bufandas ni barcos / ni toros ni paraguas conseguirá por ellos / si por ellos fuera la lluvia lo mojará / no alcanzará perdón o gracia por ellos // ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice / se sienta a la mesa y escribe”.
A bit further in Blanchot and his step outside time, I arrive at sentences that sound like the translator at work. At work, yes, inside the “I” or subjectivity of a writer who has already written in another language, a translator enters “in vain” that space where writing speaks to its interlocutor: “J'essaierai en vain de me le représenter, celui que je n'étais pas et qui, sans le vouloir, commençait d'écrire, écrivant (et alors le sachant) de telle manière que par là le pur produit de ne rien faire s'introduisait dans le monde et dans son monde.” (my emphasis, for the translator, to many, brings “nothing” into the world—the consequence of the common belief that the translated work is written by the original writer.
(Thus writers continue to write beyond the grave. And translators, alive, are thus always already dead to what they write. Zombie me!)
Here is Lycette Nelson in the published English : "I will try in vain to represent him to myself, he who I was not and who, without wanting to, began to write, writing (and knowing it then), in such a way that the pure product of doing nothing was introduced into the world and into his world."
Or as my mind wants to read it: “I’ll struggle to represent to myself this person who I was not and, and who, without wanting to, started writing, writing (and thus knew it then) in such a way that, through writing, the pure product of doing nothing introduced itself into the world, and into ‘my’ world.”
That’s Maurice Blanchot, from the start of his Le pas au-delà, translated by Lycette Nelson as The Step Not Beyondtwenty years after its French appearance, in a strange bit of torquery that at times infects English, for the title would be more literally translated as The Step Beyond/The Not-Beyond. At first sight. Lycette Nelson, in her introduction, was well aware of the problem of the sound wave and its oscillation. For, with “pas” being “step” and negation, the second particle of negation placed “au-delà”, on the far side of, the verb (the first particle, the “ne”, is found in French on the near side of the verb, rubbing up against the subject), I understand her desire to insert a “Not” in the title beside “Step”. But the dual meanings, in Blanchot, work in self-obliterating oscillation, and do not cohabit shared space-time. The Step into the dark, the no-life-after-death.Deepstep Come Shining, as CD Wright might have titled it.
Except, in all these cases we lose the sonority of Blanchot’s title, its playful sound, which could be rendered perhaps as The Pim Pam Man. In French, the sonority and repetition, the clipped syllables, however unrelated they are to meaning, inevitably infect the meaning, and point us to the absurdity of the title, to its instability. Out of Step Way Out.
In Spanish, Cristina de Peretti translated the title as El Paso (no) más allá. Following her example, could we say The Step (Not) Beyond? But this destabilizes too far; the grasp the reader in French has on the words and alternation of meanings is now far too lost in graphisms.
Estoy alejada en la vida lejana en la concha estricta en el modo silábica yo intento empezar con jeringas, y limón. ¡poema! ¡si me permitiese llamarle poema! ¡poema en mis sueños! ¡intriga! ¡vocabulario! ¡incienso! costumbre de vivir, con rosas y con salmones.
Down with a cold in grey Kelowna, I’m thinking of Pliny the Younger’s (AD 62-113) advice for idle periods in his letters, Epistularum Libri Decem - letter LXXVI to Tuscus:
Quaeris quemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exercitationis proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et iudicium adquiritur.