I first encountered Bernard Da Costa’s Boomerang when I played the role of The Teacher in a staged reading for New Jersey Repertory Company. I had serious problems with the translation, the wording of which felt awkward and unnatural to an English-speaking actor. Even in that form, however, the response was most gratifying—lots of laughter—and the entire audience stayed afterward for the post-show discussion, and seemed genuinely fascinated by these two troubled, passionate people.
When Bernard wrote to me, asking for my impressions of the play, I told him that I would love to attempt a new translation, and he gave me his blessing. As I worked on it, I found that both Isabelle and Pierre were wonderfully articulate, smart, fiercely defiant people—both among the Walking Wounded of the world—yet both refusing (against all reason) to surrender their dreams. What the audience had responded to, I felt, was this phoenix-like quality in both. Whatever their faults (and they are capable of terrible cruelty, and probably incapable of any intimate relationship with another human being), they cannot or will not abandon their unattainable goals. They certainly lack Don Quixote’s nobility of mind, yet they are, in their own ways, akin to him. Their hopeless, blindered optimism makes them unsuited to the Real World, but they and their kind are part of what makes our world so endlessly fascinating.
Playwright José Pliya, born in Benin, now running the National Theatre of Guadeloupe, bases his play loosely on the biography of Elisabeth Nietzsche, sister of the eminent German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Given a State funeral by Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Elisabeth Nietzsche embodied, while perverting their sense, the superman qualities Nietzsche extolled in his famous essay, Thus Spake Zarathustra. Her heightened narcissism and incestuous love allowed her to spurn the world, refusing to acknowledge the worth of all those defined as “other.” By sketching in a flashback Elisabeth Nietzsche’s astounding trajectory, José Pilya suggests the connections between colonization, racism, anti-Semitism, and fascist ideology.
It is 1935. Elisabeth Nietzsche is 87 years old and Hitler has already begun his project to “purify” Germany by eliminating the Jewish population.
Flashback to 1886: We are in Paraguay. Elisabeth Nietzsche and her inept and self-pitying husband Bernard Föster have established, with the blessings of the German Empire and several German investors, the colony of New Germany (Nueva Germania). In this first part of the play, comprised of six scenes, German capitalists enthusiastically celebrate the philosophical and commercial rationale for the colonization effort, while more intimate encounters develop the tension between the ambitious and hard-driving Elisabeth, her husband, and the men they must deal with: the wealthy converted German Jewish banker Fritz Klingbeil, who opposes colonization as exploitative of German settlers; Cirilio Solindade, the Paraguayan landholder who seeks full payment for the lands that the Fösters cannot manage to cultivate; and, Friedrich Nietzsche, who is never seen yet always present. The object of Elisabeth’s thwarted love, Nietzsche, at least as she dreams him, fuels her desire for power as well as her monstrous ability to create false truths by acts of will.
Part II (eight scenes): It is the last decade of the 19th century. The widowed Elisabeth has returned to Germany , abandoning her commitment to New Germany to care for her now deranged brother. She drives away the chief rivals for his attention, her mother and the writer Lou Andréas Salomé, and subverts the work of his best friends, Peter Gast and Franz Overbeck, by re-orienting their studies of Nietzsche’s thought. Klingbeil, ironically in thrall to Elisabeth, aids her by lending his money and talent to the construction of the Nietzsche myth that Elisabeth has imagined. Slipping into madness herself, Elisabeth can no longer distinguish between her banker fiancé, her adored brother, and the exalted Zarathustra whose words she echoes.
(Judith G. Miller)
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
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