Isadora Duncan, who haunts our car-mares with her scarf entangled, has cut a wide swath through literary, art, and film history. It was an exciting project to translate from the French her story, so wonderfully told by Anne Reynes-Delobel, in our joint project, Glorieuses Modernistes, published just now by the Presses Universitaires de Liège. A story that, along with Anne’s chapter on Kay Boyle, completed the essays I had written on seven artist women in my Glorious Eccentrics; Modernist Women Writing and Painting, each essay so expertly translated by Anne. So it has turned out to be an equilibrating project, the most delightful balancing act I can possibly imagine.
– Mary Ann Caws
The acclaimed Taiwanese writer Chen Li is best known for his poetry, and is regarded as one of the most innovative and exciting poets writing in Chinese today. Less known, however, is the fact that he is also a prolific essayist, and has published seven collections of essays in addition to his fourteen books of poetry. Although his poems have been translated into English and some other languages, his essays are largely unknown to non-Chinese readers. His essays—both lyric and personal—exude no less elegant and artful poetics than his poetry. In Voice Clocks, his exquisite and tantalizing essay that was selected to be included in the standard textbook for junior high school students across Taiwan, the fluidity and musicality of his language—accessible, effortless, yet enchanting—is on full display. He’s a master at capturing and distilling the poetic grace from the most mundane aspects of everyday life. As Chen Li once observed, “Any time you look at something from a different perspective, you will see it in a whole new light.” Reading his writing, this essay in particular, one can’t help taking another look at the inevitable earthly tedium of our existence through his imaginative lens, and savoring its innate beauty. Hualien, Chen Li’s beloved hometown on the mountainous east coast of Taiwan, has been the central locale of his writing. His deep love and pride for his native land, as reflected in this piece, are palpable. The main challenge, as well as joy, of translating this essay was to seek to render its incredible euphony into English while at the same time retaining the rich flavors of Taiwanese culture.
– Ting Wang
“Prometheus and the Primitive” was written while Alfred Döblin was working on the Amazonas Trilogy. Published in 1938 in a short-lived bimonthly journal of German exile literature founded by Thomas Mann, Maß und Wert, the essay offers a succinct and trenchant historico-philosophical overview of the concerns that permeate Amazonas: the will to power and death-wish of Europeans, culminating (at that point) in the rise of the Nazis; the floundering of the Christian Church in the face of colonial atrocities and the wars of religion; and the organic world of the native tribes, in which natural and supernatural are equally real.
The essay analyses Western history in terms of a sharp divide between the Promethean impulse, which sets Man above Nature and isolates him from it, and the mystical sense of connectedness with Nature that Döblin labels “the Primitive.” He notes the ambivalent account in Genesis, and sets the emergence of Christianity in the context of a highly Promethean Roman state offering no satisfactions to those dispossessed by Roman civilisation.
But over time the Church, with its own hostility towards Nature, succumbs to a Prometheanism of its own and accommodates to worldly power. Just as the mystical sense is fading, Europe embarks on its age of discovery (a.k.a. conquest and subjugation). Nature, and Man, are viewed as a machine. The scientific enterprise, bent on quantifying everything, drains the world of qualities. The rise of mass societies after the French Revolution sees mysticism incorporated into the Promethean state. Prometheanism benefits only small elites. The yearning for a human society, a connectedness of human to human, human to Nature, is perverted into state-sponsored suspicion, the policing of thought, and the pseudo-connectedness of social classes and mass rallies. The result is barbarism and the degenerate mysticism that is nationalism.
The only way out, says Döblin, is to “reset this power whose grasp is now awry, whose pivot is the domination of Nature by Man–and to accommodate to the mystical realm.” But he is not optimistic.
– Chris Godwin
Devi Priya’s writing recuperates the India of the past, and issues a challenge to the India of the present. Her essay on the Mandala discusses an often faddish or academic subject without conceding to either camp. The author has had an eventful life, and alongside the argument introduced in the essay’s opening–setting the record straight about the origins and significance of the Mandala–one finds a profound record of the India of another time, before partition. Her memoir, entitled More than one life (Più di una vita), from which the excerpt here is taken, is a lyrical recounting of the shared past of the author and her country. As Devi writes:
Just as the cane thrown by the beautiful young country girl from Rajputana mortally wounds an enormous wild boar fleeing the royal hunt, and in the same moment pierces the prince’s heart, so one is captivated by the memory of a time that is this story’s source and inspiration.
The story is not always linear: as it moves through the childhood, adolescence, and youth of the author, it follows the historical period of the ’30s up to India’s declaration of independence, and beyond. Through an ancient, intimate, and familiar world the reader is shown those ideals, social and cultural, that were transformed into the Beauty celebrated by the mystical poets, and the carefully selective memory of an India that for centuries was adept in preserving the useful and the positive.
In the story, nature, landscapes, aromas, and animals are all living presences, inseparable from the happiest years, rich with knowledge, at school and university, with dear friends and in the good company of many others, at joyful festivals, in the India of the Ganges and the Himalayas. And then among those who practice ancient creative arts, in contact with the local, rural people, discovering their own distant origins.
Memories interweave with the present as in a dance, guiding our protagonist to reveal, according to the rhythm of her intuition, the progressive realization of her “identity.”
Riding along in life’s carriage, the present appears before one’s eyes for a blurred instant, while the past takes on the limpid serenity of a field of flowering mustard, flowers of a shade of yellow called…”basantì,” stretching all the way to the horizon, harbingers of spring… The impression remained in my mind like spring personified. “Basant” is spring, “basantì” the soft yellow of the shoot: its color. Like all things, it comes and goes and returns. You await the point of its return in the cycle…
– Nicholas Benson
Climate change, one of the most pressing issues concerning humanity’s future, is rarely the subject of literary fiction. But in his latest novel, EisTau (“IceMelt”), Bulgarian-German author Ilija Trojanow addresses the problem head-on. In the text featured here, which Trojanow delivered at the 2012 Van der Leeuw Lecture held annually in the Netherlands, the author explains what brought him to his subject.
Based in Bombay, Suryabala is originally from Varanasi in the northern part of India. She completed her Ph.D. in Hindi Literature at Benares Hindu University. She has been a prolific writer for more than three decades, publishing in all the major Hindi-language magazines and newspapers in the country. Besides satire, she has written novels and short stories, some of which have been adapted for television.
The excerpt here is from his 2000 collection of “essays” On n’y voit rien: Descriptions. The chapters (on Velazquez, Titian, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Manet, Francesco da Cossa) are not essays in the usual sense. In what has been called his brilliant “narrative and pedagogical strategy,” Arasse’s analyses of the paintings in question are presented as fictional tales, dialogues between an “I” (Arasse) and a foil who questions his ideas, forcing him to clarify them for us. In the chapter presented here, the reader can see all the intelligence and humor Arasse brings to bear on his subject, in this case, the lovely snail in Francesco del Cossa’s Annunciation (1470).
Maurice G. Dantec was born in Grenoble, France, in 1959. After a period as an advertising copywriter in the early nineties, Dantec turned his attention to writing fiction. He has published seven novels, which might loosely be categorized as a blend of science fiction and crime fiction. One of them, Babylon Babies (semitotext(e), 2005), has been translated into English. He has also published three volumes of journals, Le Théâtre des opérations, the latest being American black box, which appeared in 2007. Dantec has also been involved in the music scene for a number of years and is the founder of the rock groups État d’urgence and Artefact. Since 1997, he has worked with musician Richard Pinhas as a member of Schizotrope. Since 1998, Dantec has been living in Montreal, Canada.
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.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).