The author who disdains words must still arrive at sentences.
Excerpted from Secession / Insecession (BookThug 2014), a double volume including Secesssion by Chus Pato (trans. Erín Moure) and Insecession by Erín Moure.
things, emotions, vegetation, passions, gaze, humidity
what writing does: performs on paper and in mouths of voiced words and on digital bands or (tattooed) on the skin of animals (human). Muteness, humidity, gaze, pleasure. What translation does: transmutes the same vegetation and passions to a place where a different humidity does imbue. Lucidity, vegetation, herbs, wind. We drive out to the desert or more officially the shrub-steppe at Osoyoos and climb the hill on Syilx’tsn lands in the rented car, stopping partway to the top to clamber out of seats and unfold ourselves in the high wind to gaze at sunset in the west: Vancouver, we say, over those mountains
there is no water here, no rains, no this is not Galicia, has no green textility of foliage and damp, yet in English I recite in this shrub-steppe or desert: the poetry of Chus Pato
Translation (“the poetry of Chus Pato”) is a way of bringing—into the secession or cut—another voice, her human voice, markings in words from a culture across a far border, to mark these words (her words) into new ears and onto new bodies, just under new skin (leopards, fish). A word, skin (marten), a word, a mouth or tongue, a membrane (upright): Vancouver, we say, over those mountains.
we climb out on the desert shelf or overhang of rock until we can see the lakes spread clear below, the narrowing of their waters into two lakes, their surface a kind of glass. There’s not another place this dry in all of our history on this side of these mountains, in this elongated primordial trench or valley between furrows, in the Ukʷnaqín or, as we say, Okanagan.
Who we are:
you and me:
We duck back into the rented sedan which is made for our folding and unfolding and descend again the hill through the town and then up into other hills to the winery restaurant perched over the valley, where we eat a repast of two courses with a glass of wine, the kindness of the waitress, looking out to the valley illuminated by the full moon through the glass, looking east, our first anniversary: Montréal, we say, over those mountains, home
there is the matter of choice or intention in any setting, which prevails here too; some details are called forth, but most are elided, although there is no plan to elide. But the nature of affect is aleatory, and why would I pick this scene over any other? It doesn’t seem to echo Chus Pato at all. The word that writes, the word from another language, from Galician or Dane-zaa, for insects, for butterfly: in Galician the word is bolboreta, seemingly like Algerian Arabic bofertoto, or Old English buttorfleoge but no, not like Dane-zaa, wąlále.
Grey darkness. “We only see what we look at,” wrote John Berger. “To look is an act of choice.” Choice, what is choice, and how is it driven by emotions, vegetation, passions, gaze, humidity? Neural mappings too are an incidence of inflected cultural particularity; thus we choose, and how can translation work here? I look down at the page and see curved darker markings against a white ground. I drink lemon and rinse with salt, eat carrot and potato boiled together yesterday with a little cumin and garlic: a shabbat meal. Today. An deep incision, the hip opened
Skin tents and the clandestine circulation of the blood in arteries, ropey walls that the earliest cells of the body have differentiated from the cells of blood or mucin, the spindle fibres of muscle. There is something in us that cannot be untangled with ease. We take for granted so often (too often) the respiratory membranes and the transfer of oxygen into molecules necessary to the blood and, in fact, in the blood, when once the molecules were outside the body, in the air. It is difficult to duplicate or ignore this process, as it is difficult (breathing) to ignore the relation with the friend, the one outside the skin tent (breathing) but similar, she who disagrees and looks differently, and contributes this different seeing to the texture of space-time, to an afternoon, for example.
We have an argument, briefly, over words and sentences.
Who we are:
You and then me:
Me along with you:
What do I/we mean by me/you here?
Poetry, it is said by this me which is not me, is a conversation, or a texture like a shawl and each one of us weaves our own particular corner, or the bit where we gently hold its edge, aware that others are pulling gently as well on the surface of the textile, contributing their own gesture to the whole. And none of us produce this whole, not on our own, not with our friends alone. None of us are this whole nor can any of us speak for this whole that is poetry, we can only bring our hands’ work into the conversation, and raise not just our voice but our ears to it, to listen,
as listening affects the bones inside the ear and the balance of fluids inside certain membranes
listening alters the cells.
Translation is about this too, this listening. it is a hearing and transferral into the pen of rhythms and an exactitude of meaning whereby “distinct” in French cannot be translated into English as “various” since its meaning is closer to “different” for “distinct” emphasizes differences in a group, emphasizes what pulls the group apart, while the English word “various” leans on what it is that pulls different parts together, they are various but they are together, or they are different and it is hard to keep the group in one piece
as we walk out on the rock ledge of the desert, the flat tablet of sedimentary lakeshore outcropped over softer sand and water-riddled limestone eroded beneath, I think of this conversation and movement, the difference of translation, the fibres of any given word that upon micrological analysis extend and contract best in one or another way
How do we know, translators, that we are really reading, how do we introduce the innocence of reading into our work again? Is the transfer of language subject to an ecology? To endogamous markings? To allow translation to go somewhere fecund, the oceans, the way we once believed we would be fed from these oceans, and now they are empty, sonic, nearly empty, nearly sonic, we know we won’t eat from those waters forever, humans won’t, people won’t, women won’t
And so what if poems are cryptic, this protest just annoys me, poems activate more areas of the human cortex than do non-ambiguous speech, they bring excedent light and hormonal energy into the dark matter of the frontal cortex; when we read literature we equip our brains to deal with “ambiguous speech.” We realize the ambiguity of all speech, all mouths opening, and where in the mouth the accent is. Location, fear, passions, humidity
I address you:
You see me:
We turn to speak
Light. Morning illuminates the towers and buildings where I write these words. Noise of roofing on the church (which is still leaking). Small torques of light. Medium fibres of light. Lengthy spindle-cell bundles of light.
You are sleeping in another city.
I see you:
We don’t speak
“what we see is affected by what we already know or believe”
“Will I never again muster the joy and impudence to take in my stride the distortions and falsifications that inevitably arise during the conversion of experience into written sentences…” wrote Christa Wolf (a question that arose while she brushed her teeth). These words written not by Christa Wolf but by her translator Jan van Heurck. “Using my false name as a shield,” she/he writes, “I will advance again into the fray.”
As for ambiguous speech and the cells, that the speech or sonorous note of poetry lights up more of our neurons, over a wider area of the frontal cortex, this has been shown by experiments with electrodes, with transfers via electrodes of information between brains in remote locations, between remote areas and rat brains, and rats are like us, surely, though did we need these experiments? For their result is the same as when someone says (I forget who) that difficult writing (“the poetry of Chus Pato”) makes us more glad. It is literature itself posing the question of literature, of who reads, of for whom marks are made, for no one, they are invisible and made for no one. They transfer between bodies and the tissue of neurons, the bundles and flat maps of fibres, via which we dream, our writing dreams,
writing itself dreams.
Today (March 22), a woman friend on Facebook quotes Maurice Blanchot in the Lydia Davis translation (attributing LD’s words to Blanchot): “An author who is writing specifically for a public is not really writing: it is the public that is writing, and for this reason the public can no longer be a reader: reading only appears to exist, actually it is nothing. This is why works created to be read are meaningless: no one reads them. This is why it is dangerous to write for other people, in order to evoke the speech of others and reveal them to themselves: the fact is that other people do not want to hear their own voices; they want to hear someone else’s voice, a voice that is real, profound, troubling like truth.”
The point of instability that is literary language, which Blanchot names “death.” “Content is only impure form,” Blanchot quotes Paul Valéry, bringing the poetic word into the philosophic gesture, movement and tunnel, endogamy, dry hills, to which I would reply “Content destabilizes form,” or “Content is only unstable form.” Every verbal arrangement, for Lautréamont, has an aspect of thought. That’s Blanchot again, philosopher quoting a poet.
“With love all this is bearable,” writes Chus Pato. Or, more accurately, Con amor …. for it was me who wrote “with love all this…”
And where, dear Christa, is the logical place to put utensils in the kitchen now? Is there a place of cooperative action so purely enacted that logic reliably acts or functions? Meaning arises from everyday use, on this Benjamin and Wittgenstein would agree, and what am I using this keyboard for?
An incision in the hip to come today, but not too early, so until then, the stiffness, a reminder nearly constant in the centre of the body, as I remember standing on the overlap edge in the Okanagan valley: the poetry of Chus Pato, can it be translated to such a valley?
I call you:
You don’t answer:
I name you:
You look up and respond:
And ever I do think of the humility of being alive and harnessing the systems (cells round and spindle) that work in us just well enough to permit the labour of writing down words. Our hubris. Where writing itself dreams and we continue driving down the slopes to the lake level and cross, continuing north up the trench or valley, until we reach the city where you live and where sometimes I live: the fierce rains of Galicia, now in our desert because of the poetry of Chus Pato.
The gaps between this and any word I could say trouble me deeply, I awaken from the dream or which me is it, who awakens, I? The truth, says Agamben, is only in the reciprocal elimination that constitutes the “tautological movement from the thing to itself.” And rosa in potentia et rosa in actu et rosa in potentia et actu est eadem et non alia et diversa….
I go out and plant birch seedlings, the roots of birches that are old still ache in us. Can we write here, now?
You are not in the room with me:
You are in the room with me:
You are silent:
I am still here.