Over the past few days, I've made a list of books I want to read/re-read/finish reading this year First come the five 'major' works of Dostoyevski: Notes From Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov. I've read a good chunk of Notes (with my favorite opening line: "I think my liver hurts.") and all of C&P, much of The Idiot, none of Demons, and all of The Brothers Karamzov. Unfortunately I don't speak Russian and can't read the actual words that Mr. Fyodor wrote. I must rely on the work of a good translator or two; in this case Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I've even tried reading their work in text while simultaneously listening to another translation via audio book (this is where a subscirption to audible comes in handy). It's an interesting yet energy-consuming exercise. And often fruitful.
Another book on the list is Kafka's Der Pozeß (The Trial). I've read a bunch of Kafka before but I've only ever read Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) entirely in German. This time I will read Kafka in German. The language has been jumping out at me, right and left. For instance, this little beauty which I posted to my Facebook wall a couple days ago:
„Anna sol mir das Frühstück bringen", sagte K. und versuchte, zunächst stillschweigend, durch Aufmerksamkeit und Überlegung festzustellen, wer der Mann eigentlich war.
Here's my translation attempt:
"Anna is supposed to bring me breakfast," said K. and attempted, at first in silence, to determine through observation and reflection, who the man actually was.
My friend, Jeff who was a fellow student at 'The BYU' wrote, "O(h) K!" Such a nerd he is. Then I posted this bitty bit:
"Here's a little confession just for you, Jeffrey: I NEVER read Der Prozeß auf Deutsch. I am now, all these millions of years later... The language is jumping out at me in ways it never did before. Like the little tidbit above. 'Whoa. Why didn't I notice that?'"
And it's true. Why didn't I notice it before? Because I wasn't standing then where I am now, that's basically why. And I didn't read it in German. Kafka's cadence has a particular wry/throw-away style that gets my attention and it's not easily translated.
Anyhoo, one more writer to toss into the mix is now Hofmannsthal. I posted this re Mr. H:
"If Hugo von Hofmannsthal had not existed, Thomas Mann would have had to invent him." - I don't know who said it, but it made me laugh. It's probably true.
One thing I love about him is also what Shakespeare put his finger on: the disparity between the smell of a rose and what we call it.
The parallax language creates is the stuff of our existence, isn't it? And of art. It all depends on where we're standing. And, fyi, I have read one or two works by Mann entirely in German, though usually with an English version in hand as well. What I love about Kindle now is that you can simply highlight a word and it will translate the word for you, sometimes not very well, but enough to get the point and move on. And sometimes it just doesn't know so you either have to know yourself, look around a bit, or else guess. Like this: 'Starrnis.' Kindle had no idea. I happened to know that 'starr' means 'rigid' and that 'strarren' is the verb 'to stare' so I could guess that 'Starrnis' is a kind of frozen, hypnotic state.
The context of the word seemed just about right for me when I read it this morning. Especially considering a painting I was so enthralled by last night.
Here's what I had to say about it:
I do so love your sense of color, Tom. The combination in her face draws me in and I can't stop ogling those luscious peach cheeks! I seriously want to take a bite.
The cup and saucer are yummy too. I love the flourish detail.
And again your use of green gets my attention. Green has always been my favorite color and your use of it both fascinates me and makes me uncomfortable. Like being hypnotized by my own question mark in a painting you painted! I guess that's what makes art live. This painting is a tease.
Tease. Tease. Tease. In my book, a good artist and a good teacher are well-versed in the art of the tease, somewhat crazy-making though this art may be.
One thing I didn't mention about the painting is the letter I see in her hand and fingers...
Also, I like Tom's title for the piece, but my personal name for it might be something like "Portrait of Anna B."
As I said, this morning I read the passage from Hofmannsthal with the 'Starrnis' word in it, and I think it's just about right:
Es is mehr also gütig, Ihrer Besorgnis um mich, Ihrer Befremdung über die geistige Starrnis, in der ich Ihnen zu versinken scheine, den Ausdruck der Leichtigkeit und des Scherzes zu geben, den nur große Menschen, die von der Gefährlichkeit des Lebens durchdrungen und dennoch nicht entmutigt sind, in ihrer Gewalt haben.
I'm not going to translate it for you. If you want to know, look it up! I will say that "Gewalt" can literally mean 'violence' but here it's about having something in one's power to do. I like that notion, though: art is violent. Its power can be like that of a stranger who walks into your room one day and eats up your breakfast. It can have the powerful finality of change, and the power to change you. It can land you on the moon or even along a solstice arc. And sometimes into a desolate room with walls you stare at blankly, wondering what the hell just happened.
One thing that has occurred to me over the years is how fruitful my conversations with 'ghosts' have been, even the ones in desolate rooms. By that I mean conversations with text from a book or a film. A poem or lyric. A line from a play: "Thus play I, in one person many people, and none contented." A painting on the wall. Or an IPIR in my head. And who knows, maybe an actual ghost or two, too.
If you remember, IPIR is our 'Important Person Internalized Representation.' But then, everything is represented, isn't it? There's an actual Tom and a 'represented' Tom. An actual tree and a represented tree. The smell of a rose and the name we call it. My memory and the anticipation of eating a peach. Gaps all around.
P.S. Not ten minutes after I posted this, Tom staged a contest for people to point out the anatomical gaff in his painting and offered a free print of the corrected version as prize to the winner. He also added that we could guess what he was drinking when he painted the original. I voted for Russian vodka and completely missed the answer. Can you see it? All I'd have had to do is look in the damn mirror. No free print for me! Now that I can perceive the 'error' I like to think of it as his nod to Picasso or maybe Willem Dafoe. I can't decide if I want the original or the corrected version on my kitchen wall. I'm leaning toward the original; not as an ideal but as a reminder. Gaps and gaffs. I also said I'd like to reiterate this painting is a tease!