Jan 30, 2008

Driving in this morning in a spitty rain from low, thick clouds, the shreds and folds of which shone a deep and luminous blue from the morning twilight behind them. It pleased me. And then I caught myself.

Shame on me for enjoying a color. Or, for that matter, an image or a word. Walls and cars are colors. All colors are the same. And the rest.

I hate the clear blue sky. It's a palm pushing down, an extinguisher. We're small.

Jan 29, 2008

"A thing is not another thing."
-- Jasper Johns

Jan 27, 2008

When Chris met Kate and Maggie...

...Kate was a sexy door and Maggie was a mustachioed tray of meat.

Here is another recording of a short Daniil Kharms story entitled "The Copper Look." A few weeks ago I recorded my reading his "Dear Nikandr Andreyevich..."

When I was in graduate school in Boulder, I worked at a used and rare bookshop. This was basically a lot like getting paid to go book browsing for 6 hours at a time, and eventually I knew every single item in that store, more or less. It was a labyrinthine place. One day I found a little green hardback with no dust jacket with faded pink lettering on the spine -- "Russia's Lost Literature of the Absurd." It was the book that eventually became Northwestern's "The Man with the Black Coat," with George Gibian's translations of Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky stories and a play. The total, so far as I knew, of the oberiuty that had been brought into English at the time. Anyway I devoured the thing. Kharms's mini-stories in particular are amazing, between Reznikoff's Testimony poems and Kafka ("The Bucket Rider" comes to mind) and surrealist and absurdist work from the French. But those literatures are merely adjacent to Kharms's work. He doesn't fall into line behind the absurdists. He's more subversive, many of his stories when you read them the third time aren't actually absurd at all.

Anyway, last year Overlook Duckworth published Matvei Yankelevich's translation of the selected Kharms -- "Today I Wrote Nothing." Yankelevich and several of the other writers and translators around Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn have been championing Kharms for years, even doing an email list of Kharms news. In this new book, Yankelevich does Kharms two great scholarly services. In addition to his translations (many stories and poems make their debut in English), he differentiates the work from absurdist literature in his excellent introduction. Kharms feels that words kind of blind us to the thingness of the objects around us, so that we aren't actually aware of reality, we aren't actually experiencing it. We are experiencing our standardized and homogenized discourse about reality -- the opaque words are in the way of things -- this is what is absurd to Kharms. So in the stories he's disorienting you from the normality of this discourse, he's shaking you awake. It echoes the Formalist concept of ostrananie or estrangement in its effect.

One way that Kharms does this is by doing things wrong in the writing, like writing sentences in intentionally awkward ways or even simply using incorrect grammar. Yankelevich notes that he tries to preserve or acknowledge this awkwardness in his translations. He also notes that Kharms didn't pore over a lot of his writing, making draft after draft in a conventional editing process. They were one-shot deals, written and put in the desk drawer. Now, it's hard for me to know where these wrong/awkward spots are, but I tried as I read to hear the echo of the Gibian translations and notice where these new ones differ. The Gibian ones do seem smoother, fuller, made more safe for Western prose expectations. Here's one really short story about a fellow named Petrakov who struggles with sleepiness and sleeplessness. First, the Gibian version:
The other day Petrakov wanted to go to bed, but he missed the bed and plopped down beside it. He bumped the floor so hard that he lay on the floor and couldn't get up.
So Petrakov gathered himself together and with all his strength pulled himself up on all fours. But his strength gave out, and he fell down again on his stomach and lay there.
Petrakov lay on the floor for five hours. At first he simply lay there; then he fell asleep.
Sleep put strength into Petrakov. He woke up feeling perfectly fine, got up, and walked around the room, and lay down carefully on his bed. "Well, now I'll sleep," he thought. But he didn't feel like sleeping any more. He turned from side to side and couldn't fall asleep at all.
That's about all.
And the Yankelevich:
So, once Petrakov wanted to go to sleep but, lying down, missed his bed. He hit the floor so hard he lay there unable to get up.
So Petrakov mustered his remaining strength and got on his hands and knees. But his strength abandoned him and he fell on his stomach again, and he just lies there.
Petrakov lay on the floor about five hours. At first he just lay there, but then he fell asleep.
Sleep refreshed Petrakov's strength. He woke up invigorated, got up, walked around the room and cautiously lay down on the bed. "Well," he thought, "now I'll get some sleep." But now he's not feeling very sleepy. So Petrakov keeps turning in his bed and can't fall asleep.
And that's it, more or less.
The verb tense shifts in the new version. At first I thought it might be an editing error when he fell on his stomach (past tense) and just lies there (present). But then it happens again at the end, which makes the ending a current condition as if Petrakov is still struggling with this sleeplessness in the real time of the reader. So is that sentence where it shifts briefly to present and then returns to past a mistake? or one of these intentional oddities of Kharms? Hard to say, but I like Yankelevich's version. I like his version of the first paragraph too -- Gibian smooths it into one nice, even sentence. Yankelevich's two sentences are choppy and more like someone sitting next to you beginning a little unevenly to tell you a tale out loud, sort of ramping up into it.

Obviously, this new selected Kharms is essential. There are lots of plays and poems in it too, where the oddness really comes through. This poem is entitled "Notnow":

This is This.
That is That.
This is not That.
This is not This.
What's left is either this, or not this.
It's all either that, or not that.
What's not that and not this, that is not this and not that.
What is this and also that, that is itself Itself.
What is itself Itself, that night be that but not this, or else this but not that.
This went into that, and that went into this. We say: God has puffed.
This went into this, and that went into that, and we have no place to leave and nowhere to come to.
This went into this. We asked: where? They sung in answer: Here.
This left That. What is this? It's That.
This is that.
That is this.
Here are this and that.
Here went into this, this went into that, and that went into here.
We watched, but did not see.
And there stood this and that.
There is not here.
That's there.
This is here.
But now both this and that are there.
But now this and that are here, too.
We long and mope and ponder.
But where is now?
Now is here, and now there, and now here, and now here and there.
This be that.
Here be there.
This, that, here, these, be, I, We, God.
"Painting is no problem; the problem is what to do when you're not painting."
-- Jackson Pollock

Jan 24, 2008


Jan 11, 2008

it was cold here for a while

Jan 7, 2008

reminder #2

using metaphor could help me to be extrospective.
i must hurt others less.

Jan 6, 2008

dim sum

sadie and duck sauce

iris wolfing pork dumplings

they left a tray of dumplings at our table

the aftermath