The Box : a brief essay on suicide and depression

This is a brief essay about three to four years in my life that I have managed to put behind me, but will carry around with me at all times. I am haunted by a death I didn’t achieve and a future that slipped away in the meantime.

I live with a black Box of terror.

The full text is at ric journalThe Box : a brief essay on suicide and depression

July Roundup

In July, for some reason, I ran a little experiment and posted something every day, sometimes twice a day. There are four distinct clumps of posts: reviews, #tddl posts, photos and brief personal essays, and then some additional stuff, plus one poem. If you missed the posts, here they are below, sorted by category:

1) Reviews (in alphabetical order)

Sophie Campbell: Shadoweyes
Dorothee Elmiger: Invitation To The Bold Of Heart
Daniel Goetsch: Ein Niemand
Graham Greene: A Gun for Sale
Gwyneth Jones: Proof of Concept
Ben Mazer: February Poems
Denise Mina: Still Midnight
Samanta Schweblin: Fever Dream
Luan Starova: My Father’s Books
Walter Tevis: The Man Who Fell To Earth
Juan Pablo Villalobos: Down the Rabbit Hole

2) #tddl-Summaries

#tddl: Germany’s Next Literary Idol
#tddl, Day One: the Wraypocalypse
#tddl, Day Two: The Jurypocalypse
#tddl, Day Three: The Nopocalypse
#tddl: the winner is…

3) Brief Essays

3a) Mostly personal
Translating for Writing
So what’s your poetry about?
On Liking Short Novels

3b) Less personal, mostly complainy posts
Walter Kaufmann and American readers of Nietzsche
#Translation and Heartbreak
Object Lessons
Male violence, God and the G20: Abraumhalde by Elfriede Jelinek

5) Photos

Balenciaga & Me
Me and My Grandmother
Dinner
A Jelinek Play in Bonn
Evenings
Cologne Pride

6) Additional Posts

Man Booker, man
Rummelplatz in English translation!
Plots of stories I’ve written or rewritten in the past year: a poem
Marcel Inhoff reading

 

Yours Truly in a Brussels bookshop

Translating for Writing

I comment a lot about translation here and I have many complaints. Maybe it’s fair to point out that the times someone paid me to do a translation can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and still have fingers left over. That doesn’t mean I don’t translate, it just means I am incredibly unfamiliar with the pressures of translation from a practical point of view.

But, as I said, I do translate, almost every day, and in various genres, like I am currently doing small translations of Marcel Schwob’s prose pieces. I like to call what I do “translating for writing” and it’s the same thing, though on a less competent level, what writers like Robert Lowell did. Lowell translated the poetry in Imitations in order to break through a block in his own writing. Now, I don’t have writing blocks per se, but I do translate in order to play with my words and to defamiliarize my syntax and metaphor routines.

Recently, I was thinking about this and I think the term “translating for writing” fits it very well. I borrowed the term from the very brilliant linguist Dan Slobin, who, a few years back, offered a weak version of Sapir-Whorf that he called “thinking for speaking” – meaning, our language does not influence our thinking maybe, but when we think in order to speak, the kind of language we speak does influence and shape our thought. I think my translations that result from the process are not “good” translations – they are shaped by my ideas about writing and not by the author’s ideas about writing, beyond what’s on the page.

As a teenager, like many well read obnoxious male teenage poets, my poetry writing became increasingly Celan-y, to the point where I mastered a certain epigonal idiom fairly well. It was then that I decided to interrupt my routines by translating dozens of poems by Creeley, an objectivist American poet. And I think it helped me develop a certain personal idiom. I have since gone back to this well again and again – not Creeley specifically, but the process of translation.

I write every day, but I also translate almost every day, and in a way, it helps me stay sane sometimes. But since I do so much “translating for writing” sometimes I worry it skews my judgment of professional translators who provide the books in all the languages I cannot read (and they are many because I am terrible). But in some sense, translating other people’s writing is, for me, not just the best way to understand their writing, but also my own.

Object Lessons

My little shelf of books in my apartment is not full of all kinds of weird editions – I prefer to collect books in larger volumes and will replace many individual copies with Library of America editions, say, or in the case of comics, with one of those trade omnibus editions or with poetry with a poet’s collected works. Sometimes as I stare at the shelf, I wonder how much I am losing. Is my reading of comic books in any way accurate, reading them in trades first, and then in a thick omnibus edition? How much does the understanding of comics depend on reading it issue by issue?

Armand Schwerner is an interesting exacmple. As readers of Schwerner’s enormous The Tablets we are naturally aware of the multi-level fiction, and Schwerner has found interesting ways to engage us. As McHale has pointed out, unlike other postmodern ‘archeological’ poems like Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, Schwerner’s unreliable scholar/translator shoulders all the blame for anachronisms, jokes and other breaks with the solemnity of imitating the poetry of a (much) earlier age. And unlike books with similar narrators, like Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the doubtful material nature of the poetry under examination undercuts too glib a reading of that narrator.

The Tablets is a book about translating fragments that is itself made up of fragments, in more than one way. As we near the end of the book, the commentary and annotations become longer and more revealing, and eventually allow us to have a much fuller view of the character of the scholar/translator – but for all of Schwerner’s life, The Tablets weren’t available in book form at all. The first eight tablets were published in 1968 – and the collected posthumous edition wasn’t available until 1999, 31 years later. For us, who have access to the full book, it’s hard to imagine the interpretative process of earlier readers. Acquiring all the segments of the poem must have been a task similar to the one undertaken by the scholar/translator. Thus, the book itself is an object lesson in the sometimes arduous task of reading and understanding a text as a whole, in order to be able to contextualize and read smaller portions of it.

I know there’s quite a bit of literature about what constitutes a “text,” but the material aspect of it, of readers being also collectors by necessity, I find extremely fascinating. I have an unpublished longer academic essay on Schwerner in my desk somewhere, and recently I keep taking notes in it on materiality, seriality and the way materiality impacts reader reception theories.

Help? Blog Poetry?

So I applied for a conference with a kinda-sorta improvised topic about poetry published on tumblr, Instagram and on the so-called blogosphere, drawing on Bourdieu, Adorno, Mark Fisher etc. Unexpectedly, I was accepted. Before I decide whether to go or not, I would like to reach out to the internet hive mind and ask for research help. While I do know the theory pretty well, the underlying topic is internet poetry, poetry on blogs, etc., of which I have no clue at all. As my Mazer review shows, I am maybe on the more conservative end of poetry as a reader (maybe?). As I said I improvised my topic, not expecting to have to actually write the paper too. It was a hurried/bad abstract, so I am mystified. However, the conference is close to my parents’ house, and I write pretty fast, generally, and so I don’t want to dismiss the conference outright. So, humbly, I ask you: what are, in your opinion, the most relevant examples? Are there any? Well, I do know they exist, I see them occasionally, and there’s a lovely article in Plume (which incidentally is a really great place for poetry critcism, as you can tell by the way they regularly reject my dogged submissions) by Joshua Corey on “The Golden Age of Poetry Blogging” – but that’s it. If you don’t know but know someone who might, please share?