Friday, June 29, 2012

Translation: Juan Vico [Updated]

I mentioned that I'd found several compelling books of poetry while away, and I've already posted a few pieces by one of the poets, so let me take a break from packing and cleaning to post my translation of a poem by another of those writers, Juan Vico, whose collection Still Life received the XXVIII Premi de Poesia <<Divendres culturals>> in 2011, and was published by the press of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). Flipping through the book I found the combination of lightness and depth, the references to contemporary culture and high art, the relative straightforward quality of the Spanish, and the subtle lyricism all drawing me in.

In the poem below, you can see what I'm talking about as the speaker addresses the late, unsurpassingly strange master artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski, 1908-2001), whose portraits of young women do feel out of time and deeply suffused with eros yet also carry, at least to me, an air of something lost, missed, amiss, something quite sinister. The speaker has an idea of what--or who--is behind that, and it isn't just the poet, and that agent is also working its seductive magic on the speaker too.

One translation note: the verb otorgar usually means to "grant" or "agree to" or even "condescend to," so I had to find an English word that would convey the meaning while also fitting the other requirements of the poem. English fortunately has an incredibly rich vocabulary, and the quite old, somewhat formal-sounding verb "bestow" seems to capture all these meanings, while also creating a rhyme with "shadows" in the first line of the first stanza, and maintaining the consonant sibilance ending each of the first four lines. It is always a challenge to capture the beautiful sonorities of the Romance languages in English, all of which have baked into them the possibility of much internal rhyme and much more regular rhythm, but English has its own resources and I try, as best I can, to utilize them in service of making the translation as effective as I can.

I'd never come across Vico's work before, but according to his book jacket, he was born in Badalona in 1975, and studied Audivisual Communication and has a Masters in Literary Theory and Comparative Theory.  He's published at least one other book of poems, Víspera de ayer (Pre-textos, 2005), and two notebooks, Gozne (2009) and Densidad de abandono (2011), and has written extensively for a number of cultural magazines on issue literature and cinema. He has a vibrant blog, simply titled Juan Vico, featuring his own and others' works, and you can even see him being interviewed on it (which is the clip at the bottom of this page).

At the bookstore I also saw a novel by Vico, Hobo, set in Mississippi with a protagonist named "Bob Skinny Lunceford," his life seemingly paralleling while also diverging in many key ways from that of the great jazz saxophonist Jimmy Lunceford (also a Mississippi native), but I was watching my euros, so I'll have to get that one another time.  He talks about the novel in Vimeo clip below. the Here is "Letter to Balthus," and as always, any faults with the translation are mine alone, any suggestions or comments are always welcome.



There are neither shadows of the past nor promises
in your timeless bodies, cher Balthus,

but there is Death, who bestows
color on Thérèse's cheeks,

tousles Georgette's hair,
discovers only one breast of Elsa Henríquez

and plays with Laurence's cat
while kissing my forehead very slowly.


No hay sombras del pasado ni promesas
en tus cuerpos sin tiempo, cher Balthus

aunque sea la muerte quien otorgue
color a las mejillas de Thérèse,

le despeine a Georgette la caballera,
le descubra a Elsa Henríquez sólo un seno

y juege con el gato de Laurence
mientras besa mi frente muy despacio.

Copyright © Juan Vico, "Carta a Balthus," from Still Life, XXVIII Premi de Poesia <<Divendres culturals>> de 2011, Bellaterra: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Servei de Publicaciones, 2011. Copyright © John Keene, translation, 2012. All rights reserved.

UPDATE: Kai W. suggests the following translation of the second to fourth stanzas of the poem to emphasize the subjunctive mood required by "aunque":

although Death may bestow
color to the cheeks of Therese,

muss Georgette's hair
and of Elsa Henriquez, bare but one breast,

playing with Laurence's cat,
while kissing my forehead very slowly.

Copyright © Kai Wilson, 2012.

I do like this suggestion a lot, because it definitely includes the subjunctive mood and the color it casts upon the poem.  I wonder if it doesn't elide that "sea," though, which suggests permanence (against the "hay" or, had he Vico chosen to use the verb "estar," impermanence); Death (which I have capitalized now, following Kai) is always there, he's saying, I think, and emphasizes this, as opposed to writing "aunque la muerte otorgue / color a las mejillas...." I thus changed "there's" to "there is," maintaining the consonance with "bestows" and the other sibilants. Morever, to keep the meter from clanging I used the English possessive form, reformulating "cheeks of Thérèse" to "Thérèse's cheeks."  I also do like Kai's "bare but one breast," and I wanted to hew closer to the exact words Vico's poem, but "bare" rhymes with "hair" and tracks Vico's syntax more closely. Originally I went with "uncombs" for "despeinar," which is the literal translation--since death of course does just that, but Kai chose "muss," which is great, and that led me to go with "tousle," though in a sense "uncomb," which is a bit clunky, also captures the eeriness of the description. Death is always un-doing something to all of us, to everything. One thing I thought about was that "aunque" usually requires the subjunctive (doesn't it), it's hard to know how much the mood need translate into English. I think it should, but need it be as strong as the "may," or can it be implicit? I'm not sure but I appreciate the suggestions.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stonewall Day + Congrats to Reggie H. + OBAMACARE #WIN! + Sullivan Back at U.Va. + Euro 2012

What a day! First, it's Stonewall Day; on June 28, 1969, the multi-day uprising in New York's Greenwich Village that marked a turning point in the burgeoning gay rights movement began. In today's Huffington Post, Scott G. Brown, one of the oldest surviving veteran of the event, offers some thoughts on what happened and guides readers toward his memoir, Confessions and Diaries of a New York Veteran of the Greenwich Village Stonewall Inn Raid of June 28, 1969: Souvenirs.  I have not read it but I intend to. Scott is black and gay, and approvingly quotes Edmund White's delightful memoir City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 1970s, to underline the reality of that landmark event: "And it wasn't all those crew-neck white boys in The Hamptons and The Pines who changed things, but rather the black kids and Puerto Rican transvestites who came down to the Village on the Subway, the 'A-Trainers,' who made the difference!" As the children would say, "Yes, ma'am huntee!" Happy Stonewall Uprising Day, and do seek out Mr. Brown's book if you're so motivated.


Reggie H. (overjoyed)
I often mention Mr. Reggie H. on here, as he is a dear friend and brother/brotha writer and the only human being I know who is on top of everything. He is. He knows all kinds of things, intellectual, political, gossipy and otherwise, can be bitingly funny, but rarely if ever says a bad thing about anyone. He reps for Baltimore and Maryland (a state in which we have ancestors in common, his more recent than mine.) He also does his thing at Poets House, blogs at Noctuary, keeps lots of poets on their toes, advocates for and works with some of our societies most vital people, librarians, and listens politely to all my BS. He even comments on this blog from time to time (thank you!). And Mr. Reginald Harris Jr. is now the winner of the 2012 Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Second Book Prize! His first, moving book 10 Tongues (Three Conditions Press, 2003) is one I urge you to familiarize yourself with; his second, titled Autogeography, is forthcoming next year, and on his blog he features one of the poems from it, about which I will say only that when I first saw it, I thought: "He's got it--down." He does. And will soon have a new, wonderful book of poems to show for it. Congratulations, Reggie!


President Obama
(thinking: "Whoo,
these Repubs
are going to
be salty tonight!")

As the morning unfolded and I was preparing the final stages of clearing out my apartment and waiting for UPS to come collect more boxes--which did not happen well into the sweltering evening here in Chicago--I heard the news that the United States Supreme Court had voted 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the Rube Goldberg-style, neoliberal, Heritage Foundation-birthed insurance reform program that became the signature piece of legislation President Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats passed during the last 4 years. Faulty as the legislation is, it possesses many major benefits for a large swath of Americans, and will result in an increasing push towards universal care in a way not foreseeable before its passage. I am not a lawyer so I cannot ascertain all the angles on the majority opinion, which conservative Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote, but it appears that he originally was going to side with the other four right-wing justices (Antonin Scalia, who gave a Scalimbaughish rant the other day in his dissent against the striking down of 3 of 4 provisions of Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant law, SB 1070; Clarence Thomas; Samuel Alito; and Anthony Kennedy, often though to be a "swing vote") who deemed the law "invalid."

Instead, having declared unworkable the argument that the Commerce Clause gives the government the power to impose the Affordable Care Act's Individual Mandate, decided to vote with the four more moderate-to-liberal justices (Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Stephen Breyer, whom I enjoy hearing lecture, his sing-songy voice like a lullaby; Sonia Sotomayor, whose visage makes me smile with pleasure that she was Obama's first SCOTUS pick; and Elena Kagan) to uphold nearly all the provisions of the law, which he affirmed as Constitutional under Congress's power to impose taxes. The only constraint was a provision, signed by 7 justices, arguing that Congress could not cancel out all federal funding to states if they refused to augment the ACA's provisions on Medicaid expansion. A blow against the Commerce clause, an affirmation of Congress's power to tax, a limit on federal power in relation to funding in the states, and a green light for insurance companies, hospital corporations, medical insurance providers, and all private businesses involved in the still-expanding health care sector.

It was also an unambiguous victory for President Obama and the Democrats, made possible by one of the least likely of agents, Roberts, and it enraged conservative idealogues, from Republican President candidate Mitt Romney, who implemented a very similar prototype in Massachusetts when he was governor there, to a number of members of the Republican Congressional Congress, who spoke in testerical flights of rhetorical about "freedom" and so forth, to Republican icons like Sarah Palin, who claimed that it proved the President had "lied." Of course they are all aware that Republicans had championed the "mandate" only a few years ago; Romney was captured on camera praising it in Massachusetts in 2006. The entire plan was hardly the "socialist" threat conservatives had made it out to be, hatched as it was by the Heritage Foundation, but in many of its provisions, it does point towards the possibility of much better, universal, affordable care of the kind that is available throughout most of the industrialized world.

Some of its provisions are excellent: no coverage denial based on pre-existing conditions; young people can stay on their parents' health care much longer; a stricter limit on profits collected as overhead from premiums; Medicare and Medicaid expansion; subsidies to buy healthcare; many incentive-based pilot programs that could be far-reachingly positive in their effects; federal deficit-lowering mechanisms; and so forth. Single-payer health care would be optimal, and Medicare-for-All or a Public Option would be the next best thing, but for now, the ACA does much good, despite its problems, and it is still far better than what existed before its enactment, which doesn't even really go into effect until 2014. (Republicans, including Romney, who was for it before he was against it, have vowed to repeal it, to deny its components funding, and, as South Carolina's junior Senator, the Tea Party epigone Jim DeMint urged today, simply to nullify it, as that state's politicians were fond of doing before the US Civil War.)

When I heard the news on NPR, confirmed by online sources, I felt a brief moment of elation such as I hadn't felt about this administration and Congress, and their actions, in a long time. I also felt--and I admit this is a bit sentimental, melodramatic, and ridiculous, but bear with me--a bit of that starry promise that was so palpable the night Barack Obama was elected in 2008, and I wandered among the throngs of people in downtown Chicago, in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and onto the periphery of Grant Park, and everything seemed possible, people of all backgrounds, ages, life trajectories, milled about, tears in their eyes, drums beating in their ears, awaiting the President-elect, his wife and his two daughters, knowing that we had, at least for a day, made a point about the disastrous slog of the previous eight years.  So much seemed possible that night; health care and insurance reform, at least in my eyes, was one of the more pedestrian, though important, eventualities that would mark Obama's tenure. Ending the wars, prosecuting the Wall Street criminals, rolling back those budget-busting Bush tax cuts, and so much more seemed far more important.

During the campaign, Barack Obama did promise he would enact health care and insurance reform. Nearly all of his Democratic and even some of his Republican predecessors, going back to Harry S. Truman (Missourian!) had attempted to do so, but run up against one abatgis or another. Lyndon Johnson did, however, succeed with Medicare and Medicaid. But in his first term, Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats pulled it off. It is imperfect, but it is a crucial start, and as such strikes terror into the hearts of the Randroid types who want to dissassemble everything and hand it over to private agents who'll benefit even more than the private agents already feasting on the ACA's promised bounty.  More importantly, though, ACA, or Obamacare, is helping millions of people already, and will eventually cover and help many more. The UPS driver who collected my boxes told me with happiness that he was glad it was upheld; his child suffered from what most health insurance companies would consider a pre-existing condition, and because of the law she could not be denied coverage. He is one of many. He is one of us. Thank you to the President, the Congress who passed the law, and to the Supreme Court justices who bravely and rightly upheld it.


U.Va. PRESIDENT Teresa Sullivan (Dan Addison, U. of Virginia)
It is the case that things happen that I think could not possibly happen, which suggests that I am either still too naïve, something my father warned me about when I was young, or that I have not lost my capacity for astonishment. I'll go with the latter.  What astonished me?  For starters, the abrupt, public dismissal of the first female president of the august University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, by a group of wealthy corporate hacks who had, through the graces of Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, come to dominate the Board of Visitors, the name for the powerful trustees who control what is still Mr. Jefferson's university. I spent 2 years there in the early 1990s, and I can say that it is an institution steeped in its history and traditions, distinguished academically in many disciplines, and not one in which things such as the rude, crude dismissal of presidents by secret plot happen regularly. As it turns out, the gang of however many, led by a real estate honcho named Helen Dragas (she was the "rector"), had two main concerns they felt Sullivan wasn't tackling swiftly enough. They wanted her to kill certain departments--like the Classics and German--to save money, and they wanted her to jump into the online teaching game, panicked as they were by the likes of Stanford and MIT (two institutions in my opinion most likely to undertake such experiments), and, it seems, not unsurprisingly, Harvard, in racing forward in doing so. Apparently Sullivan, being a reasonable person and grasping that a university president, especially at a major state institution, is not a dictator, did not sign off readily on either plan, and so Dragas and her conspirators secretly planned--all documented in released emails--to oust her, keeping their plans close to their vests until it was a fait accompli. They did. It was, in sum, a coup. A furore ensued. The university community protested vehemently, and Sullivan's replacement even felt shamed enough not to want the job permanently. Some members of the Board of Visitors hadn't even known about the plan until it was undertaken. But, to their credit, they reversed themselves, and on Tuesday unanimously reinstated Sullivan.  (Why she would reassume the job knowing that vultures like the ones she dealt with were hovering around I do not know.) But good for her, good for the University of Virginia, and a tocsin for all other public universities, large and small, as well as for private ones, rich or poor.

Today the business of universities, at least in the eyes of many wealthy trustees, Randroid legislators, and many members of the public, is business. I mean both corporatization, and an increasing emphasis on business education and business study-related thinking. No matter how outstanding a job a university has been in achieving its goals, no matter how narrow or broad its mandate, no matter how relevant the fields it emphasizes, the aim today is to mimic corporations, to corporatize every aspect of university life, to place money at the forefront of everything.  The liberal arts, the life of the mind, the search for and creation of knowledge, the creation of community--none of it matters to those who want every institution of higher education to be ranked #1 and a carbon copy of GE. Look at what the state systems in Texas and California have been dealing with over the last few years. But this is a problem not just in the US; just note what Great Britain is doing in terms of hiking student fees, privileging wealthy students, slashing departments, forcing faculty members to fit business-developed metrics, and pushing for funding cuts to be made up, if at all, by corporations, and there is also the ongoing crisis in Québec, Canada, whose root issue is creeping privatization.

One irony for the UVa coup agents, as someone pointed out online today, is that the classics provide more than enough examples not just of the sort of behavior Dragas behaved in, but enough history, philosophy and literature to explain and illustrate the world we live in today, and, as regards the German department, Germany holds the fate of Europe, and thus the globe, in its hands. Of course irony is a key component of literature, a field many of the pro-business types are hostile too. Lost on them is too kind a word. But best wishes to President Sullivan, and goodspead to all in her position all over the country and globe.


The 2012 London Olympics will be upon us soon enough. I can't wait. So to will the Major League All Star game. The All England Club Wimbledon Tennis tournament, which I used to watch avidly, is also occurring now. And the British Open Golf tournament, at a suitably scraggly course, will happen in short order.  (The NBA Finals are over, and the Miami Heat won, 4-1, which gladdened me because the Oklahoma City Thunder's owners are rabidly anti-gay. Also, it redeemed LeBron James in the eyes of some; I'm all for him, so I was glad he brought home a crown to go with his predictions in prior years.)

But--I have been peeping the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. I wasn't really paying attention, and then one night I was in one of those extremely affordable pizza joint-cum-bars that you find in European countries, and saw England playing Sweden, I think, and England came back and won the match 3-2, the restaurant patrons erupted with cheers, I found myself drawn in, and now I eager to see who wins between the finalists, Spain and Italy, two countries particularly down on their luck these days but good enough as soccer powers to push the other top teams out of the way.

In the ex-colonial powers match-up, Spain defeated Portugal in the semifinals on penalty kicks, while the ex-fascists semifinal entailed Italy sending Germany packing 2-1, on 2 goals by the fro-hawked Mario Balotelli. The Spain-Portugal game from the snippet I saw was like watching a chalkboard dry, while Balotelli gave the latter game a jolt with his second, game-winning goal, on a crossing pass from Riccardo Montolivo, which he fired into the upper right corner of the goal from a distance. He promptly stripped off his shirt to display three blue (Gli Azzuri!) blue stripes on his muscular back, which led to a penalty. Drama! I want to see the final. Either team gets my vote. Go PIGS*! (Portugal-Italy-Greece-Spain!)

An update: UEFA, the organizer of the Euro 2012 tournament, has fined Spain €20,000 over its fans' racist chants against Mario Balotelli during their Group C clash. (Russia was fined €30,000 for its fans' monkey chants against the Czech Republic player Theodor Gebre Selassie, whose family originally is from Ethiopia. Russia's tournament fine total now tallies €225,000.) Balotelli has repeatedly been the target of racist invective, including during Italy's June 14th match against Croatia, which led UEFA to impose a sanction of €80,000 on that nation. I am hoping the Spanish fans choose not to resort to form during the final game. If so, go Italy!

Spain's Pique challenges Portugal's Nani during their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at Donbass Arena in Donetsk. DARREN STAPLES/REUTERS
Spain's goalkeeper Casillas makes a save next to team mate Iniesta and Portugal's Nani during their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/REUTERS
Spain's Pique scores a goal against Portugal's goalkeeper Patricio during penalty shoot-out at their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at Donbass Arena in Donetsk. DARREN STAPLES/REUTERS
German midfielder Sami Khedira (3dR) vies with Italian opponents during the Euro 2012 football championships semifinal match at the National Stadium in Warsaw.
Italy's Mario Balotelli scores the first goal.
Matthias Schrader / AP
Mario Balotelli flexing his muscles after his second goal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Translations: Carlos Skliar

Carlos Skliar (© Copyright Fasinarm 2009)
I'd thought that a large shipment of materials was wending its way east, but a snafu meant that it instead was sitting patiently in Evanston for me to discover it and call upon the good people of United Parcel Service to discharge...and so, now, it is on its way, and there is one less thing to think about on this end. I still am not able to blog as I'd like, but in lieu of a full post, here is a translation of four of the poems in Carlos Skliar's book, No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras (The Words Are In No Hurry), published by Candaya Abierta earlier this year, which I mentioned the other day. I found it in a bookstore in Barcelona and after browsing a few of the pieces, which range from sentence-long aphorisms and aperçus to paragraph length prose pieces shot through with observation and cogitation, I grabbed it. It helped that Spanish was playful but not beyond me ken.

Reading the book on the plane, I found Skliar's poems full of wry wit and keen perspective, offering a clear sense of a mind always moving, turning images or ideas or moments around to see every facet and angle, but also utilizing the resources of Spanish to successful effect.  To put it another way, David Roas writes in his introduction that Skliar, like his mind, is a "a viajero," or traveler, a "un extranjero perpetuo que, como tal, contempla la realidad con ojos nuevos, que mira (verbo esencial en la poética del autor) y nos revela lo que ve y siente" ("A perpetual stranger who, as such, contemplates reality with new eyes, who looks (an essential verb in this author's poetry) and reveals to us what he sees and feels.") (Skliar, 5, my translation). Also noteworthy is his concision and subsequent condensation of meaning, allowing him to do a great deal with very little. Some of his playfulness is hard to capture in English. To give one example, he uses the verb "despedir," which means to "say goodbye to, see off," but also to "discharge, discard, emit, fling," and so forth, the two valences fused in the word. Had he written "Me despedi para siempre de tu vida," that would have been a relatively straightforward "I said goodbye forever to your life," but he retains that rhythmic second-person singular preterite ending "-iste" (which becomes almost incantatory, as "you" in English prose and poetry often does), saying "Me despediste para siempre de tu vida," which turns the address and tone in a different direction. The random person is bidding him farewell--far too formal phrasing for here--forever from his life after basically bothering him relentlessly, so what English verb would suffice. I thought about "discharge," and of course the more benign "say goodbye," but "discard," like that burnt-out "cigarillo" felt appropriate. Perhaps it isn't, but for now it seems to work.

According to the book jacket's brief biography of Skliar, he was born in 1960 in Buenos Aires, he works as a researcher at Argentina's National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, and in the program in Education at the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty.  Since 2005, with Diego Skliar (who may be his brother? Son?), he hosts a radio program in Buenos Aires entitled Preferiría no hacerlo (I would prefer not to do it). I said he was witty.  He is the author of of the collections Primera Conjunción (First Conjunction, 1981), Hilos después (Threads After, 2009), and Voz apenas (Voice Only, 2011), and of the book of aphorisms and essays La intimidad y la alteridad (Intimacy and Otherness, 2006). He has written a number of important essays, published in his own critical volumes such as The Education of the Deaf: A Historical, Cognitive and Pedagogical History (1997), and Intimacy and Alterity: Experiences with the Word (2005), or ones he's edited, among them Derrida and Education (2005), Between Pedagogy and Literature (with Jorge Larrosa, 2007), Experience and Alterity in Education (with Jorge Larrosa, 2009); and The Said, The Written, The Ignored (2011). [Title translations are mine.]

What his brief bio doesn't say--and why should it?--is whether despite the differences in the spelling of their last name he is any relation to the late, brilliant Brazilian writer, Moacyr Scliar (1937-2011), who was born and grew up in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in that country, which direct abuts Argentina and Buenos Aires Province. Perhaps they share common roots in Bessarabia, where Scliar parents were from, or closer ones still, depending, with Moacyr his uncle. This online biography, which points out that he received a doctorate in Phonology, with a specialization in Human Communication and has been served as an adjunct professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, thus suggests close ties to the Gaúcho state, so perhaps the familial links are clear enough.

Here then are several pieces from the book. These are first passes at translation, so the faults are mine; you can read his Spanish directly to gauge the full effect of his work. Also, Mr. Skliar did write a comment on my earlier post, so perhaps he will see and offer corrections--and anyone else should feel free to do so--with this one. Enjoy!

Four from No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras

Me pediste que me detuviera en medio de la calle. Me pediste que te diera un cigarillo, que te lo encendiera. Me pediste que te dijera la hora, que te orientara acerca de un sitio que yo desconocía. Me pediste que olvidara la pregunta. Me pediste otra vez la hora. Me dijiste qué frío hace. Me preguntaste si yo era de aquí. Me pediste otra vez fuego porque el cigarillo se había apagado. Te fuiste. Me despediste para siempre de tu vida.

You asked me to hold up in the middle of the street. You asked me to give you a cigarette, to light it for you. You asked me for the time, to direct you around a place I was unfamiliar with. You asked me to forget the question. You asked me the time again. You told me how cold it was. You asked me if I was from here. You asked me once again for a light because the cigarette had gone out. You left. You discarded me from your life forever.


Detrás de un ventana entreabierta, un niño castigado mira incansablemente el juego de otros niños. Acompaña con su cuerpo los movimentos de cada uno, goza y padece cada una de las vicisitudes ajenas, aunque nadie lo vea. Será un buen hombre. Si lo dejan salir al mundo.

Behind a partially-opened window, a little boy on punishment tirelessly watches other children playing. With his body he shadows the movements of every one of them, enjoys and suffers every one of the others' vicissitudes, even though none of them sees him. He will turn out to be a good man. If they allow him to go out into the world.


El sonido de un idioma extranjero que te abre los oídos, pero no te deja abrir la boca.

The sound of a foreign language that opens your ears, but doesn't let you open your mouth.


La vida es la diferencia entre el tiempo que pasa y lo que pasa en el tiempo. O, quizá, la diferencia que hay en el interior del tiempo que pasa. La diferencia como intensidad. El tiempo que hondura. Tiempo anciano y tiempo niño, a la vez. Podríamos llamar "de travesía" a esos segundos que no quieren pasar, aun pasado. La percepción los detiene, los retiene, los recuerda. El pensamiento podría dedicar sus mejores horas a esos segundos que ni se van ni se quedan.  A esa serpiente enroscado, verde y negra, que al morderse la cola parece que siempre retorna.

Life is the difference between the time that passes and what passes in time. Or perhaps, the difference that exists within passing time. Difference as intensity. Time's depth. Ancient time and youthful time, at the same time. We could call "crossing" those seconds that do not want to pass, even as they're passing. Perception detains them, retains them, recalls them. Thought could dedicate its best hours to those seconds which neither leave nor stay. To this coiled serpent, green and black, which, in biting its tail, always seems to return.

Copyright © Carlos Skliar, all poems from No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras, Prologue by David Roas, Barcelona: Candaya Abierta, 2012. All rights reserved. Copyright © John Keene, translation, 2012. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Data Garden: Quartet

Data GardenI'm still in flux, packing, moving, and so little time for blogging.

Instead, here's something a bit different: Quartet: Live at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Data Garden, or 116 minutes of plant-generated music. I kid not. The music linked below has been generated by the "electronic impulses" of four plants: a philodendron plant: Lead synthesizer; two Schefflera plants, #1: Rhythm Tone Generator, #2: Bass synthesizer; and a Snake Plant: Ambience and effects. Four human engineers were involved in transforming the impulses into music. The recording took place on April 13, 2012, and the release date for the performance was May 1, 2012.

Listening to this, it got me thinking about the music all around us that we do not and cannot hear; the human auditory system is primed to filter out low frequency sounds (thankfully, or we'd probably go bonkers hearing our heartbeats, pulses, the movement of our blood through our system, our alveoli inflating and deflating, etc.), but there is all kinds of audible music we can hear if we're willing to listen. Recently I wrote a poem about this that I've submitted to a literary journal (I shared it at a faculty-student reading about a month ago), and once it's published, I'll post it hear. It isn't as subtle or sublime as the lyricism of these flora, however.

QuartetAt left is one of the images you can purchase as a poster for $15 from the museum. There's also a digital album for $6. The plantable seed paper 7", however, has completely sold out.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Photos: Traveling IV

A final set of photos from this trip. One of my last planned visits was to see the famous Casa Batlló's, Antoni Gaudí's lavish house, designed for Josep Maria Jujol in 1877 and redesigned in 1904-6, that (in)famously appears to have no straight lines in its face. It spectacularly droops like candle wax, or creeps like the stone efflorescences in a Max Ernst painting, dominating the already grandiose architecture of the grand Passeig de Gràcia's most over-the-top block, the Illa de la Discòrdia (or "Block of Discord"), so labeled because the neighboring manses, by Barcelona's most famous Modernist architects Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier), visually and visibly strive to outstrip each other, though Gaudí easily wins the prize. In local parlance, the house is known as the Casa dels ossos (House of Bones, in Castilian: Casa de los huesos), and if you stare at it long enough, it does start to appear to be growing new excrescences. (Like the Sagrada Familia, but in reduced form.) Just as with the Temple, so here, mobs of tourists, and a pricey entry fee, so I snapped (not so great) photos and got back on the Metro.

It was the highlight of a tour through L'Eixample, the neighborhood surrounding and north of the University of Barcelona; also in this area is Barcelona's main gay district, though I learned that to see it at full flower, it was probably best to visit after 6 pm. Many a shop, though none of the restaurants, shuttered for la siesta, which I'd completely forgotten about. Though thoroughly worn out, I definitely enjoyed seeing Barcelona again, and hope to get back soon. I was even able to have a complete conversation in Spanish, from pickup to drop off, with my cabbie, and on the first leg of my return flight read a couple of the books I bought, one by a young Spanish poet named Juan Vico, which received a prize in 2011, and one by the Argentinian author Carlos Skliar. I'll post translations of excerpts as soon as I can. My cabdriver--I am not becoming Tom Friedman!--stated what I'd observed, that the city had grown in infrastructure and racial and ethnic diversity, and Catalan cultural consciousness since 1990. The days of Franco's ban of this distinctive Romance language, or the absence of black and brown faces, was long gone. What the future promises, especially given the Eurozone crisis and Catalonia's own economic problems, remains to be seen, but the city is and will probably continue to be a jewel.

I concluded part of my return by staying in a relatively inexpensive, Japanese-style pod-hotel, Yotel, in Amsterdam's airport. It took a few minutes to figure out how to turn on the lights and connect to the Internet to Skype home, but I would recommend it for non-claustrophobics and non-acrophobics. It's like sleeping in a chamber of the spaceship in 2001, though without Hal threatening to wreak havoc. Reserve in advance though; I thankfully had so I wasn't denied a room but there was a line of people looking for an affordable option, their computer system was down, and the beleaguered young attendant seemed almost ready to bolt if he was asked another question.... On the second leg of the flight home, I finally read Julian Barnes's Man Booker Prize-winning novella The Sense of an Ending, after having recommended it, based on a number of strong reviews, to a student who enthusiastically polished it off and then came to my office hours to ask: "Professor, what happened at the end?" He wasn't testing me, I realized, but actually confused. I read the book and now what happened, so he'll receive an email, if he did not subsequently reckon it or consult Wikipedia. As tight as a Swiss watch's gears, that plot of Barnes's, yet also perhaps a bit melodramatic too.
OBAMA (British Africa) Ales and Stouts
OBAMA British Africa gin & rum, ales and stouts
VOTA (assemblage with cardboard)
The Mary Astor, L'Eixample
Mary Astor Cafeteria, L'Eixample
Art and mess
Street scene, near Blanquerna
Calle Moncada
Carrer Moncada
The Umbracle, in the Parque La Ciutadella
Umbriacle, in the Parc de La Ciutadella
Street art, Barcelona
Door art
Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló
Gaudí's Casa Batlló, on the Passeig de Gràcia
Casa Batlló
The crowd in front of the Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló
The Museu Antoni Tàpies, with the wire cloud on its roof
Museu Antoni Tàpies (with the wire cloud on its roof)
La Mulata, in L'Eixample
La Mulata, in L'Eixample
In L'Eixample
Street scene, L'Eixample
Galerie de Arte, L'Eixample
Galeria de arte, L'Eixample
Pub Fiction
Pub Fiction, L'Eixample
Yotel Pod
Yotel Hallway, pods on either side
The Yotel pod, straight on

Friday, June 15, 2012

Photos: Traveling III

I had seen the Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí's unfinished, ongoing masterpiece, before, but it astonished me no less this second time, not least because a large portion of its façade and other sections of it are actually finished! The building's front and sides, every angle of it, pulsate with a strange, compelling magnetism; it is as if it were another life form, a stone creature to which you feel drawn, willing to surrender whatever good sense you have because you cannot say no. But I did say no to the tour, because of the long lines and exhaustion after several longish days, a lingering cold, and two hours whiled walking and looking in the Picasso Museum. I'd never been there. I highly recommend it. The collection is small; Picasso's friend and secretary Jaume Sabatiers donated most of what's in it, with the maestro himself and his former partner (wife?) chipping in some tidbits to fill things out, but it nevertheless gives a good sense of Picasso's trajectory, grounding his genius and work in his experiences in Barcelona, where he spent a good portion of his youth. There was also an excellent temporary exhibition called Archivo F. X.: On Zero Economy (or, as a large wall-sized display said, "Economy: Picasso"), that paired his work with that of admirers and critics, one of whom I recognized as soon as I rounded a corner and heard the beat and her voice: Adrian M. S. Piper, with her famous conceptual art project and video, "Funk Lessons"!  As part of this exhibit the group Archivo F. X. Commissioners Pedro G. Romero and Valentín Roma created a series of pieces, ranging from a dictionary of capital and economy, to large coloring charts, to vouchers for 1 peseta. I asked three different museum guards, who were swarming about, whether these materials really were free, because I did not want to be spend the rest of the month of June in jail for larceny, and each assured me that yes, the materials were free. (My bold action in rolling up one large print led a couple behind me to do so--how easily we follow others.) As I left I mentioned in Spanish that no one was taking the pictures (I couldn't think of the word for "poster"), and the guard I spoke to just shrugged. I wasn't going to pass up Picasso/FX Archive swag! At some point I wended my way to the Arc de Triomf. That is not a spelling error, but Catalan. It's a striking monument, with flourishes such as only Barcelona seems capable of. Behind it, the Passeig Lluis Companys stretches in the direction of the Parc de la Ciutadella, where the Zoological Museum and Zoo, as well as the Catalonian Parliament are located. You infer from that juxtaposition. A fitting end to the day came when I happened upon a street performance that involved those giant wearable puppets that are common during Carnaval in Recife, Brazil, and the young musicians switched, not on behalf of me, but because they knew the tune, from what sounded like a traditional Spanish song to r&b. Above them hung the two signs you'll see below in the final two images, calling for help for public schools, and for the preservation of public services. The Catalan in the last two sentences reads: "We believe in public schools" and "We defend public services." Lest we ever think we're (the 99%, that is) not all in this boat together....

Olmec head, Museu Barbier-Müller
Museu Barbier-Müller (Olmec head)
The Arc from the Pg. Lluis Companys
Arc de Triomf from the Passeig Lluis Companys
Arc de Triomf, Barcelona
Arc de Triomf looking east, towards the Mediterranean Sea
Passatge Sert
Passatge (Passage) Sert
Clearing off graffitti
Scouring the limestone
CULOS (you know what that means, along with "BEERS"; but "DINMA"?)
The Hivernacle, Parque de Ciutadella
Zoological Museum, Parc de La Citadella
Commercial, Barcelona
A commercial being filmed at the edge of the Bari Gothic
Via Augusta, Gracià
Entrance, Picasso Museum
The entrance to the Picasso Museum
In the interior courtyard, Picasso Museum
The alcove of the Picasso Museum
Early drawing by Picasso of an African man
An student-era drawing of an African, by Pablo P.
Street art, Barcelona
"In the year 2065"...
Sagrada Familia
The Temple of the Sagrada Familia (the fruit-topped steeples are wrapped as of today)
Wider view of the Sagrada Familia
Mercat Santa Catarina
Mercat Santa Catarina (an amazing building)
Lagoon across from the Sagrada Familia
The lagoon in the Plaza de Gaudí
Street performers
The giant humanoid puppets (hmm...)
"SOS Public education"
SOS Public education
A poster defending public schools and services
More public pleas: "We defend public services!"