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Reviews, essays, and translations

Entries from June 1, 2011 - June 30, 2011

Thursday
Jun302011

Borges, "Prólogo a 'La invención de Morel'"

An introduction by this Argentine to this famous work ("The Morel Invention") by his countryman.  You can read the original here.

Around 1882 Stevenson observed that British readers tended somewhat to disdain peripeties and believe that writing a novel bereft of story line was an act of great skill; writing a novel with an infinite story line, however, they deemed degenerate.  In 1925 in The Dehumanization of Art, José Ortega y Gasset tries to rationalize the disdain noted by Stevenson and declares on page 96, "that someone today might invent an adventure capable of interesting our higher sensibility seems to be difficult," then, on page 97, that this invention "is practically impossible."  On other pages on almost all the other pages he champions the "psychological" novel and believes that taking pleasure in adventures is non-existent or puerile.  Such was, doubtless, the common impression in 1882, in 1925, and still in 1940.  Certain writers (among whom I am pleased to count Adolfo Bioy Casares) believe it reasonable to dissent.  I will summarize, here, the motives for this dissension.

The first (whose air of paradox I wish neither to underscore or attenuate) is the intrinsic rigor of the adventure novel.  The typical "psychological" novel tends to be a report.  The Russians and the disciples of the Russians have demonstrated ad nauseam that nothing is impossible: suicides out of happiness, murders out of benevolence, people who adore one another to the point of splitting up forever, informers out of fervor and humility ... This complete liberty results in complete disorder.  What is more, the "psychological" novel also seeks to be the "realist" novel: it prefers that we forget its character of verbal artifice and applies a new coat of plausibility with all vain precision (or with all languid vagueness).  There are pages, there are chapters of Marcel Proust which are unacceptable as inventions, to such an extent that, without knowing it, we resign ourselves to the idle and insipid of the everyday.  The adventure novel, on the other hand, does not pretend to be a transcription of reality: it is an artificial object that permits no part of it to remain unjustified.  The fear of incurring the mere successive variety of The Golden Ass, of The Seven Voyages of Sinbad or of Don Quixote, imposes upon it a rigorous story line.

I have cited an intellectual motive; there are others of an empirical character.  Everyone whispers sadly that our century is not capable of weaving interesting plots; no one dares verify whether, if this century possesses any primacy over prior centuries, it lies in the primacy of plots.  Stevenson is more impassioned, more diverse, more lucid, and perhaps more worthy of our absolute friendship than is Chesterton; yet the story lines he produces are inferior.  De Quincey, on nights of grave terror, fled into the heart of labyrinths; but he never managed to stamp his impression of unutterable and self-repeating infinities in fables comparable to those of Kafka.  Quite rightly Ortega y Gasset observes that the "psychology" of Balzac may not satisfy us; the same might be said of his story lines.  Both Shakespeare and Cervantes liked the antinomian idea of the girl who, without diminishing her beauty, manages to pass for a man; such a conceit does not work with us.  I believe myself free of every superstition of modernity, of any illusion that yesterday differed intimately from today or that yesterday will differ from tomorrow; but I do think that no other era possesses novels of such admirable story lines as The Turn of the Screw, The  Trial, The Invisible Man, or Le Voyageur sur la terre, or the book achieved in Buenos Aires by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

So-called police or crime novels yet another of our century's genres that cannot invent story lines recur to mysterious facts that one reasonable fact will later justify and illustrate.  On these pages, Adolfo Bioy Casares happens to resolve successfully a most difficult problem.  He unfurls an odyssey of wonders which do not seem to admit for any code other than hallucination or symbols, then deciphers them fully by means of a single fantastic, but not supernatural postulate.  The fear of incurring premature or partial revelations prohibits me from examining the story line and the many delicate wisdoms of its execution.  Suffice it to say that Bioy renews in literature a concept that St. Augustine and Origen refuted, that Louis Auguste Blanqui rationalized, and that Dante Gabriel Rossetti stated with memorable lyricism: 

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore...

In Spanish, infrequent if not rare are those works of reasoned imagination.  The classics utilized allegory, exaggeration and satire and, sometimes, mere verbal incoherence; of late I recall only a certain story from Las fuerzas extrañas and one by Santiago Dabove, unjustly forgotten. The Morel Invention (whose title alludes fraternally to another island inventor, Dr. Moreau) brings a new genre to our lands and our language.

I have discussed the details of the plot with the author, and I have reread the novel.  To me it seems neither imprecise nor hyperbolic to call this work perfect. 

Prólogo a "La invención de Morel"
Thursday
Jun232011

The Final Cut

Even the staunchest of anarchists and the most wretched of non-believers will have to admit that we base our present actions on what we have gained from the past.  Living in the here and now results in the puerile imbecility so commonly incident to teenagers and so disturbingly commonplace among those who wish to have no higher authority than themselves (they know who they are).  These are the same people who will advocate lying for convenience and occasionally for sport; the same people who love talking about money and are hopelessly mainstream in putting it to any use; the same people who cannot be bothered to read or write anything of any value, because such activity does not befit a modern man of material riches.  Apart from a few tales of lechery and oneupmanship, the past to these people is a series of excuses, a comedy of errors that can be vanquished by oblivion.  Those who live in the past, they chirp, cannot possibly be ready for the future.  That is to say, not the future as such but an endless chain of presence, a million minutes of thinking of nothing except their needs and desires without so much as a fang mark of remorse on their exfoliated skin.  A mindless existence endangered by the premise of this engaging film.

The conceit is one of the most original in years: for the last half-century or so, technology has been able to imbed a microphoned camera of lifelong capacity in the human brain.  What it sees, asleep or waking, it records, without allowing for omission or editing.  These devices are produced by Eye Tech, which seems to be a less nefarious corporation than most companies of its type, and called Zoe implants (in all likelihood Greek for "life," not an allusion to the lives and works of a couple of American novelists).  Despite that recipients are implanted early enough to retain their first wombless moments, it has been standard practice on the part of the parents, says an infomercial on the subject, to apprise their child when he reaches his mid-twenties.  The ethical quandary is a very old and a very clear one: if everything I see and say aloud is taped, should I alter my behavior and words accordingly?  A theologian may aver that herein lies the epitome of conscience, but we needn't be students of religion to understand the implications.  A better question is whether such an instrument of surveillance (or, to be more modern, sousveillance) engenders the spread of truth or dissimulation.  A matter that secretly gnaws at the film's mild-mannered protagonist, Alan Hakman (Robin Williams).

Hakman is a "cutter" and appropriately named, although a better job description might be "mnemonic undertaker."  His work involves the review of a deceased person's Zoe implant so as to prepare the gloriously yclept "Rememory," a two-hour highlight reel to be screened at the funeral.  This concept is so brilliant as a cinematic convention that one overlooks, if only momentarily, the logistical nightmare that not only reviewing but also editing fifty to eighty years of footage would entail.  I'm not sure whether the difficulty is addressed at all.  At one point we behold Hakman seated before his computer patch, affectionately termed the "Guillotine," like some demented maestro commanding all his minions at once, and then see a good four dozen images in simultaneous playback.  We know that the memories are sorted by category – emotion, first experiences, career, and so forth, along with some baser rubrics, which imbues someone's "rememory" with the balance it often lacked in life – yet we are never given a true idea of how long Hakman typically needs to condense an existence into a viable movie.  This lacuna projects the technology well past our imagination, tethering it nebulously to the concept of a "science fiction parable," a label that is redundant for reasons we will not belabor.  But the tale has much less to do with scientific advancement than with morality, as exemplified by Hakman's truck with Delila (Mira Sorvino) and Fletcher (Jim Caviezel).

Beautiful and recently bereft of her boyfriend, Delila enters Hakman's world as a passing fling that he is inexplicably able to impress (getting and maintaining male attention does not seem to be one of her problems).  The back story for their relationship is simple and predictable yet true to the temptations the technology of the Zoe implant provides – and I will leave the matter right there.  Fletcher's participation in our tale is less obvious, as it involves the Luddite protests against the implant, the ethical tangle of placing such machines in the brains of infants without their knowledge, and the somewhat unfortunate need to contrast the homely, middle-aged Williams with a young and studly antagonist.  Nevertheless, Caviezel and Williams develop an odd rapport reminiscent of a protégé and an old master who will never see eye-to-eye again, and perhaps, it is suggested, never quite won each other's full confidence.  In one fantastic scene the two men meet clandestinely in a public place, sitting back-to-back on each side of a metal grate, but quickly reveal their relationship to all but the most obtuse of passers-by.  One also wonders how Fletcher came by half a million dollars to purchase the Zoe tape of one person in particular, a secret that, like so many others, is revealed only in increments. 

The most important factor may well come, however, in the opening vignette from Hakman's childhood, a vignette that, he peremptorily insists, justifies his trade as well as his self-nomination as a latter-day "sin-eater."  To the director's great credit this piece of the puzzle never comes off as contrived or frivolous; in fact, it is precisely this type of incident that can haunt a person throughout a lifetime.  That said, the only flaw in this very original film is the fact that, given its layers and glue, the ending does not so much screech to a halt as lean against the battlements it has erected.  A lesser work might have devolved into battle scenes, explosions, and some preposterous conspiracy (we have, alas, all gorged ourselves on Hollywood's favorite recipes), but here we get nothing of the kind.  No blood, no new world order, no omnipresent and omnipotent private firm eliminating its detractors with the stealth usually reserved for paramilitary groups.  The premise is driven full speed to its logical conclusion and then deposited at exactly the spot detailed in its itinerary.  Could there or should there have been a detour?  And no, a visit to the tattoo parlor doesn't count.

Wednesday
Jun152011

Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote (part 2)

The conclusion to the Borges masterpiece ("Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote").  You can read the original here.

Why of all things Don Quixote, our reader will ask.  This preference, for a Spaniard, would not have been hard to explain.  But for a symbolist from Nîmes, it is indeed.  A symbolist fundamentally devoted to Poe, who engendered Baudelaire, who engendered Mallarmé, who engendered Valéry, who engendered Edmond Teste.  The letter previously quoted elucidates one point: “Don Quixote,” clarifies Menard, “interests me profoundly, but does not seem to me to be – how should I say this – inevitable.  I cannot imagine the universe without Poe’s interjection:

Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!

Or without Le bateau ivre, or The Ancient Mariner, but I can imagine the world without Don Quixote (I speak, of course, of my personal ability and not of the works’ historical resonance).  Don Quixote is an incidental book, Don Quixote is unnecessary.  I can premeditate its writing; I can write it without encountering a tautology.  I read it at two or three, perhaps all of it.  Since then I have reread certain chapters attentively, others I have not tried until now.  I have also studied the shorter plays, the comedies, the Galatea, the Novelas ejemplares, the undoubtedly laborious “works” of Persiles y Segismunda and El Viaje del Parnaso … My general recollection of Don Quixote, simplified by forgetfulness and indifference, may well be the equivalent to the prior imprecise image of a book as yet unwritten.  Once this image has been postulated (which no one may justly deny me), there can be no doubt that my problem is significantly more difficult than that of Cervantes.  My complacent forerunner did not refuse collaborators by chance: he was composing his immortal work ever so slightly à la diable, borne out by inertias of the language and of invention, whereas I have assumed the mysterious task of literally reconstructing his spontaneous work.  My only game is governed by polar laws. The first permits me to try out variations in form and psychology; the second obliges me to sacrifice these variations to the ‘original’ text and to reason its annihilation in an irrefutable way … In addition to these artificial obstacles, there is another, congenital obstacle, to overcome.  Composing Don Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable, necessary, perhaps even fated undertaking; at the beginning of the twentieth century, it is almost impossible.  Not in vain have three hundred years passed filled with the most complicated of facts and events.  Among these we may mention only one: Don Quixote itself.”

Despite these three obstacles, Menard’s Quixote fragment is more subtle than that of Cervantes.  The latter, in a crude way, opposes the poor provincial reality of his country to the tales of chivalry; Menard chooses as his “reality” the land of Carmen during the century of Lepanto and Lope.  What Iberian clichés this choice might have shown Maurice Barres or Doctor Rodríguez Larreta!  But Menard’s naturalness eludes them. In his work there are no gypsies, no conquistadors, no mystics, no Philipp the Second, no autos de fe.  Such disdain indicates a new meaning of the historical novel.  This disdain indisputably condemns Salammbô.

No less amazing is a consideration of the isolated chapters.  Let us take a look, for example, at XXXVIII of the first part, “which deals with the curious speech made by Quixote on arms and the arts.”  It is known that Don Quixote (just like Quevedo in an analogous and later passage in La hora de todos) rules in favor of arms and against the arts.  Cervantes was a former soldier, so this ruling is easy to explain.  But the Don Quixote of Pierre Menard!  Pierre Menard, the contemporary of La trahison des clercs and of Bertrand Russell, relapsing into these nebulous sophistries!  Madame Bachelier saw in these same sophistries an admirable and typical subordination of the author to the psychology of the hero; others (in no way perspicaciously) espied a transcription of Don Quixote; whereas the Baroness of Bacourt suspected the influence of some German philosopher.  To this last observation (which I judge to be irrefutable), I hesitate to add a fourth consistent with Pierre Menard’s almost divine modesty: his resigned or ironic habit of propagating ideas which were the exact reverse of his own preferences (let us recall again his diatribe against Paul Valéry and the ephemeral, superrealist page of Jacques Reboul).  The text of Cervantes and the text of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is infinitely richer (infinitely more ambiguous, its detractors will say; but ambiguity is a richness).

It is a revelation to collate Menard’s Don Quixote with that of Cervantes.  For example, Cervantes wrote (Don Quixote, first part, chapter IX):

… Truth, whose mother is history, emulates time, depository of actions, witness to the past, example and advice of the present, warning of what it is to come.

Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “ingenious layman” Cervantes, this enumeration is nothing more than the rhetorical praise of history.  On the other hand, Menard writes:

… Truth, whose mother is history, emulates time, depository of actions, witness to the past, example and advice of the present, warning of what it is to come.

History, mother of truth; the idea is astounding.  Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an investigation of reality but as it origin.  According to him historical truth is not what has happened but what we judge to have happened.  The final clauses – example and advice of the present, warning of what it is to come – are unabashedly pragmatic.  A vivid contrast is also found in their styles.  Menard’s archaizing style – foreign, ultimately – lacks any affectation whatsoever.  This is not so in the case of his forerunner, who manages with ease the Spanish of his époque.

There is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately useless.  A philosophical doctrine is at first a plausible description of the universe; years pass and it becomes a mere chapter, if not a paragraph or a name, within the history of philosophy.  In literature, such caducity is all the more notorious.  “Don Quixote,” Menard once told me, “used to be a thoroughly pleasant book; now it is an occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical arrogance, and obscene luxury editions.  Glory is a miscomprehension, perhaps the worst of all miscomprehensions.”

These nihilistic verifications contain nothing new; what remains odd is the decision Pierre Menard derived from them.  He resolved to proceed in that vanity which preserves all of man’s weariness, and he attacked a supremely complicated undertaking which was futile from the very start.  He devoted his scruples and waking hours to repeating in a foreign language a preexisting book.  He multiplied the drafts, tenaciously edited and tore up thousands of handwritten pages (I recall his gridded notebooks, his black amendments, his peculiar typographic symbols, and his insect-like scrawl.  In the afternoons he liked to walk through the quarters of Nîmes; he would take a notebook along with him and cheerfully make a bonfire).  He did not allow anyone to examine them and made sure they did not survive him.  It is these pages that I, in vain, have tried to reconstruct.

I have come to think it justifiable to see in the “final” Don Quixote a sort of palimpsest in which one ought to be able to make out the features, faint but not indecipherable, of the “premeditated” writing of our friend.  Unfortunately, only a second Pierre Menard, reversing the work of the previous Pierre Menard, would be able to exhume and resuscitate these Troys…

“Thinking, analyzing, inventing,” he also wrote to me, “are not anomalous acts, but the natural respiration of the intellect.  Glorifying the occasional perfection of this function, treasuring old and alien thoughts, remembering with incredulous stupor what the doctor universalis thought, all this is confessing our languidness and barbarity.  All men should be capable of all ideas, and I understand that in the future, they will be.”

By means of a new technique, Menard (perhaps without wanting to do so) has enriched the stayed and rudimentary art of reading: the technique of deliberate anachronisms and erroneous attributions.  This technique of infinite application urges us to go through The Odyssey as if were later than The Aeneid, and the book Le jardin du Centaure by Madame Henri Bachelier as if it were by Madame Henri Bachelier.  This technique populates the most tranquil books with adventure.  Is attributing The Imitation of Christ to Louis Ferdinand Céline or James Joyce not a sufficient renovation of this weak spiritual advice?

Monday
Jun132011

Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote (part 1)

The first part to one of the greatest of all Borges tales ("Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote").  You can read the original here.

The visible work left by this novelist can be easily and briefly enumerated, which makes the omissions and additions perpetrated by Madame Henri Bachelier in a fallacious catalog all the more unforgivable.  A fallacious catalog which a certain newspaper – whose Protestant tendencies are hardly a secret – had the inconsiderateness of inflicting upon its deplorable readers (although these are few and Calvinist, if not masons and circumcised).  But to Menard’s real friends, the sight of this catalog caused both sadness and alarm.  It could be said that we met before the last marble, between the unhappy cypresses, and already then did Falsehood try to tarnish Memory … Decidedly, a brief rectification was inevitable.

I know for a fact that it is very easy to challenge my feeble authority.  Nevertheless, I hope I shall be permitted to mention two testimonies of great importance.  The Baroness of Bacourt (at whose unforgettable vendredis I had the honor of meeting the lamented poet) would sanction the lines that follow.  The Countess of Bagnoregio, one of the sharpest minds of the Principality of Monaco (and now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, since her recent marriage to international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch, so slandered, alas, by the victims of his disinterested maneuvers), sacrificed “to veracity and to death” (such were her words) that lordly reserve which distinguishes her, and, in an open letter published in the magazine Luxe, granted me her blessings as well.  These judgments, I believe, are more than sufficient.

I have said that Menard’s visible work is easily enumerable.  Having carefully examined his private archive, I have verified that it consists of the following items:

a) A symbolist sonnet which appeared twice (with variations) in the magazine La Conque (the March and October issues of 1899);

b) A monograph on the possibility of constructing a poetic vocabulary of concepts which were not synonyms or periphrases of those informing the common languages, but instead “ideal objects created by convention and destined, in essence, for poetic necessities” (Nîmes, 1901);

c) A monograph on “certain connections and affinities” in the thinking of Descartes, Leibniz, and John Wilkins (Nîmes, 1903);

d) A monograph on Leibniz’s Characteristica Universalis (Nîmes, 1904);

e) A technical article on the possibility of enriching chess by eliminating one of the rook’s pawns.  Menard proposes, recommends, discusses, and ends up rejecting this innovation;

f) A monograph on Ramón Lull’s Ars Magna Generalis (Nîmes, 1906);

g) A translation with prologue and notes to Ruy López de Segura’s Libro de la invención liberal y arte del juego del axedrez (Paris, 1907);

h) Sketches of a monograph on the symbolic logic of George Boole;

i) An examination of the essential metrical laws of French prose, illustrated with examples from Saint−Simon (Revue des Langues Romanes, Montpellier, October 1909);

j) A response to Luc Durtain (who had negated the existence of such laws) illustrated with examples from Luc Durtain (Revue des Langues Romanes, Montpellier, December 1909);

k) A handwritten translation of the Aguja de navegar cultos by Quevedo, entitled La boussole des précieux;

l) A preface to the exhibition catalog of lithographs by Carolus Hourcade (Nîmes, 1914);

m) The work Les problèmes d’un problème (Paris, 1917), which discusses in chronological order solutions to the illustrious problem of Achilles and the tortoise.  Two editions of this book have appeared in print up to now; the second bears as epigraph the advice of Leibniz, Do not fear, my lord, the tortoise, and updates the chapters dedicated to Russell and Descartes;

n) An obstinate analysis of the “syntactic customs” of Toulet (Nouvelle Revue Française, March 1921).  Menard, I recall, declared that censuring and praising are sentimental operations which have nothing to do with criticism;

o) A transposition into alexandrines of Paul Valéry’s Cimitière marin (Nouvelle Revue Française, January 1928);

p) An invective against Paul Valéry, in Jacques Reboul’s Hojas para la supresión de la realidad (This invective, we say here in brackets, is the exact opposite of his real opinion of Valéry.  This Valéry understood and their longstanding friendship was not endangered);

q) A “definition” of the Countess of Bagnoregio in the “victorious volume” – the expression belongs to another collaborator, Gabriele d’Annunzio – which this lady publishes annually so as to rectify inevitable journalistic falsehoods, as well as to present “to the world and to Italy” an authentic effigy of her person, so exposed (also for her beauty and performance) to erroneous or hasty interpretations;

r) A cycle of admirable sonnets for the Baroness of Bacourt (1934);

s) A handwritten list of verse which owes its effectiveness to its punctuation (Madame Henri Bachelier also enumerates a literal version of the literal version that Quevedo made in the Introduction à la vie dévote by San Francisco de Sales.  In Pierre Menard’s library there are no traces of this work.  We must be dealing with a prank on the part of our friend, a prank fallen on deaf ears).

Up to now (without any other omission save a few circumstantial sonnets for the hospitable or greedy album of Madame Henri Bachelier), this is the visible work of Menard in chronological order.  And now I move to the other work: the underground, the endlessly heroic, the uneven.  There is also – alas, so many possibilities hath man! – the unfinished.  This work, perhaps the most significant of our time, is composed of chapters IX and XXXVIII of the first part of Don Quixote, as well as of a fragment of chapter XXII.  I am fully aware that such a statement seems like nonsense; justifying this “nonsense” is this note’s fundamental objective (I also had the secondary objective of sketching out the image of Pierre Menard.  But how could I dare compete with the gilded pages which, I am told, the Baroness of Bacourt is preparing, or with the precise and delicate plume of Carolus Hourcade?).

Two texts of unequal worth inspired the undertaking.  One is a philological fragment by Novalis – the one that is summoned by number 2005 in the Dresden edition – which outlines the theme of total identification with a given author. The other is one of those parasitic books which find Christ on a boulevard, Hamlet on the Canebière, or Quixote on Wall Street.  Like all men of good taste, Menard loathed these useless carnivals which were only good for, in his words, arousing that plebeian pleasure of anachronism or (even worse) mesmerizing us with the primitive notion that all the ages are the same or different.  More interesting to him, however contradictory and superficial it might be, was Daudet’s famous proposal: combine into one figure him who is Tartarin, the Ingenious Nobleman and his squire … Those who have claimed that Menard devoted his life to writing a modern version of Don Quixote slander his bright memory.

He did not wish to compose another Quixote – which would be easy – but Don Quixote itself.  It is useless to add that he never came face to face with a mechanical transcription of the original; he was not intending to copy it.  His admirable ambition was to produce pages which would coincide – word for word and line for line – with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

“My proposal is merely amazing,” he wrote to me from Bayonne on September 30, 1934.  “The final term of a theological or metaphysical demonstration – the external world, God, chance, universal forms – is no less common or further in the past than my divulged novel.  The only difference is that philosophers publish in pleasing volumes the intermediary stages of their work, whereas I have resolved to lose those stages.”  And, indeed, there is not a single draft attesting to his years of work.

His initial method was relatively simple: a good knowledge of Spanish, a recovery of his Catholic faith, war against the Moor and against the Turk, a forgetting of European history between 1602 and 1918, being Miguel de Cervantes.  Pierre Menard studied this procedure (I happen to know that he managed to acquire a rather reliable command of seventeenth-century Spanish), but he discarded this method as too easy.  As too impossible, the reader might say.  I concur; but the undertaking was impossible from the very beginning.  And of all the impossible ways to bring it to that final term, this was the least interesting.  Being a popular seventeenth-century novelist while living in the twentieth century seemed to be a demotion of sorts.  In a way, being Miguel de Cervantes seemed to be less arduous a task (and, consequently, less interesting as well) than continuing to be Pierre Menard and arriving at Don Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard (this conviction, incidentally, made him leave out the autobiographical prologue to the second part of Don Quixote.  Including this prologue would have created another character, Cervantes, but would have also meant presenting Don Quixote as a function of this character and not of Menard.  This, naturally, was rejected for its ease).  “My undertaking is, in essence, not difficult,” I read now in another part of his letter.  “My carrying it out to the end would suffice for immortality.”  Should I confess that I have the habit of imagining that he did carry it out, and that I read Don Quixote – all of Don Quixote – as if Menard had thought of it?  On nights past, leafing through chapter XXVI (which Menard never practiced), I recognized the style of our friend and, as it were, almost his voice in this exceptional sentence: the nymphs of the rivers, the sad and humid Echo.  This effective conjunction of moral and physical adjectives brought to my memory a verse of Shakespeare’s which we discussed one evening: Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk.

Tuesday
Jun072011

Akhmatova, "Хорони, хорони меня, ветер!"

A work ("So bury me, wind, bury me!") by this Russian poet.  You can read the original here.

So bury me, wind, bury me!
Alas, my loved ones did not come.   
Stray evening roams on paths still free, 
And calm earth's breath begins to hum.

Like you, I once was free and charmed;  
But I so madly wished to live.  
Do you see, wind, my cold corpse stiff,
With no one here to cross my arms?  

Now close and cloak this wound so black,
With evening's dark and baleful shroud;     
And bid blue mist to read aloud                  
Those psalms which fend off night's attack.

So that, alone, I might pass on
To that last dream which night may bring;
So rustle now the high sedge song
About the spring, about my spring.