I have a shelf at Akerman Daly’s The Library featuring words, footage and sounds through which I’ve been writing my new book. With Orson Welles, Isak Dinesen, Amelia Rosselli, James Hillman, Marcel Schwob via Fleur Jaeggy, Clarice Lispector, Marlene van Niekerk.
A transmission of muted voices, after the fire
‘Our songs will all be silenced — but what of it? Go on singing.’ (Orson Welles, F for Fake)
1. Fire. With weighted reverberance
2. Rebeginnings. Between the chronicle and the chronically lyrical
3. Da capo. Anecdotes of destiny.
Can you explain yourself?’ I was asked once.
‘Explain myself?’ I replied, echoing one of Isak Dinesen’s dreamers and remembering Orson Welles. ‘You are asking much. You might say: “Disguise your meaning into such phrases as I am used to hear, which mean nothing”.’
Then I lost my voice.
Smarginature is a project I started last year with Natasha Soobramanien, exploring the ways in which language, or languages—written, spoken, or overheard—can elude definition and trespass boundaries. The title comes from a word used by Elena Ferrante in the Neapolitan Novels, that describes the way in which one of the protagonists intermittently experiences a state of psychological and existential crisis. ‘Smarginature’ cannot be translated literally in English, and it was translated by Ann Goldstein as ‘dissolving boundaries’, or ‘dissolving margins’. It is in this untranslatability-in-translation that the conversations between Natasha and I took place.
We also commissioned new texts by Juliet Jacques, Hannah Black, Bhanu Kapil, Jen Hofer, Ashaki M. Jackson and Mg Roberts. They are all available online here.
The project continues at Lydgalleriet in Bergen on 26 and 27 November, where we will welcome Cia Rinne and Claire Potter to present two performances and lead two workshops.
During the same weekend, Natasha and I will record Radio Ferrante, in which we have invited a number of guests to discuss their involvement with the Italian writer’s work with us. These will be made available online as podcasts, between December and January.
…to be continued…
I wrote a review of Le statue d’acqua by Fleur Jaeggy. It opens a new section on minor literature[s], in which we will be publishing reviews of books not translated in English.
You can read the review here.
Below are some thoughts that I gathered while writing the review.
As a teenager growing up in a provincial Italian town pre-internet, I came across a lot of artworks by reading of them. The words of certain art historians still inform my understanding of those works even after I actually encountered them. Those reviews and essays were never perceived as ancillary, but as contributing to the artworks. In more recent years, my activities within the contexts of music and sound have led me to engage more closely with the tension that writing experiences when confronted with an elusive or absent material.
The review of an untranslated book heightens such tension. It is not derivative of the book: it merges with it, as it re-reads it and re-writes it. It exists around an intermittent emptiness, and temporarily fills it with its presence and its contingency with the substance of the book: it takes shape in more or less illicit traffics with the book, it is infected by it and infects it. What is quoted, echoed, stolen, paraphrased, misshapen into the review writer’s language? How do languages collapse into one another?
In the review of an untranslated book the complex relationship between a text and its references is made more vivid, priorities and hierarchies are disarranged.
The review of an untranslated book holds a tremendous potential for imaginary and fabulatory activities. It incorporates motions of desire, longing, and writing-as-telling, as it amplifies and heightens the fabricated element of writing, the doing and undoing of meaning, the fictions of reading. I’m interested in how the review of an untranslated book could morph into an essay, a tale, a prose poem: in how a writer can take advantage of the not immediate availability of the book to shape up a text in the visionary, ambiguous space between document and fable.
I’ll never forget my first experience of that moment of displacement when a book, so close and so crucial in shaping up the sensorial-perceptual context in which I write, appeared to lose its bearing and substance because it was not translated into English. It’s a particular feeling, that I’ve encountered again and again since I switched my writing from Italian to English: the feeling of being on a threshold, as the material from an Italian book resounds in my English writing yet is silent within the context in which I write. The opacities and unheard layers of language, that every instance of reading and writing hold, become even more apparent.
All my books and all my texts exist in the unstable territory between understanding and misunderstanding, presence and absence, voice and muteness, brought about by my and by their being across languages. As I write and as I look for reviews of books not translated into English, I’m choosing to linger on this unstable territory: to insist on its relevance, and to see what sort of transmissions, at once precarious and exploratory, might be received and broadcast from there.
The review of an untranslated book is a prompt for everyone who’s been in a similar situation of displacement—a book so close, yet silent to many because it’s not translated: how to give it voice again? It is a prompt to begin to write through this silence, and not feel belittled by the hegemony of what is directly accessible. Just because it’s not there, sold, presented, available, translated, it does not mean a book doesn’t exist. This is not a time for counting lacks and losses: it’s time for writing.
And time to torment English words even, to make them say what they cannot say if they remain closed and confined. When I started writing in English, an editor (obviously maintaining there is only one way to write; he didn’t speak any other languages and neither was he bothered with being aware of them), an editor remarked that my writing had ‘too many metaphors.’ Of course, I thought: I grew up reading Dante! Elements such as this—the linguistic substance of a culture?—materially migrate from my Italian to my English as infiltrations that distort language but remake it too, and make it a language, one of many: like the gesticulations which I still retain from Italian, as much as I might speak in English.
The review of an untranslated book transmits despatches from another language and allows it to disturb another language. It exists in a tension with no fixed domain, articulated through time, where writing is also what exceeds it: not only a text, but the changing atmospheres around it, and the time spent turning around and around words, to hand them over to you, and you and another you.
I’m drawn to the elaborate ethnographies that may emerge in a review of an untranslated text, and in how a remote and other region might be presented, by someone who once existed in that other region, moved away from it, and occasionally goes back there—or who inhabits more than one of those regions at once.
I’m also drawn to see how a book—published recently, or years/decades/centuries ago, popular in another country, or forgotten and out of fashion—might emerge, from another language, in the English words of a writer today. I’m drawn to the book as much as to the words of the writers who will say something around that specific book: why that one of many, how does it affect the way they write?
The review of an untranslated book asks to be retold, turned around and over, never enclosed—discomfortable presence, distorted assonance. I’m interested in the type of signal that can be broadcast in these flows and transits, through words made present and heard. And in how someone else might pick that signal up and amplify it further. A frequency might meet another and resonate. Some of those books might be translated eventually; some might not. Misunderstandings, dead ends and noise make up the transmission as much as all the rest.
To interfere with language with languages.
I listen to the long breath of Clarice in her last interview, the long sigh after the repetitions of ‘it changes nothing. It changes nothing. I write without the hope that what I write can change anything at all. It changes nothing.’ The long sigh after she’s asked, ‘so why do you keep on writing?’ Between her saying ‘we’re not trying to change things’ and her saying ‘we’re trying to open up somehow’, the long sigh draws a frayed line between muteness and a great effort of voice.
You can read my new text, ‘Beginning to Write After Clarice, After Clarice’s (Echo and Dub Versions)’, in the new 300-page issue of The Scofield: Clarice Lispector & The Act of Writing .
It’s been nearly a year since Dominique Hurth and myself started working on a collaborative piece, which turned out to be a project in three parts entitled It Won’t Stop, It Goes On and developed around ideas of interference.
Part 1, The Sculptor Sinks, Thinks, Sings will take place on 3 September in Bergen, on board one of the many cruise ships that interfere intermittently with the architecture of the city. With texts, textures, colours, sounds. Voicing our voices and the voices of others through our accents and muteness, to the point of no distinction. Sinking into the persona of Robert Ashley in his interview-metamorphosis with Pauline Oliveros in Music with Roots in the Aether. Becoming a chameleon-like presence of shiny fabric and masks. Sinking into the horizon.
A series of three posters was designed by Vasilis Marmatakis.
To attend, RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
On 7 June at Spike Island, Bristol, I will join artist in residence Tamarin Norwood to talk of beginnings, in relation to our respective work and current research.
Working from a paragraph by Gabriel Josipovici and a paragraph by Clarice Lispector, that we exchanged a few months ago, we will present a number of reflections on beginnings, necessity, remoteness, friction, blindness.
‘I hadn’t turned the page.’
(Gabriel Josipovici, Everything Passes)
‘And it is no use to try to take a shortcut and want to start, already knowing that the voice says little.’
(Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.)
This event is part of Tamarin Norwood’s POINT TIME LINE. http://www.spikeisland.org.uk/events/talks/talk-beginning-to-speak/
Listening and Its Not is a new anthology published by Compost and Height and SARU, collecting a number of responses to a score by Patrick Farmer that invites people to travel 10 miles north of their home and to write about their experience of listening ‘without pointing directly to it, or at it’.
My text is entitled H.G., and I obviously never left the house:
In response to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Lord Chandos Letter (1902), in which he voiced a crisis of language, I will read an excerpt from my book in progress, in which I write a crisis of voice:
Nothing, the voice said. Nothing the voice said.
‘Perhaps my whisper was born before my lips’
A listening, reading, writing workshop for the What We Heard series at EMBASSY Gallery, Edinburgh
Saturday 20 February, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
‘Perhaps my whisper was born before my lips’ is a sentence I borrowed from Marlene van Niekerk’s The Swan Whisperer (2015): a tale of transmission, disappearance and utterance, that places writing at the edge of language, trafficking with the ephemeral and the unreliable, and in close proximity with listening and with reading aloud, challenging the primacy of the written text through a story of interference, rhythms and non-origin.
‘Perhaps my whisper was born before my lips’: I take this sentence as a prompt for this workshop, in which we will consider the triggers, connections and networks that allow the messy, changing archive of sunken aural memories to resurface. What is the life of a sound beyond its actual sounding, of a word before or after it is uttered, beyond or after or even before and without our experience of it? What radiates from sounds and remains, or excites residues from the past? Do we need to footnote aural memories? Or those rhythms or broken verses that we know by heart and resurface intermittently?
As a writer who has chosen to write in a language that is not her mother tongue, I am interested in a form of writing-as-sounding that is not polished—that prompts to linger, stop, interrupt, and question what is not there, what is unheard, inaudible. Writing as it rummages the untidy archives of the past and its residues, but always works for the moment, using memory as a fictive apparatus.
‘Nothing is over. Everything is over. We have barely begun. We are in the midst of the midst.’ Antena, A Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing (2013)
In this workshop we will listen, read and write through residues beyond note, memory without recording devices. And we will set up possibilities for reading out loud, together, within miscomprehension and intermission, where misunderstanding becomes mise-en-abyme.