Saturday, December 20, 2008

je commence

Today is commencement for me and a whole host of other learners. My family and close friends will be there. Dr. Charlotte Hogg will hood me, and I publicly join the ranks of the once male-only elite of the Academy. (Proudly, I graduate from the first Male and Female College opened west of the Mississippi River not long after the bloodiest -- and racist -- war of the United States, late, in 1873). She's the one who introduced me to the rhetorics of women writers, to feminist methodologies, to Nancy Mairs and Jacqueline Jones Royster and Cheryl Glenn and Aspasia and a whole host of others typically silenced, though not silent, because they live in bodies that have been sexed female. She's the one who suggested I might follow through with my own critique of the world of men who have followed Aristotle, I speaking as a man, as a feminist, by a dissertation. As a self-proclaimed "(sometimes) reluctant academic," she agreed to chair my dissertation committee. Coincidentally(?), she's the one who introduced me to blogging, which has introduced me to some of you, my favorite bloggers. She is the professor who's started me on this journey, learning with, from, despite, because of. Commencement always has this personal irony for me. It comes at the end as the beginning begins. This is my last post here at this blog this year (2008). The past posts and the current comments section remain open. Emailing is another way, if you wish, to keep conversations going or to close them, if you must. I will continue reading your blogs, as you inspire, incite, and encourage me in many ways.

I leave you now with the words of one of the best Greek translators and poets the world will ever hear. As if, prose.


page 119 of
Men in the Off Hours

by Anne Carson:

(2nd draft)

saison qui chante saison rapide

je commence

Beginnings are hard. Sappho put it simply. Speaking of a young girl Sappho said, You burn me. Deneuve usually begins with herself and a girl together in a hotel room. This is mental. Meanwhile the body persists. Sweater buttoned almost to the neck, she sits at the head of the seminar table expounding aspects of Athenian monetary reform. It was Salon who introduced into Athens a coinage which had a forced currency. Citizens had to accept issues called drachmas, didrachmas, obols, etc. although these did not contain silver of that value. Token coinages. Money that lies about itself. Seminar students are writing everything down carefully, one is asleep, Denueve continues to talk about money and surfaces. Little blues, little whites, little hotel taffetas. This is mental. Bell rings to mark the end of class. He has a foreskin but for fear of wearing it out he uses another man's when he copulates, is what Solon's enemies like to say of him, Deneuve concludes. Fiscal metaphor. She buttons her top button and the seminar is over.


If you asked her Deneuve would say Take these days away and pour them out on the ground in another country.


Charlotte said...

Dr. G,
Many congratulations, and many thanks for these public words. You have inspired as much as you've been inspired. Thank you. And thanks for your blog that many have found so provocative

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Dr. H!

J. L. Watts said...

It is Doctor Gayle now.

I am at a lost for words about the closure (or abandonment) of this blog, as it is at the top of my readership list. I wish you well, of course, and I hope that you might tell us where you will continue blogging?

And, congratulations.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your kind words! And thank you for stopping by this blog, and for commenting every so often.

Remember how Robert Frost said things such as "Poetry is what gets lost in translation," and he insisted that his "Two roads!" meant "one" thing and not the other! as if he's losing nothing, as if he's not translating?

So he starts his poem first, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" only to re-phrase or to para-phrase 17 lines later that, "Two roads diverged in a wood."

I say his poetry loses his wood's "yellow." What does he mean by "yellow" that isn't there later? Is his "yellow" fear?

Is he translating? Losing poetry? Dante's Hell perhaps?

Listen (as he starts in):

Nel mezzo del ammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
chè la diritta via era smarrita.
Ahi quanto a dir qual era é cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Is Frost following Dante, into "una selva" which loses "oscura" in translation (and in vulgar poetic Italian, four lines later, as "selva selvaggia e aspra e forte")?

Listen to Frost (telling the Paris Review, not in French but in his untranslated, unpoetic English): "I don't like foreign languages that I haven't had. I don't read translations of things. I like to say dreadful, unpleasant things about Dante."

Had Frost had Dante's foreign language? Or has Frost been reading the translation of Dante by John D. Sinclair? Listen:

In the middle of the journey of our life
I came to myself within a dark wood
where the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell of
that wood, savage and harsh and dense,
the thought of which renews my fear!

Is it in Dante's yellowness, his fearful woods, or perhaps in translator John D. Sinclair's woods, that Frost watches?


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening
of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Frost loses Dante (or his translator Sinclair),
who continues on
and says:

Io non so ben ridir com' i' v'intrai,
tant' era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbanonai

I cannot rightly tell how I entered there,
I was so full of sleep at that moment
when I left the true way.

Remember Frost proclaims that "road" (the "one" or the "two") is NOT "way"?

What must Frost lose by not starting (je commence) as Anne Carson begins as Catherine Deneuve? What promises?

Jim Lewis listens to Frost reading aloud, finding no where to go: "Robert Frost declaiming 'Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening' in his echt Yankee accent, hammers the ends of his lines so hard you can hardly hear the point of the poem."

Berl Lapin and Meyer Zimel Tkatch hear Frost defining a poem (this fearful poem?) as "beginning in delight and ending in wisdom and discovery." And they presume, then, in spite of what Frost thinks he'll lose, "to confront the mellifluous quandary of 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening'" as "a stronger metaphor than the epic for the Jewish immigrant experience" (according to Albert Waldinger).

Listen in,
in transliterated, English-glossed

A vald-bazukh in a shney-nakht
(A forest-visit on/in a snow-evening)

kh' veys vemens vald es iz, mir dakht,
I know whose wood it is, to me it seems

khotsh hoyz zayns shteyt oyf shtetl shliakh;
Though house his stands on village path;

er vet nisht zen, vi kh' blayb do shteyn
He will not see how I stay here stand

un zayn farshnaytn vald bavakh.
And his snowed-in wood watch over.

mayn kleyner ferd muz zayn dershtoynt
My little horse must be astounded

tsu blaybn, vu s'iz nisht bavoynt
To stay where it is not inhabited

lem vald un taykh-mit ayz fartsamt,
Near wood and pond, with ice framed

in shvartster nakht fun yor-aleyn.
In the blackest night of year-alone.

er fregt mit klung fun zayn geshpan,
He asks with ring of his harness,

tsi iz a toes do faran?
Question particle-is a mistake here existing?

altz shvaygt-bloys shtiler vint un roym
Everything is still, only quiet wind and space,

un fal fun shney-pukh nokhanand.
And fall of snow-down in succession.

der vald iz fintster, tif, un sheyn
The wood is dark, deep and beautiful

nor ikh-ze flikhten far mir shteyn
But I see duties before me standing

un maylen veg biz shlof tsu geyn,
And miles road till sleep to go,

un maylen veg biz shlof tsu geyn.
And miles road till sleep to go.

Read it again without the Engl-ish. Gain what Frost has lost (pretending he could never enter the Inferno).

H.A. Page said...

Oldest west of the Mississippi? Really?
I didn't know that.
Congrats, Dr.

J. K. Gayle said...

Amazing aint it, Mother Pie!?
We were "co-ed" before any UK university and were among the first in the US (which warrants a mention in wikipedia or two.)
Thanks for your kind words.