Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Living in the 21st century

I am so glad I live now: the wonderful local City Library - this city is neither very large nor very rich, on an international scale - stocks most of the books I want to read. Researching translation, I found both Umberto Eco and Lawrence Venuti on their shelves. I am most grateful.

There are many other things to be grateful for, this is the one for today. Found another book on translation which I have not read yet but which promises well, Edith Grossman, Why translation matters. Found it between the two others, it is also physically a beautiful object, made with care. Ah, care!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Saying more about what is gone

Up on time this morning, still dark, exercises, Zen, breakfast with the news (Japan's misery, Libya's misery), load washing machine, remove and fold dry washing from line, tidy up kitchen, Skype phone call with a sister whose birthday it is today. Answer varied emails.

Finally, at last, to the dining room, taken over for the purpose of planning the novel.

The stickies I used on Friday to work on a plan for the novel have curled away from the large sheets of thick paper which are supposed to provide a panoramic view. These stickies had previously curled away from the back of the door in my study, I thought it was the door, but it is the stickies which are the problem. They  are small and white. I wrote on them in four colours, one per main character.

Went to the local supermarket, some auxiliary shopping - milk, bread, fruit etc. - but in the end they don't stock Stickies, they're not sure what they are. Finished shopping, checked out the local Post Office which doubles up as a stationery store, yes they have some - not the usual ones, these may be more expensive. Bought 300, larger, light yellow.

Drive home, two full bags heaved onto the kitchen bench, everything put away, make cups of tea for two, enter the dining room again with my new stickies. The coaster from Amsterdam is waiting for my cup of tea. It is now 11:20 am.

An annoying stimulus has disappeared - something like a sound, an inner manifestation. I am in a quiet place and all is well, at last. I want to write. I can write.

Latest books: Chaim Potok, The Book of Lights (Heinemann, 1981) - not my favourite of his, that remains The Chosen,  this one is partly autobiographical. As always a terrific tale-spinner, creates a world I find hard to emerge from, I am very susceptible- my preference is to read books such as these in one go, get them over with. Umberto Eco refers to such writing as 'para-literature'.

Most other people seem to enjoy them without becoming trapped. Missed the time slot for an important phone call. Upsetting, maybe for both of us.

Jose Saramago The Elephant's Journey  (Harvill Secker, 2010) translated by the wonderful Margaret Jull Costa: enjoyable and whimsical, though at times a little formulaic. Maybe not so for someone who hasn't read his other books. One feels that Saramago is very old and a little child-like in his optimism. Is that what is wrong with this book - that there is no true evil in it? Saramago has written well about evil elsewhere - read his book Blindness, a masterpiece.

Yesterday raced through a slim volume entitled A Murder in Lemberg: Politics , religion, and violence in modern Jewish history, by historian Professor Michael Stanislawski of Columbia University. First of all, it is well written, a good pace, an enjoyable read. The murder takes place in 19th century Poland, the
brilliant Reform Rabbi is assassinated by an Orthodox Jew. (Documentation of evil in various forms). The brilliance of the Rabbi is not sufficiently substantiated for my liking, but the positive outcome of reading the book - from the point of view of the one I am writing myself - was learning about the ways in which certain practices changed between the Orthodox and the newer forms of Judaism. Also: with his description of contemporary Lemberg, Professor Stanislawski bears witness in a powerful way to the destruction and disappearance of Eastern European Jewry, a topic of which much more might be said.

Finally, I am about to finish a short book on the theory of translation: Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, (Phoenix, 2003) from his lectures at the University of Toronto in 1988. I also started Lawrence Venuti's The Translator's Invisibility, a History of Translation (2nd edn.,Routledge, 1995, 2002). I have to prepare a translator's statement of principle for the translation I have just finished, and this reading is supposed to give me the required insight and jargon.

Eco's book is engrossing: it would be satisfying for anyone who has lived in several languages. I started Venuti's book because I couldn't get hold of an article of his which encapsulates his theory. Maybe I'll try harder: the book is too much work for my purpose. There is a reference by Eco to another Venuti article which I'll follow up.

For my edification, am continuing to read No Time to Lose, by Pema Chodron (Shambhala, 2005). Slow work, like building a brick wall, or putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Every now and then, a sense of having achieved/understood something new. But mostly one has to carry on, a little doggedly.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Tao

So much has happened since January:  Zen retreat - definitely no writing then - two issues of the Bulletin published, one visitor for ten days, another for one night, a book launch organised at Temple, two sermons written - there is something to show for the time spent, but I've not been writing here.

Am sporadically re-reading Per Pettersen's I curse the River of Time, third time round - I am sure that his book's message is clear to a literate Norwegian - as an outsider, I feel the need to research the hints that are there - the name of the ship, the films which impressed the main characters, the books they read. It is frustrating and satisfying at the same time - I'm spending a lot of time with it, contentedly. For some reason, the hopelessness of the main character, who drowns his gifts in alcohol, does not affect me. I am interested in how Pettersen manages to draw the reader into the book. It is a masterpiece.

Bought the Tao Te Ching in a swap of books at a 2nd hand bookstore; I'd lost the copy I'd bought in the 70s in Amsterdam, probably in that marvellous bookshop Au bout du monde...This not-so-new copy is ostensibly for P, who is discovering the Tao via his Chinese student, - they are discussing the Tao in English together, as an exercise in pronounciation, having finished Confucius' Analects during their first year. An interesting process.

I find this Tao Te Ching particularly beautiful, (translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, with lovely photographs, Vintage Books, Random House, 1972) though P reports that Jian Liang does not always agree with the translation. My friend Helen was interested, so searched out a copy for her on the Web and came to realise that it must have been a popular edition, because copies are available all over the place.

This edition includes the Chinese, written in calligraphy and I spent several peaceful hours one afternoon absorbed in working out what the ideograms meant...except that I should be working.

So in a guilty surge of energy, finished the translation I was working on and sent it off for feedback. End of Stage One, the longest part. Now I have to wait to hear back.