The beach and the sea are in darkness.
A dog passes, going toward the sea wall.
No one walks on the boardwalk, but, on the benches lining it, people sit. They relax. Are silent. Separated from one another. They do not speak.
The traveler passes. He walks slowly, he goes in the same direction as the dog.
He stops. Returns. He seems to be out for a walk. He starts off again.
His face is no longer visible.
The sea is calm. No wind.
The traveler returns. The dog does not return. The sea begins to rise, it seems. Its sounds getting closer. Muffled thudding coming from the river’s many mouths. Somber sky.
And as a special bonus, here’s a bit of Sharon Willis’s afterword:
L’Amour forgets. Of course, this is a novel about forgetting—and memory. But its narrative presents itself as dispossessed of the very memory that runs through it in the form of recycled figures and images that recall two of Duras’s previous novels, The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein (1964) and The Vice Consul (1965). Sometimes known as the “India cycle,” this extended text, relayed across three books, performs its own forgetfulness, and imposes a frustrating—even terrifying—amnesia on the reader. But to read L’Amour apart from the earlier novels presents another problem, this time more epistemological: without the trans-textual memory that structures and binds these three narratives into one prolonged text, how does L’Amour become legible?
Reducing characters to figures as residues, remnants, and fragments, this book produces a textual relay that becomes its own internal memory and that dissolves its narrative frame, substituting its memory of the previous texts for the reader’s own, implanting memories in us. But like the dead dog on the beach to which L’Amour returns with unsettingly frequency—as if this corpse structures the narrative space—these are figures in the course of deterioration. Memory is erasing itself. The dead dog, mentioned once in The Ravishing, reappears repeatedly in L’Amour. Around this dreadful site/sight, a hole in sense, circulate the unnamed residues of characters that the reader “remembers” from previous texts. Remembering here means fleshing out these haunting ghosts—worn to nubs, “sanded down,” to cite the translators—transposed from The Ravishing and The Vice Consul: Lol V. Stein, her fiancé, Michael Richardson, and Jacques Hold, the narrator who tells their story while he gradually enters into it.
But instead of grinding to exhaustion in its obsessive return to these figures, this novel relaunches them—translates them—into film, the medium that will preoccupy Duras in the coming years. Haunted by its shape-shifting textual ghosts (in French revenants; literally, one’s coming back), L’Amour also anticipates a cycle of films marked by these same narrative remnants and traces: La Femme du Gange (1972), India Song (1974), and Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert (1976). Situated at the join between the prose cycle and the cinematic one, L’Amour produces a site of translation, a space where everything keeps turning into something else. Hence this text’s fascination with liminal or threshold spaces: dawn, dusk, the crepuscular. We might even see this space as the place where we can watch this extended novel turning into cinema.
L’Amour is a theater of translation, in which the ongoing conflict between eye and ear, image and speech, stillness and passage, present and past, endlessly mutates. This sense of ceaseless mutation coheres with the persistent boundary failures, between texts, between genres, between textual spaces and between the characters who uneasily inhabit them, that mark Duras’s work in general, and that emerge within _L’Amour_’s narrative unfolding, troubling its ability even to begin and to end.
L’Amour is available at better bookstores everywhere, or can be ordered from Open Letter “directly.” (And at a really nice discount . . .)
Over at Guernica there’s a fantastic interview with Argentine author Sergio Chejfec, whose My Two Worlds (translated by Margaret Carson) is getting a lot of great publicity, and whose The Planets and The Dark (both translated by Heather Cleary Wolfgang) will be coming out from Open Letter in the next couple years.
Guernica: I only read My Two Worlds in English, and so I don’t have much to compare it to. What did you think of the translation?
Sergio Chejfec: I thought it was excellent. Margaret [B. Carson], the translator, lives in New York, and over many months we would meet up and talk about it. My questions for her were very open because translation is necessarily a flummoxed process, and, really, what’s at stake is so much more than simple, didactic or denotative meaning. The question is how to make the translation not only faithful, you know, because the meaning of the text depends on so many other things. There are other texts that need a denotative, literal, “faithful” translation, sure, if only in order to revive a certain type of tone, or vibe, that permeates the text. There are others that require more originality in order to revive this sort of range, tone. Margaret’s translation really illustrates this—she revives a tone that at times requires some instances of literal deviation from the original. It doesn’t happen very often. But she needed to access certain very difficult, very Spanish ways of saying things, she felt, because there are certain paragraphs that are argumentative, or pointed, and secretive. And she needed to find a way to access this. [. . .]
Guernica: In your reading at McNally-Jackson, you spoke about this idea—the idea that the text “walks.” It meanders a bit, it strolls, it creates the tone in this way.
Sergio Chejfec: Yes, definitely—and I know Margaret at first was a little apprehensive about this. She was wary of standard English, of “literary” English. She wasn’t sure how to use it—with all its stops and starts, and its specific phrasings, to “walk” in the same way the Spanish did. So she worked in anticipation of this idea, realizing that it would be crucial to capture this effect in the translation. She felt that the language had to be at once literary and conversational. But the English narration was so successful thanks to her work, her skill. Because it happens in the original as well—I’m not sure if you can speak of a native, or innate link between walking and narrating. But there’s definitely an idea of flux, right? An idea that the narration functions more than a mere description of a particular action, but as a reflection of it, too. The narration itself can be seen as an instance of a reflection, or a reflection of an instance. The elements of language that work together develop, or provide an illusion, that is partial, sort of like features on a face: at one point it’s superficial, a surface reality, but at the same time they work to convey something of greater depth. Anyway, the idea was to do away with the idea of a fixed “thesis” or “argument” and instead let the argument unfold, meander. There is, again, this idea of flux, of flow.
This is a long, fantastic interview, and it’s definitely worth reading it in its entirety. And if you’re in the Rochester area, Margaret Carson and Sergio Chejfec will be here on campus on December 1st for the next event in our Reading the World Conversation Series.
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