B.A. Rice is a poet from Texas who lives in Los Angeles.
The impossibilities of translation are seldom as overtly formalized as they are in Damion Searls’s version of Elfriede Jelinek’s 1998 play er nicht als her, and for good reason — the play is a monologue built from the sentences of two writers, Jelinek and Robert Walser, and its obsessive focus is the tension between silence and polyphony. As Searls reminds us in his afterword, the last thirty years of Walser’s life were spent in an insane asylum, but his “sanity” may have been fully intact until he died. This autobiographical ambiguity informs the play’s intense ambivalence about speech as a container for thoughts — just as any number of actors could, according to the vague stage directions, perform fragments of the monologue (and therefore destabilize its presentation as a monologue), the utterances of an individual can be thought of as an endless assertion of newborn voices, as strange to the person who spoke them as they are to the listener. For some this sense of inner multitudes may seem familiar from Whitman, but Jelinek’s tone is turned inward and far from exuberant. She seems curious about what drove Walser to submit to silence within the institution of the asylum, and whether this decision might have more to do with sanity than its pathology-shrouded opposite.
Her Not All Her, the Searls version, changes the play into something even more meaningfully weird. As Searls explains in his afterword, a correct rendering of the title in English would be He Not All He. The transgendered version, then, establishes the work as Searls’s own, an original, analogous to the ways Walser’s originality is collapsed into Jelinek’s in her text. It’s an inspired decision that makes Searls’s own role as translator something of a conceptual performance, an exposure of translation’s inherent failure that perversely enhances the play’s linguistic themes. An element of visual poetry furthers the subversiveness — occasionally, the German sentences appear between the English lines in an impolite orange font, like a clamoring ghost of the original work, placing the author in a submerged role alongside the older author whose ghost hovers throughout the play. This gives new emphasis to the term paratext, and it looks surprisingly nice on the page. It’s a confident move for a translator to make, and it adds to my sense that Her Not All Her is, like Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, a new work that also functions as a fine translation of an older one, and an opening up of possibilities for more radical forms of literature.
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .