Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bringing you the world

World Literature Today honours Adam Zagajewski, the 2004 Neustadt laureate.

Self-Portrait

Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.
The fourth has no name.
I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand
the great philosophers — but usually catch just
scraps of their precious thoughts.
I like to take long walks on Paris streets
and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,
anger, desire; to trace a silver coin
passing from hand to hand as it slowly
loses its round shape (the emperor's profile is erased).
Beside me trees expressing nothing
but a green, indifferent perfection.
Black birds pace the fields,
waiting patiently like Spanish widows.
I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older.
I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,
and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses
dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.
Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife's face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow.
Could I help in this? I don't know.
I'm truly not a child of the ocean,
as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,
but a child of air, mint and cello
and not all the ways of the high world
cross paths with the life that — so far —
belongs to me.

— Adam Zagajewski (tr. Clare Cavanagh)


Also in the current issue of WLT, dozens of really interesting thing to read, which I don't really have time for, including:
- a tribute to Polish literary Nobelists
- Jelinek's Nobel lecture
- travels in New York, Berlin, and Kazakhstan
- a short story by Tim Wynne-Jones
- thoughts on translating Hopscotch (I loved Hopscotch!)

The celebration of Gombrowicz continues. I love this bit they've quoted from Ferdydurke (tr. Danuta Borchardt):
Oh, the power of Form! Nations die because of it. It is the cause of wars. It creates something in us that is not of us. If you make light of it you'll never understand stupidity nor evil nor crime. It governs our slightest impulses. It is at the base of our collective life. For you, however, Form and Style still belong strictly to the realm of the aesthetic — for you style is on paper only, in the style of your stories. Gentlemen, who will slap your pupa which you dare turn toward others as you kneel at the altar of art? For you form is not something that is human and alive, something — I'd say — practical and everyday, but just a feature for the holidays. And while you’re leaning over a piece of paper you forget your own self — you don't care about perfecting your own individual and concrete style, you merely practice an abstract stylization in a vacuum. Instead of art serving you, you serve art — and with a sheeplike docility you let it impede your development, and you let it push you into the hell of indolence.


Naguib Mahfouz on the state of the novel and why we read:
Poetry is content with touching people’s injuries; thus they cry in pain. The novel, however, treats the injury as a skilled surgeon does; it delves into the injury and casts an illuminating light on its various dimensions and explores its multiple details.
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