studio marginalia

Today, for the first time, really, I miss my NYC studio, with all its books. Not just the books that comprise the Biblioteca Adelphi series, in all the languages I have collected them, but also all the tangential books.

Though I often find myself in front of the shelves which contain the series, just looking at them all, in order, most, now, in at least two languages.

You may recall, most books I try to read in the original, if I can, or English or French, if I cannot, depending on the translator. Then I have added in a lot of the Italian books, even those not originally in Italian. Those because, of course, the Biblioteca Adelphi books are gorgeous, and I like to have them around, not least for the cover image, and second, because I am slowly reading even the non-Italian ones in translation, out of curiousity for how they feel in Italian.

It’s been about four months since I have been in the studio regularly, and today, at least, I am itching to be there with all the books.

And the chalkboard. I am finding it hard to work without a massive wall to write on. I suppose this should be no surprise to me, considering I created them in both home and studio. But I wasn’t expecting it to feel quite so hard to keep track of things. I think, though, it is less that, and more that what goes on the wall is what I am pondering, so it gives me a visual stimulus and a spatial structure, to continue to noodle on whatever is going on in my mind.

I haven’t been reading the books here, in Rome. I have largely been writing, most of it not yet ready to share, but digging more into the things I find interesting or curious.

As I’ve moved away from the original path, slightly, I have a sense of wanting to go back and start again. We begin again, again. Even if that means just standing in front of my shelves and taking each book out, in turn, and looking at the notes tucked inside them.

Early on I made a decision to annotate the books. I started with note cards tucked into them, but eventually moved on to my blue pencils, writing directly in the books. They are comments, connections, questions, histories, references, and they like. They bind the books together and to the fabrics of time and culture.  The books I read more than once, I read different copies, so they each get annotated differently. Most annotations are in the language of the book, as my mind stays between the lines, though at times they stray, and when I look back at the straying notations, sometimes within a single sentence, I wonder how I can be fluent in any language, at this point. All my parts are broken, fragmented, into pieces of meaning, which I recombine into strange structures. I’d write you something in it, but it would just be a jumble.

Yesterday, I was walking (ok, maybe I was running), in the halls here, and I was taking to myself, and I realized that I was making sentences of multiple languages (in that case, Hebrew, Italian, and French) but I noticed that I slide agreement across them, depending on the language.

Neither here nor there, I ramble, but watching my language dissolve and reconfigure, seems, in fact, a significant part of what matters to me in this project. That is, how do we create and share meaning across languages, which initially was a view of translation, but apparently I am going to function, there, on a more literal plane.

Original languages, doing the math

There are more than 30 languages which the books were originally written in, not accounting for differences in country of origin (Austria vs Germany, Switzerland vs France) or hundreds of years. It is a pretty uneven split.

Top languages are English(161), French(111), German(103), and Italian(103). I might be slightly wrong on those, with some its actually hard to tell.  Eventually I will have to verify, but it will be easier to do when I am in Italy, and I start tracking the translators of all the books. 47 in Russian, 17 in Spanish — almost all Borges.

Three greeks: Attik, Homeric and Demotic. And a handful of one off languages: Swedish, Sami, Serbian, Pali, Norwegian, Irish, Icelandic, Georgian, Egyptian, Afrikaans.

The religious texts are more confusing, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Latin, Greek — they were translated and the version we have may not have been the original language.

So, I can read atleast 400 or so in the original languages, I can work through some others, with dictionaries — Latin and Portuguese and Spanish in particular. The big losses, for me, is that I cannot read Russian, Hungarian or German.