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.

english-italian-sanskrit part ii

This morning, with my coffee, I have been working with the many versions I have of the Zanzotto poem I am using as test case for the work I mentioned yesterday; the original Italian, the assorted translations I have pulled from the American Academy library, and the translation which started me off on this path, by Wayne Chambliss, also here, in the library. I thought you might want to know how I got here, so here is a story.

One day, when the chalk wall was blank, the Russian’s erased, inspiration waiting to suggest a new direction, a leaf of paper fluttered off my desk and on to the floor. It was Chambliss’ translation of The perfection of the snow, by Andrea Zanzotto. I decided to put it on my wall, so I could see it, in larger form.  Thinking it would be there for a day or two, I left it for weeks. I would return home in the evenings and stand in the room, repeating it out loud, over and over, back and forth with the words, their taste, their texture, how they fit.  I purposely did not go back to the original. I wanted only these words, their structure, their sounds. I wanted to space on my wall and their echo in my room, in my skull.

Andrea Zanzotto, The perfection of the snow, translation by Wayne Chambliss

I recorded the poem several times, listening, again, to the sound of the words. I’d repeat lines, move things around, ponder what the original words could be, still, not looking. Recreating, in my mind, possible structures of what the form of the thing was. Eventually, I realized, I had to go back to work. This was not my work. (Was this my work?)

I erased the poem and moved on to my next task, which was back to the Indologists and tracking the pathways of Sanskrit and Vedic concepts into the European literature of the 19th and 20th centuries (mostly). But the poem stuck, and while I worked through Vedas and Puranas, the poem which I had recited so many times, continued to recite itself in my head, and I found myself pondering the concepts of the words; which English word, which Sanskrit, how did they mesh, how would the shapes of the concepts fit or not fit?  Finally, I needed the Italian, as the middle step, the bridge, but not a bridge. Another universe, another way.  La perfezione della neve.

And here I had three languages, circling each other, differing in distances and meaning. Some words closer than others, some farther. Some barely related, even. And my mind started to create a three dimensional model, a collection of words, pulled out of words, forward to English, backwards to Sanskrit, notes appeared, on choices, and then, of course, it needed to be pulled, to be grasped on the edges and elongated over time. As this image continued to build in my mind, with greater detail, and structure, I started wanting to share it, to create it in a form that made sense, that explored my curiousity and awe. And so, on to paint. And the only way I can find to paint history, is oils, and so, I begin, I try. So far, I fail, but, if, but when, but.


english-italian-sanskrit part i

One of the many things I am working on, spawned from this project, is to map the movement of some language, across language, across time, and across meanings.

What I am trying to do is show, visually, an image of Italian poetry spanned between English and Sanskrit.  Why? I don’t know, it actually turns out to be beautiful, and I’ve been trying to make it work in oils, because there is something about the depth of colour that translates well to the depth of time, across these languages.

So the top level is the English, and to differening levels of depth there are words in Italian and Sanskrit. There are places where the meanings change or do not align, or where the earlier concepts would change the current sentiments, and so they blossom out from words, some obscured, some not.

I haven’t finished even one yet, not just the tracking of the words and concepts, but hell, oils are hard, and new to me. But it feels like the only medium to use — I am using them on wood — because of the way I can build depth. We shall see. I may need help! (And right now they are only in my studio in NYC, I brought nothing like that with me to Rome.) So here, for now, I keep working with the concepts, but not the outputs, except the drawings I have been doing.

I am working with a friend’s translation of Italian poetry into English, as with my knowledge of Latin and Sanskrit, to move these things around in a way that swirls greater meaning into the breathe of each word.

I’ll post images when I get back to NYC. Just thinking of this now, as I am working with some older Tantric texts here in Rome, that were hard to get my hands on in NYC, short of coughing up gazillions of dollars.

linguistic interiority

I’ve begun reading the Italian books in both Italian and English, as, for many authors, my Italian is good enough to read them. What a statement that is. The reality is, it may never be good enough for all the nuance, but it works, for now. My perspective is that I would have to live here for years to truly understand, but enough on that for now.

One of the things that strikes me is how different the English and Italian versions are. (I should read one of the Italians in French and see how that fares.)  The structure, the sound, the length of the sentences, all, quite different. The sentiments feel off to me as well, at times.

I find, in the Italian and English versions, that there is more space, and more freedom taken by the translators. It doesn’t make the books not as good but they definitely feel different.

I am particularly pondering this, this morning, because I don’t feel that level of distance between French and English translations, though I often wonder at word choice of something specific, it is less large, except for a few authors who I feel translate so poorly you should skip reading them, if English is your only option.

The question I have though, is if this gap is due to the newness of my Italian, if it will diminish over time, and my brain will fill in the additional parts, the structures and nuances, so that even in English, I can hear the Italian, get a sense of what the original likely was.

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.