Friday, February 08, 2008

Conditions de lumière

A Wall (Numerals and Pendants)

There’s a kind of keen-edged solace, meditative, to translating, nudging words here and there, surveying (sounding) the results. Akin, surely, to writing, though perhaps less fraught with—unh—jittery perspicacity? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that old trick of convincing oneself that one’s just goofing off, no hat in the ring, no caps in the pistol, that remarkable state of permission-trance (that’s most likely to cough up the goods, doff the fez, mantle the keister, ever howsome one puts it). So: I niggled more with the small boxes of Hocquard’s Conditions de lumière, sipped a Labatt’s:
Dormir un tesson dans la
main   Je regarde les montagnes
pour toi   Corps pour usage
      Lumière pliée

Sleep a shard in
hand   I look at the mountains
for you   Body for extended
      Pleated light

Les habits contaminent le
paysage   Un palmier prend la
mer   Autour de   Description
d’un éternuement
      Couleur photographique

Clothes contaminate the
landscape   A palm tree sails the
sea   Around about   Description
of a sneeze
      Photographic tints

Neige & prépositions
entrent dans des associations
variables   Le pré du voisin   En
l’absence de preuve
      Autre pli

Snow & prepositions
enter into unstable
associations   The neighbor’s field   In
absence of proof
      Another fold
All three out of the twentieth series in the book (each titled “Conditions de lumière”—“Light Conditions”). The book consists of twenty-one series, each comprised of five pieces, identically “shaped.” A final note of a couple of (narrow) prose columns is call’d “Dans une coupe en verre”—“In a Glass” points in a distill’d and enigmatic way to something like a poetics, a way of reading the pieces. Tout énoncé est légion     Même un mot isolé résonne     C’est le Théâtre du langage     La mise en scène du croire à     Du faire croire que . . . “Every utterance is outlaw     Even a solitary word sounds out     Is a language-theatre     Is the mounting of belief in     The making believe that . . .” (Mmmm.) Two odd echoes in the piece. One is Hocquard’s talk of “elegy,” how elegy exists in every repetition of a word: La langue tout entière est élégie—“All language is elegy.” Stirring one to look again at the lovely opening lines of Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas”:
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies. . . .
That old gorgeous notion of language’s rampant straining desire to regain its one-ness with the things of this world, its—how Christian!—having got itself toss’d out, expell’d somehow in disconnect. Some garden of re-attachment language seeks, futile, lamenting. (Another skeptical Mmmm.)

The other note and resonance. Hocquard’s final paragraph:
L’intonation de la récitation est neutre     Sa vitesse constante     S’est mis en place un intervalle ou une espace de sortie     Car il ne s’est jamais agi d’entrer     En parlant ou écrivant ou traduisant on cherche la sortie     À s’en sortie

Reading’s tone is neutral     Its speed unvarying     It offers up a gap or a place for exit     It’s never a question of entry    In talking or writing or translating one’s looking for an exit     Just a way out
Which is, isn’t it, somehow a nod to drummer Elvin Jones’s brilliant explique: “The length of my solos doesn’t mean anything. When I go on for so long, I am looking for the right way to get out. Sometimes the door goes right by and I don’t see it, so I have to wait until it comes around again. Sometimes it doesn’t come around at all for a long, long time.” And, sure enough, there’s more—Hocquard’s “Notes.” In the form of reading-commands, “Read omitting the verb ‘to be.’ . . . Read each page as if it were the caption of a postcard. . . . Read in the sun . . . Read each page twice.”

Elvin Jones, 1927-2004