Nocturnal Worlds

“A popular tradition warns against recounting dreams the next morning on an empty stomach. In this state, though awake, one remains under the spell of the dream. For washing brings only the surface of the body and the visible motor functions into the light, while in the deeper strata, even during the morning ablutions, the grey penumbra of dream persists and, indeed, in the solitude of the first waking hour, consolidates itself. He who shuns contact with the day, whether for fear of his fellow men or for the sake of inward composure, is unwilling to eat and disdains his breakfast. He thus avoids a rupture between the nocturnal and the daytime worlds-a precaution justified only by the combustion of dream in a concentrated morning’s work, if not in prayer; otherwise this avoidance can be a source of confusion between vital rhythms. In this condition, the narration of dreams can bring calamity, because a person still half in league with the dream world betrays it in his words and must incur its revenge. To express this in more modern terms: he betrays himself. He has outgrown the protection of dreaming naivete, and in laying hands on his dream visages without thinking, he surrenders himself. For only from the far bank, from broad daylight, may dream be addressed from the superior vantage of memory. This further side of dream is attainable only through a cleansing analogous to washing, yet totally different. By way of the stomach. The fasting man tells his dream as if he were talking in his sleep.”

Walter Benjamin, Breakfast Room from One-Way Street, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter

Flashes of An Eye (Paul Celan)

Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, 1975

Ian Fairley translates Paul Celan’s Augenblicke as follows:

Instants whose eyewink
no brightness sleeps.
Increate, in every place,
gather yourself,
stay.

Whereas Pierre Joris:

Eye-glances, whose winks,
no brightness sleeps.
Undebecome, everywhere,
gather yourself,
stand.

Reading this the first few times, I thought increate a neologism, but the OED tells me it means “not created, uncreated: said of divine beings or attributes”, and quotes Milton’s Bright effluence of bright essence increate (Paradise Lost). In the original the word is unentworden. Where Fairley makes a recondite choice, Joris goes for undebecome, a neologism, presumably a literal translation of the German. In her book on Celan, Beckett and Eliot, Shira Wolosky opts for Un-dis-becoming. Fairley’s choice of ‘increate’ seems an elegant choice, especially with its Miltonian reference to uncreated Beings.

Esther Cameron, a poet who studied and was influenced by Celan: “I have seen a postcard, written in the last months of [Celan’s] life, whose message consisted of one word: ‘Standing’.”

As a poem I think I prefer Fairley’s translation (with some hesitation around eyewink), though I cannot attest to how much of Celan remains. It doesn’t seem that Michael Hamburger or David Young translated this poem. Celan’s often abstruse poems, like Montale’s, raise the question as to how much a translator needs to understand a poem to be able to retain the poet’s intention. I try to read as many translations as I am able to get a sense of what Celan intended.

Celan’s work comes unannotated, without footnotes, so reading his prose and letters is important to get something from the poems. He cared immensely about etymology and forces an attentive reader to do the same, or perhaps attracts readers with such tendencies. It is possible to spend hours pursuing a phrase or a single word, which is part of the pleasure of the encounter with this poetry.

In his Meridian speech, Celan said, “the poem holds on at the edge of itself; so as to exist, it ceaselessly calls and hauls itself from its Now-no-more back into its Ever-yet”. Celan’s frustration with language pushes him out of language, a reflection that the fundamental reality of being human is itself beyond expression.

Acceleration and Standstill

Quote

Man on a Rope (c. 1858), Honoré Daumier

“The general de-temporalization leads to the disappearance of temporal sections and caesurae, the thresholds and transitions which create meaning. The feeling that time passes more quickly now than before is also due to the absence of a pronounced articulation of time. This feeling is intensified by the fact that events follow each other in quick succession without leaving lasting traces, without becoming experiences. Because of the missing gravitation, things are encountered only fleetingly. Nothing carries weight. Nothing is incisive, nothing final. There are no incisions. When it is no longer possible to decide what is of importance, then everything loses importance. Doe to the excessive number of possible connections, i.e. possible directions, things are rarely ever completed, Completion requires a structured, organic time. Within an open and endless process, by contrast, nothing is ever completed. Incompletion becomes a permanent condition.”

— Byung-Chul Han, The Scent of Time, (trans. Daniel Steuer)

Crucified by Lassitude

“Luísa remains motionless, sprawled atop the tangled sheets, her hair spread out on the pillow. An arm here, another there, crucified by lassitude. The heat of the sun and its brightness fill the room. Luísa blinks. She frowns. Purses her lips. Opens her eyes finally, and leaves them fixed on the ceiling. Little by little the day enters her body.”

The word ‘lassitude’ is almost certain following the three opening words, or at least expected by anyone who is somewhat familiar with Clarice Lispector’s grammar and syntax, translated here by Katrina Dodson. A ‘bright stain of sunlight’ ‘takes possession of the room’ in which Luísa stirs.

I adore Lispector’s enigmatic, imperturbable characters and her serpentine prose. This short story, The Triumph, opens the Complete Stories, and begins, like her first novel, with a clock, an object that often features in Lispector’s fiction. Clocks also appear often in Kafka, in both his fiction and the diaries, unforgettably so in the highly-strung opening to The Metamorphosis.

Lispector’s writing is sometimes compared to Virginia Woolf’s, but it is always Kafka that comes closer to my reading experience. “As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realised that it was much later than I had thought and that I had to hurry; the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I wasn’t very well acquainted with the town as yet; fortunately, there was a policeman at hand, I ran to him and breathlessly asked the way.” The sentence is Kafka’s, but with a few minor changes in syntax could have been borne by Lispector. Both writers bring to the fore both the demonic and the dreamlike in ways that would be difficult to perceive without them.

Earth of Shadows

Yesterday I bought a bottle of Waterman’s Absolute Brown, a richer complement to my J. Herbin Cacao Du Bresil, and favourite KWZ Honey ink. A little research reveals that this is a rebranded version of Waterman’s older, more evocatively-named Havana Brown. It isn’t a perfect brown, but flows well in my Grey-Blue Pelikan M101N and the colour is agreeable enough.

Recently, I read that some former Omas employees have re-emerged as Scribo. I don’t know their pens, but enjoyed a frisson reading of their Classico Sepia ink. Could this satisfy my interminable pursuit of a bottle of Omas sepia? The quest is for something that resembles the deep, muddy brown from this note in Walter Benjamin’s archives, possibly black originally, but faded to a wonderfully earthy riddle of a colour, the shadowy umber from which Rembrandt’s self portraits emerge.

This photograph is taken from an enthralling Verso collection of Benjamin’s personal manuscripts and documents. I enjoy the swirl of Benjamin’s essays, but am equally fascinated by him as a reader and collector. It’s no surprise to me that “high-quality paper, particular pens, ink, and nibs, and, furthermore, specific spatial preconditions were important prerequisites for a non-resistant and smoothly running flow of writing. In a letter to Siegfried Kracauer, for example, Benjamin reports on the acquisition of a new fountain pen, an ‘enchanting creation’.”

The creation in use in the first photograph is a Pelikan 101N, one of a series inspired by vintage Pelikan pens from the 1930s. My picture doesn’t sufficiently capture the appeal of the design or colour, but, if that is of interest, there are better places for that. I generally prefer bold, music, or oblique nibs, unlike Benjamin who had “such a small handwriting that he never found a pen that was fine enough, which forced him to write with the nib upside down”.

Both quotes here are from Verso’s Walter Benjamin’s Archive.