Genre Sublimation (Bieńczyk, Sebald, Bae Suah)

It isn’t possible to read books like Marek Bieńczyk’s Transparency without seeing traces of Sebald, rather like the lost Da Vinci that might lie hidden behind the Vasari mural in Florence. Bieńczyk’s form of literary historiography weaves autobiography and literary text in a discursive fusion that mostly works, though it gets a touch soggy through the middle section.

Sebald asked “what is literature good for?” and answered his question: “Perhaps only to help us to remember, and teach us to understand that some strange connections cannot be explained by causal logic.” Bieńczyk and Bae Suah’s literary sensibilities appear sharpened on this whetstone, writers that roam outside the narrow margins of genre. Bae Suah’s Nowhere to Be Found and Bieńczyk’s Transparency, though different in technique, share this reflexive subtlety that evokes a dreamlike response long after you’ve replaced the book on the shelf.

These books that reject the grinding repetition of the conventional novel are what I seek out when I read, texts that offer greater freedom than the swindle offered by tired novels that insist on controlling their readers with outdated literary devices.

Admitting Light: Not Entirely

In Ancient Greece they used the lovely word diaphanes. You can repeat it for its pleasure alone, not knowing what it means, but feeling how it fills the mouth with clear air and opens it to the sun with its double a. It has survived in English as diaphanous and is found in the Romance languages, as diafan in Romanian, and in French diaphane. In Romanian it refers to something light and delicate, like a feather or a spring dress; the French usage puts greater emphasis on admitting light: not entirely, but noticeably. Porcelain can be diaphane, or an autumn leaf, or parchment, the old or aristocratic skin on one’s hands. Broadening this meaning one can also use diaphane to describe a silhouette (“it was beautiful, elegant, and diaphane“) or even sunlight seen in a particular way (“The sun was clear and diaphane, like white wine.”) (Despite their delicacy, both quotes are drawn from Sartre.)

Marek Bieńczyk, Transparency. trans. Benjamin Paloff. Dalkey Archive Press, 2012 (2007)

Transparency, Transparencia, Prezroczystość

Here’s a taster of Marek Bieńczyk’s Transparency, so good that I want to share, but also because typing it here it slows me down. This is one of those books, that you want to inhabit as long as possible, one of those books that convert into language thoughts or sensations you know have always been with you.

Why transparency, transpicuousness, transparencia, przezroczystość? Might this light have come to us from elsewhere? First of all, perhaps because of this: Couldn’t I say that it, transparency, is the first thing I remember in life, like an icon or roadside cross? The first image: a bright, empty room in the morning, with an enormous patch of sunlight, a yellow square on the wall. The air thus illuminated, with quivering bits of dust, so pure and full in that light that it seemed its interior had been revealed, so that transparency allowed the gaze to penetrate its bare surface to see an even deeper purity. Thus it lay dormant through long years, occasionally broadcasting a covert desire for solitude, quiet, absence; it was a visual projection of life,  of life’s unexcavated proto-Gospel, until at lasting burst out in the fullness of its name, transparency, transparencia, prezroczystość, as a theme, as truth and illusion, as the hobby of existence, the graspable handrail against which we may lean our very being, something we might even try to pour into text.

Marek Bieńczyk, Transparency. trans. Benjamin Paloff. Dalkey Archive Press, 2012 (2007)