Thoughts for Thursday - wisdom from Cynthia Ozick

Cross-posted at A Curious Singularity

A bit of inspiration for a Thursday…here are two excerpts from Cynthia Ozick’s “Metaphor & Memory,” which helped further clarify the Chekhov reading on A Curious Singularity.

From A Short Note on “Chekhovian:”

...even when his characters strike us as unwholesome, or exasperating, or enervated, or only perverse (especially then), we feel Chekhov’s patience, his clarity—his meticulous humanity, lacking so much as a grain of malevolence or spite. At bottom Chekhov is a writer who has flung his soul to the side of pity, and sees into the holiness and immaculate fragility of the hidden striver below…He is an interpreter of the underneath life, even when his characters appear to be cut off from inwardness.

From A Translator’s Monologue (Kate at Kate’s Book Blog has been mulling over some fascinating translation questions, which, of course, got me thinking. I think Ozick's points apply to prose as well as poetry.):

Translation is not only feasible, but inescapable—good translation, exact translation, superb translation: the entire carrying over from one language to another, from one society to another. But in order to believe in the real possibility of translation, the translator must believe in certain impossible theses.

The first false idea is the most indispensable. It is simply that the poem is not “translated,” but uncovered…just as the poem already exists, so does the right, faithful, and true translation already exist, needing only to be uncovered. The translated poem is inherent in the new language. It was be hewn out of the new language as…a figure locked in the recalcitrant rock is hewn out and revealed.

...There is another purpose in believing in the false proposition that a translation of a poem pre-exists. It touches on the mutual obligations of translator and poem. Is the translator the poem's tenant or its landlord? If the translator is the poem's tenant, the translator is obligated to the poem for its heat. If the translator is the poet's landlord, the poem is obligated to the translator for its shape. Now at this point one must stop and think sympathetically of the poet...Does the poet want to share ownership of the poem with the translator?


Hear poets read (redux)

Neat-o, look what I found! Includes Tennyson reading The Charge of the Light Brigade! Plus, Auden, Plath, Heaney. And it's FREE! I love BBC.


Surprise -- a book meme

Note to our faithful readers: From the end of July through September, LK’s crushing workload temporarily (we hope) drains IQ points from her wee brain. So, while we will always strive to be literate, we may post a few entries during this time that are regrettably on the “lite” side. Our apologies and kudos to those fellow litbloggers who continue to transmit complex, well-crafted essays out into Etherland (you know who you are!). LK will be treasuring your tomes during our crunch time.

The "liter side" can officially begin with this book meme, which has been making the blog rounds:

1. First book to leave a lasting impression? Little Women. It’s the first “serious” book I remember reading (I was in first grade, possibly even kindergarten – really, how precocious of me!). I loved the March family so much, I even started collecting the Madame Alexander dolls (which I still have, in mint condition, in the original boxes).

2. Which author would you most like to be? Me. Although I would prefer to be the type of author who other people know about. I guess we’re talking A Well-Known Author here, and I really don’t know enough of many authors’ lives to make a cogent choice. Of my same gender: Tough call, since many women writers led extremely difficult lives (and, for the most part, without being able to drink heavily or have access to Pamprin) – Lillian Hellman, strictly because of her relationship with Dashiell Hammett. As a male: William Shakespeare. He must have had lyrical dreams.

3. Name the book that has most made you want to visit a place. I want to visit practically every place there is, especially any with literary associations, so this is really impossible to narrow down. Some memorable places I’ve already visited: Algonquin Hotel in New York, Pushkin’s favorite restaurant in St. Petersburg, Mark Twain’s boyhood home (and Injun Joe’s Cave) in Hannibal, Mo., Globe Theater in London, and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (where some anonymous soul regularly places fresh flowers on Colette’s grave).

4. Which contemporary author will still be read in 100 years time? Toni Morrison.

5. Which book would you recommend to a teenager reluctant to try ‘literature’? J.D. Salinger, “Catcher in the Rye.”

6. Name your best recent literary discovery. There are two ways to approach this question—naming contemporary authors whose work you stumbled on or naming a prominent author you just discovered. So, for Approach #1: Tie between a Polish writer, Antoni Libera (I would like to write the female version of his book “Madame”), and Upamanyu Chatterjee, whose “English, August” is a delight. Both of these books are sharp and funny, and I hope to read more of these authors’ works. For Approach #2: Paul Bowles. I recently read his short stories, and with his beautiful prose, I look forward to reading “The Sheltering Sky.”

7. Which author’s fictional world would you most like to live in? Carolyn Keene and Nancy Drew’s world (me being Nancy, of course). Or Maud Hart Lovelace and the Betsy-Tacy world (I want to be Tacy, naturally, with her long ringlets).

8. Name your favorite poet. Oh, this is tough. All-time: Shakespeare. Of the moment: W.H. Auden.

9. What's the best nonfiction title you've read this year? David Maraniss, “They Marched into Sunlight.” This book intertwines two narratives, of events that occurred on Oct. 17, 1967: An ambush of American soldiers by the North Vietnamese and a protest by students at University of Wisconsin-Madison. An interesting take on the Vietnam War. (Also sheds more light on why the Iraq War is not winnable. And provides further proof that Dick Cheney’s heart was surgically removed, years ago, if you still need convincing.)

10. Which author do you think is much better than his/her reputation? What does that mean: literary critics who pan certain writers or top-notch authors without readership? To answer the former, I’m going out on a limb here with Stephen King. He is not lit-uh-rahry, true, but unlike, say, Michael Crichton, he does write well (if too much), and he does know how to spin a good tale, which I, as a reader, appreciate possibly more than many literary critics apparently do. To answer the latter, I’d like to see a John Dufresne novel hit the bestseller list. (Conversely, I think John Updike is waaaay overrated. Except for his short story “A&P.”)

The muse speaks

Just a short post to share a moment that other writers can experience vicariously: I've been working on a short story for two years, and it was perfect -- except for the ending. This weekend, as I was lolling in bed trying to remain asleep, the perfect ending came to me. Quelle relief. Guess my muse needed to sleep in for a day....But don't you love it when that happens?