The OF Blog: February 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

A literary blogger slumming in genre?

Yesterday, I read an interesting post over at Pornokitsch entitled "Poking at Awards:  'Literary Authors Slumming in Genre.'"  I read it just before my bedtime and I promised Jared that I would write an "evisceration" when I had time.  At the time, there was a lot about the column that struck me as being misguided and I see that some of the comments to his post gibe with my initial impressions about the use of certain quotes and the inferences derived from them.  Yet I think my biggest problem with his piece, and one that I haven't seen addressed in the comments or on Twitter, is the very concept of "literary authors" somehow "slumming" in this amorphous entity known as "genre."

I have partially addressed this over the years in numerous posts here, but I have problems with the basic premise that there are somehow these two separate camps called "literary" and "genre."  My metaphoric hackles are raised when I see someone blithely talking about this as though they somehow a) know precisely what constitutes "literary" or "genre," and b) that "genre" is compressed further to themes/stories most frequently labeled these days as "science fiction" or "fantasy."  I understand the value that many place in creating labels and categories in order to create facile comparisons or to market tales, but I am reminded of the introductory passage to Michel Foucault's The Order of Things, in which he paraphrases Jorge Luis Borges:

“This book first arose out of a passage in [Jorge Luis] Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.”

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970) xv.
In trying to delineate what constitutes "literary" or "genre," the arbiter elegantiarum is going to run into several taxonomic problems, which Foucault, using Borges as a springboard for discussing this, notes in his book.  We want an order of things; we know life does not fit into neat categories.  The same occurs when trying to categorize literatures.  There may be perceived kinships, some close and others more distant, in certain types (genera) of writing, yet just as virtually all humans have distinguishing traits that make even identical twins identifiable to those who know them best, so too do our writings betray any sense of rigid relationships.  In trying to analyze whether or not there are "literary" writers somehow "slumming" in "genre," Jared ran into this taxonomic problem.  What constitutes "genre?"  Is it the inclusion of certain plot and/or thematic elements (e.g. werewolves, regeneration, FTL space travel) or is there something else to it?  After all, are there not authors whose works do possess some of these elements, yet they have argued (sometimes vociferously) that their works should not be considered "genre?"  Do they, who presumably have the closest and most in-depth insight into the stories' geneses, have a valid point, or are they just ultimately another form of reader, with his or her own prejudices and fallacies when it comes to discerning meaning from a text?

But even this question, which does merit further consideration, threatens to overlook a larger issue:  can there be a good analysis of literature that presumes there can be static divisions?  I would posit that creating categories can be good to a certain point, only as long as the reader can admit to herself that extrapolating from having ephemeral divisions according to personal tastes toward anything that approaches a systematic schema is a path fraught with epistemological peril.  Let's look at Jared's points near the end of his essay:

Which, despite my own initial belief in LASIGism, is a good thing, as the LASIG position is dangerous for genre as a whole. Again, a few reasons:

Some of our best and brightest authors are LASIGs. In 2012 and 2013, the pool of literary-authors-turned-to-genre included submissions from notorious literary elitests Neal Stephenson and Iain M. Banks. If we'd drawn some sort of LASIG hardline early in their careers. Looking past the 2012 and 2013 dataset, the the "LASIG" argument becomes increasingly ridiculous - take a moment review the list of past Clarke finalists and winners - this year's numbers are no fluke. If anything, they're low.

Other notorious LASIGs include David Eddings, Margaret Atwood, H.G. Wells, Robert Howard, Mary Stewart, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Discouraging LASIGs is shortsighted. It is also worth noting that at least three of the 15 individual LASIGs*** are people of colour, a low-but-still-much higher proportion than the rest of the submission pool. And the LASIGs that submitted include three Man Booker finalists, a MacArthur Grant recipient and one of Granta's Best Young Novelists. Aren't these the people we should be encouraging to write our science fiction and fantasy stories?
The problem I had with his post is centered in these paragraphs.  Leaving aside that he fails to convince me that a silly title such as "literary author slumming in genre" should be used even as a self-referential title to denote perceived literary divisions, the part about this "LASIG" being "dangerous for genre as a whole" is just oddly argued.  These "literary authors" are never defined by any positive connections; a presumed absence of some particular "genre" characteristic appears to be what binds them together in some sort of literary kin-marriage.  Since I have no idea what these "LASIGs" are supposed to be (the authors cited further serves to baffle me), arguing for or against the benefits/weaknesses of this amorphous group seems rather pointless.  I am not even convinced a "group" can be made out of such disparate writers as those who were up for awards consideration (and were mentioned, sometimes indirectly, in the original article).  Furthermore, the last point means well, yet ultimately contains a sense of possessiveness (why can't they/you write something that fits snugly into something that I like?) that in some cases would run counter to the notion that writers should tell the stories that they want to tell, using themes, tropes, situations, and character types to further these tales.  There seems to be more angst from certain quarters about Colin Whitehead and the stories that he likes to tell than from those circles of which the first group seems to consign him (unless he would be good for him).  He, like many other writers who write in a variety of literary modes, seems much less concerned about how his works are categorized than certain fans/critics are.

A more useful discussion than trying to parse which writers are "literary" (whatever that might mean) and how their works that might be "genre" (again, whatever that might mean) would be to look at how certain themes and tropes are employed to tell certain tells.  If the pop cultural notion of a zombie, now far removed from its Haitian source, is used in a story, what does it mean when the reader encounters a zombie?  Are there certain (pre)conceptions that are satisfied over the course of the fiction, or does the author present these themes and tropes in a different light?  After all, readers can divide works into multiple categories unto near infinity.  What often is missing, however, is an examination of the applications of the tools used in constructing fictions.

But what do I know?  Am I merely a literary reviewer (blogger was used in the title in an ironic sense; I hate that term to describe what I do) somehow slumming in genre, or am I a reader and critic who has some discussion elements in common with certain reviewers and not with others (or conversely, with the same people on different topics)?  Perhaps the answer to the definition of the reader/reviewer type is similar to that of authorial/fiction type:  what we perceive to be the limns of something may only be a permeable boundary for a small section of something much broader than what has been considered before.  If this is indeed true, and I suspect that it possesses a larger range of interpretations than having semi-rigid divisions according to perceived type, then the issue of whether or not a work should be categorized as "literary" or "genre" (and again, that term perhaps should be tightened, lest the locutor end up twisting herself into knots trying to place limits on writings that perhaps should be free of all such restraints.  In this case, authors who write different types of tales are not "slumming" as much as they are (with the possible half-exception of those writing to a market instead of primarily for their craft) not constraining themselves to artificial categories that might hamper their works by creating false expectations as to what their stories should be.  However, this is a topic that probably deserves greater exploration at another time.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Aeneid translation notes, Book I, lines 305-371

Outside of a large gap between lines 305-310, these notes are much more intact.  Whether that's a good or bad thing I'll leave up to the reader to decide.

At pius Aeneas, per noctem plurima volvens,
 ut primum lux alma data est, exire locosque
explorare novos, quas vento accesserit oras,
qui teneant, nam inculta videt, hominesne feraene,
quaerere constituit, sociisque exacta referre.
Classem in convexo nemorum sub rupe cavata
arboribus clausam circum atque horrentibus umbris
occulit; ipse uno graditur comitatus Achate,
bina manu lato crispans hastilia ferro. 

But pious Aeneas, many thoughts turning in his head during the night, as soon as the kindly dawn arrives, decides to go out and explore the new land, to which shores the winds had brought them, who possesses them (now he sees wilderness), whether man or beast, and he reports back to his companions.  He hides the ships in the secret grove under the hollowed out rock with trees hemming them round about with their trembling shadows; with his comrade Achates he marches on, brandishing a pair of broad-bladed spears.
Most of this I just wrote and it is a very early and rough draft, but I do like the imagery of the shadows trembling rather than the trees themselves.

Cui mater media sese tulit obvia silva,
virginis os habitumque gerens, et virginis arma
Spartanae, vel qualis equos Threissa fatigat
Harpalyce, volucremque fuga praevertitur Hebrum.
Namque umeris de more habilem suspenderat arcum
venatrix, dederatque comam diffundere ventis,
nuda genu, nodoque sinus collecta fluentis.
Ac prior, 'Heus' inquit 'iuvenes, monstrate mearum
vidistis si quam hic errantem forte sororum,
succinctam pharetra et maculosae tegmine lyncis,
aut spumantis apri cursum clamore prementem.'

To Aeneas his mother presents herself on the path in the midst of the woods, offering the appearance and clothing of a Spartan girl and the arms of a maid of Sparta, such as the Thracian Harpalyce, when she tries the horses in her swift course of the Hebrus.  For according to custom she had hung on her shoulders an easily handled bow as a huntress and had allowed the wind to scatter her hair, bare up to her knee, having collected the flowing folds in a knot.  Then at first she said, "Hello, young man, if you have seen any one of my sisters wandering here, girded with a quiver and a spotted lynx hide, or running behind a foaming board shouting, show me."
The allusions interest me; I have forgotten or have never learned about Harpalyce's tale.  Vergil's use of similes here deepens the encounter.

Sic Venus; et Veneris contra sic filius orsus: 
'Nulla tuarum audita mihi neque visa sororum—
O quam te memorem, virgo? Namque haud tibi voltus
mortalis, nec vox hominem sonat: O, dea certe—
an Phoebi soror? an nympharum sanguinis una?—
sis felix, nostrumque leves, quaecumque, laborem, 

et, quo sub caelo tandem, quibus orbis in oris
iactemur, doceas. Ignari hominumque locorumque
erramus, vento huc vastis et fluctibus acti:
multa tibi ante aras nostra cadet hostia dextra.'

Venus said this; and in turn her son replied, "I have neither heard nor seen any of your sisters, O how should I call you, maiden?  For by no means do you have a mortal countenance, nor does your voice sound human; Oh, certainly you are a goddess (are you the sister of Apollo?  Or are you of the blood of nympths?), be kind and light our labor, whoever you are, and tell me under what heaven, on what shore have we finally been tossed; we wander ignorant of the men and place, driven by wind and an enormous wave to this place:  many sacrifices will fall to you by my right hand before your altar."
The language here is elevated, yet in Latin it does not feel turgid or overly artificial.  Venus continues:

Tum Venus: 'Haud equidem tali me dignor honore;
virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram,
purpureoque alte suras vincire cothurno.
Punica regna vides, Tyrios et Agenoris urbem;
sed fines Libyci, genus intractabile bello.
Imperium Dido Tyria regit urbe profecta,
germanum fugiens. Longa est iniuria, longae
ambages; sed summa sequar fastigia rerum.

Then Venus said:  "Indeed I am not worthy of such an honor; it is the custom of Tyrian girls to wear quivers and to bind high scarlet boots to the calves.  You see the Carthaginian kingdom, the city of Tyre and Agenor; but bordered by Libya, an intractable people in war.  Dido rules this realm, having come from Tyre, fleeing her brother.  The story of her wrongs is a long one:  but I will attend to the main points of her story.
Most of the next part comes not from my first draft notes, but from my midterm exam (minus one later correction I made due to a singular mistake on the exam).

'Huic coniunx Sychaeus erat, ditissimus agri
Phoenicum, et magno miserae dilectus amore,
cui pater intactam dederat, primisque iugarat
ominibus. Sed regna Tyri germanus habebat
Pygmalion, scelere ante alios immanior omnes.
Quos inter medius venit furor. Ille Sychaeum
impius ante aras, atque auri caecus amore,
clam ferro incautum superat, securus amorum
germanae; factumque diu celavit, et aegram,
multa malus simulans, vana spe lusit amantem.
Ipsa sed in somnis inhumati venit imago
coniugis, ora modis attollens pallida miris,
crudeles aras traiectaque pectora ferro
nudavit, caecumque domus scelus omne retexit.

"She was the wife of Sychaeus, richest in the land of the Phoenicans, and he was cherished with love by this pitiable woman, whose father gave her to him untouched and during the first omens.  But the ruler of Tyre was her brother Pygmalion, an evil man before all, whose furor came between them.  That man came upon Sychaeus before the altar, seeking the place of his gold, and he killed him, heedless of the love of his sister; and for a long time he hid this deed and by many evil pretensions vainly kept up the hope of his sister.  But in her sleep her husband's ghost itself came, looking pale as the dead, with a bloody mouth; he bared his chest pierced cruelly by the sword at the altar, and he revealed all of the dark crime of the household.
And now for the second half of Dido's story, which will provide a convenient pausing place, even though there is still another 40 lines or so to the scene:

Tum celerare fugam patriaque excedere suadet,
auxiliumque viae veteres tellure recludit
thesauros, ignotum argenti pondus et auri.
His commota fugam Dido sociosque parabat:
conveniunt, quibus aut odium crudele tyranni
aut metus acer erat; navis, quae forte paratae,
corripiunt, onerantque auro: portantur avari
Pygmalionis opes pelago; dux femina facti.
Devenere locos, ubi nunc ingentia cernis
moenia surgentemque novae Karthaginis arcem,
mercatique solum, facti de nomine Byrsam,
taurino quantum possent circumdare tergo.
Sed vos qui tandem, quibus aut venistis ab oris,
quove tenetis iter? 'Quaerenti talibus ille
suspirans, imoque trahens a pectore vocem:

"He then persuaded her to hasten her flight and to leave her homeland and as help for the journey he disclosed the location of an ancient treasure in the earth and an incalculable weight of silver and gold.  These words by Sychaeus aroused Dido and she was preparing to escape with her comrades.  Those who either hated the cruelty of the tyrant or feared his harshness assembled; ships, which by chance were already prepared, they seized and loaded them with the gold.  The resources of greedy Pygmalion was carried off by the waves; the leader of the undertaking was a woman.  They arrived at the place where now you can see huge walls arising and the citadel of the new town of Carthage and the ground was bought, called Byrsa from the name of the deal, for as much land as they were able to surround with a bull's hide.  But what of you?  From what shore do you come?  What way are you going?"  To Venus who asked such things Aeneas, taking in a deep breath and drawing the words from deep with him, replied:
And you can find out Aeneas' response in a few days.  Almost exactly halfway through Book I.  Hope you are enjoying this as much as I am re-reading the poem and re-living memories twenty years gone.  Tempus fugit.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Award nominees

After a few years of feeling mostly apathy toward the Nebula Awards, mainly due to a few names that kept appearing on the shortlists despite churning out near-dreck for years, I will admit that the recently-announced shortlists for this year's prizes do appeal to me more than they have in recent years.  This is not to say that it is a "perfect" shortlist or that there are not works on there that did not appeal to me, but it certainly is a promising sign to see more books that possess multiple audiences getting nominations (plus two of the novelist finalists I got to meet briefly at the 2013 Southern Festival of Books, so there is some bias here).  Now for my brief thoughts on the finalists (bolded titles mean that I have read them):


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)

Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper) 

A nice variety here.  The Fowler and Wecker in particular I thought were excellent – I believe both made my year-end Top 25 – and both certainly have reached a large audience outside of SF community circles.  The Gaiman and Samatar I also liked and the latter I want to re-read, as I think it would benefit more from a re-read.  The Leckie I thought was mediocre.


‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages ( 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun, Arc Manor/Phoenix Pick)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes ( 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)

I guess I just haven't really read any SF/F novellas in the past year.


 ‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)

Same goes for novelettes, it seems.

Short Story:

‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)

 I liked the Schneyer story; haven't read any of the others.

Ray Bradbury Award for Best Dramatic Presentation:

Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)

Haven't seen a single one of these and have no plans to change that.

Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy:

 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)

Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)

Out of the two I read, I liked the Hopkinson more than the Johnson, as I had problems with the characterization and setting with the latter.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I think I buy too many books, sometimes

There really isn't all that much enjoyment out of it, unless it is the occasional trip to a used bookstore, where I actually wander around and look at books.  I haven't done a full count in years, but doubtless the number is over 2000, if I count the 700 or so e-books that I own (or maybe it's closer to 3000 if I do?).  While I don't fret about unread books like some do, I just find myself thinking that I need to get rid of some books and not buy anymore so.

So, I think one of the things that I'll give up for Lent (yes, I am a practicing Catholic for those who didn't know) this year is buying books.  So after a couple of March 4 releases ship, I'll not order anything until late April (and the same will apply for buying used books).  Curious to see what this will do to my reading habits.  Not that I've been reading much these past three weeks.  I think I've only finished one book in the past two weeks, as I'm busy doing a word-by-word translation of two novels and those will take a few more months at least to complete, but perhaps I'll add something more worthwhile to the reading queue during Lent:  Latin (and maybe Greek, which I don't understand very well) and a handful of contemporary translations of lectionary readings.  Not that I'll be reviewing these here (or would some want me to write commentaries on religious readings?), but it should make for a nice change of pace.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ever been curious about "international" SF?

I received this press release in my inbox a couple of weeks ago from Cheryl Morgan, who runs Wizard's Towers Press, and I meant to make a quick post about it, but I was extremely busy with preparations for a series of state-mandated assessments and I forgot until this weekend to read into it.  She has made available in e-book formats an anthology of translated SF short fiction from Croatian writers called Kontakt.  So far, I've only had time to read the forward and the introduction, but the story descriptions sound very interesting and I hope I'll have time to read them over the next few weeks (I've barely been reading anything this month besides two WWI-related fictions that I'm slowly translating from their native languages into English - via Google Translate, as I do not know either one well enough to read with full reading comprehension, as this likely will continue into March or even April).  Here's part of the press release, for those who want more info (by the way, it cost me $6.82 - £3.99 - for the anthology, which is nearly 300 pages on my iPad screen):

Croatian Anthology TO BE PUBLISHED BY Wizard’s Tower

Wizard’s Tower Press is pleased to announce the publication of an ebook edition of Kontakt: An Anthology of Croatian SF, edited by Tatjana Jambrišak and Darko Macan.
This Croatian anthology, originally published in paperback for the 2012 the European Science Fiction Convention (Eurocon) in Zagreb where it was given away free to members, was an immediate hit with readers of the genre. “We wanted to present the best Croatian genre stories to the English-speaking audiences, the intention was to showcase Croatian science fiction and fantasy fiction to the wider world,” said Darko Macan. All the stories are translated into English, and many of the authors have won Croatian national genre literary awards.

Of the twelve stories in the book, two have already achieved recognition outside of Croatia. “The Corridor” by Darko Macan won the Lapis Histriae, an international short story competition open to writers from Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. “Every Time We Say Goodbye” by Zoran Vlahović received an honorable mention in the 2013 Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards. Until now, the anthology has never been generally available for sale.

“I had little idea of what to expect when I visited Croatia for the Eurocon, and was blown away by the friendliness, enthusiasm and organizational skills of the people that I met. I liked the country so much that I went back again last year. I am delighted to be able to bring some of the finest science fiction and fantasy by Croatian writers to a wider audience,” said Cheryl Morgan, owner of Wizard’s Tower Press.

Kontakt: An Anthology of Croatian SF will be available for the Kindle, and in the standard epub format for other reading devices and computers. It will be available worldwide. Copies are available now from the Wizard’s Tower bookstore (, and will appear in other popular stores in due course.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Aeneid translation notes, Book I, lines 223-304

After the storm, feast, and lament, the action here shifts away from the Trojans and toward the gods and their machinations.  This passage is one of several scattered throughout the poem that is meant to tie together the mythological past (most of the allusions to the Trojans and Rome were established well before Vergil) and contemporary history.  Here Venus pleads with Jupiter on behalf of her son Aeneas and his Trojans.  Jupiter consoles her with the promise of empire for Aeneas' descendents, the Roman people.

Et iam finis erat, cum Iuppiter aethere summo
despiciens mare velivolum terrasque iacentis
litoraque et latos populos, sic vertice caeli
constitit, et Libyae defixit lumina regnis.
Atque illum talis iactantem pectore curas
tristior et lacrimis oculos suffusa nitentis
adloquitur Venus: 'O qui res hominumque deumque
aeternis regis imperiis, et fulmine terres,
quid meus Aeneas in te committere tantum,
quid Troes potuere, quibus, tot funera passis,
cunctus ob Italiam terrarum clauditur orbis?
Certe hinc Romanos olim, volventibus annis,
hinc fore ductores, revocato a sanguine Teucri,

 qui mare, qui terras omni dicione tenerent,
pollicitus, quae te, genitor, sententia vertit?
Hoc equidem occasum Troiae tristisque ruinas
solabar, fatis contraria fata rependens;
nunc eadem fortuna viros tot casibus actos
insequitur. Quem das finem, rex magne, laborum?
Antenor potuit, mediis elapsus Achivis,
Illyricos penetrare sinus, atque intima tutus
regna Liburnorum, et fontem superare Timavi,
unde per ora novem vasto cum murmure montis
it mare proruptum et pelago premit arva sonanti.
Hic tamen ille urbem Patavi sedesque locavit
Teucrorum, et genti nomen dedit, armaque fixit
Troia; nunc placida compostus pace quiescit:
nos, tua progenies, caeli quibus adnuis arcem,
navibus (infandum!) amissis, unius ob iram
prodimur atque Italis longe disiungimur oris.
Hic pietatis honos? Sic nos in sceptra reponis?' 

And now the end [of the feast], when Jupiter discerning from the highest sky the sea winged with sails and the outspread lands and coasts and widespread nations, there on heaven's summit he rested and on the Libyan kingdom he fixed his gaze.  And with such cares in his heart, Venus accosted him, sadder than was her wont, her bright eyes filled with tears:  "Oh you who rule the affairs of gods and men with eternal power and frightening thunder, what great offense has my Aeneas committed to you, what could the Trojans commit, who have endured so many disasters the world is closed to them on account of Italy?  Surely at some point that as the years rolled by that the Romans, from these men, from the restored blood of Teucer, on the sea and all lands they will hold sway, as you promised.  Father, what argument has turned you?  Because of this, indeed, I was consoling myself for the fall of Troy and the sad collapse, balancing contrary fates with other fates; now the same fortune follows them who have endured so much.  What end, great king, do you give for their ordeals?  Antenor, having escaped from the midst of the Greeks, was able to penetrate the Illyric gulf and reach in safety the inland kingdoms of the Liburnians and cross the Timavus, from which source through nine mouths it goes with a rumble from the mountains as a dashing sea and it overwhelms the fields with its noisy flood.  Here nevertheless that man founded the city of Patavium, gave homes to the Teucrians, gave them a name, hung up the Trojan arms, and now placid he rests at ease:  we, however, your own children, to whom you promise the heavens, lost our ships (unspeakable!) and are betrayed on account of someone's anger and we are separated a long way from the coast of Italy.  Is this the reward for loyalty?  In this way do you put us into royal power?"
There were a lot of gaps in my translation notes and as I noted in yesterday's post, I consulted two translation I had on hand as well as my Latin dictionary and the annotations in the edition I'm re-reading in order to fill them.  I also rewrote a few sentences that were erroneous in detail, but on the whole, the majority is left as I wrote it in 1994.  The next part, Jupiter's response, was a separate assignment back in February 1994 and I wrote most of it out in detail back then, so there shouldn't be as many gaps to fill.

 Olli subridens hominum sator atque deorum,
voltu, quo caelum tempestatesque serenat,
oscula libavit natae, dehinc talia fatur:
'Parce metu, Cytherea: manent immota tuorum
fata tibi; cernes urbem et promissa Lavini
moenia, sublimemque feres ad sidera caeli
magnanimum Aenean; neque me sententia vertit.
Hic tibi (fabor enim, quando haec te cura remordet,
longius et volvens fatorum arcana movebo)
bellum ingens geret Italia, populosque feroces
contundet, moresque viris et moenia ponet,
tertia dum Latio regnantem viderit aestas,
ternaque transierint Rutulis hiberna subactis.
At puer Ascanius, cui nunc cognomen Iulo
additur,—Ilus erat, dum res stetit Ilia regno,—
triginta magnos volvendis mensibus orbis
imperio explebit, regnumque ab sede Lavini
transferet, et longam multa vi muniet Albam.
Hic iam ter centum totos regnabitur annos
gente sub Hectorea, donec regina sacerdos,
Marte gravis, geminam partu dabit Ilia prolem.
Inde lupae fulvo nutricis tegmine laetus
Romulus excipiet gentem, et Mavortia condet
moenia, Romanosque suo de nomine dicet.
His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono;
imperium sine fine dedi. Quin aspera Iuno,
quae mare nunc terrasque metu caelumque fatigat,
consilia in melius referet, mecumque fovebit
Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam:
sic placitum. Veniet lustris labentibus aetas,
cum domus Assaraci Phthiam clarasque Mycenas
servitio premet, ac victis dominabitur Argis.
Nascetur pulchra Troianus origine Caesar,
imperium oceano, famam qui terminet astris,—
Iulius, a magno demissum nomen Iulo.
Hunc tu olim caelo, spoliis Orientis onustum,
accipies secura; vocabitur hic quoque votis.
Aspera tum positis mitescent saecula bellis;
cana Fides, et Vesta, Remo cum fratre Quirinus,
iura dabunt; dirae ferro et compagibus artis
claudentur Belli portae; Furor impius intus,
saeva sedens super arma, et centum vinctus aenis
post tergum nodis, fremet horridus ore cruento.'

The father of men and the gods, his face smiling, which clears the skies and storms, kissed his daughter, then he said the following:  "Spare yourself of fear, Cytherea, the fate of your own children remains unchanged; you perceive the city and the promis of the walls of Lavinium and carrying aloft great-soled Aeneas to the sky as a constellation; my purpose has not changed.  For you (indeed I will tell you, since this worry eats at you, unrolling the scroll of the fates farther), he will bring brutal war to Italy and he will crush fierce people and he will place walls and laws on these people, until a third summer shall see him ruling in Latium and three winters will pass after the Rutulians have been subdued.  But the boy Ascanius, to which the cognomen of Iulus is added (Ilus was his surname, when Troy stood), shall rule for thirty years with their swift passing months, and he will transfer the seat from Lavinium and will fortify Alba Longa.  Here now for three hundred years it will ruled by Hector's people, until a royal priestess pregnant by Mars shall produce in birth twin boys.  Afterwards, happy Romulus in the tawny hide of the she-wolf nurse shall take up the people and establish the Mavortian walls and he shall call them Romans from his own name.  To these I place neither limits of government nor of time:  imperium without end I have given them.  Yes, even fierce Juno, who soon shall weary of fear on sea and land and sky, will change her plans for the better, and with me shall cherish the Romans, the toga-wearing lords of the world and people.  It is thus decreed.  As the years go gliding by, a time will come when the house of Assaracus will subject Phthia and bright Mycenae in slavery and conquered Argos will be ruled over.  Caesar's illustrious line will be born of the Trojans, empire bounded by ocean, fame which reaches the stars, Julius, derived from the great name of Iulus.  You shall soon receive untroubled to the sky him burdened with Oriental  spoils he also will be envoked in prayers.  Then with war abandoned the harsh ages grow mild; hoary Fides and Vesta, Remus with his brother Quirinus will make laws, and the Gates of War, grim with iron and fastened with bars, are closed.  Within evil rage sitting tied up, bound by 100 knots of bronze, roars with his bloody mouth."
There are echoes here with other passages in the poem, particularly the shield images near the end of Book VI.  This is perhaps one of the more nationalistic passages in the poem, but it is interesting to contrast this rosy "future" with the travails that the Trojans have suffered thus far.  Not much was changed here, only a few lines near the end that I had left blank in 1994.  Now for the bridge between this section and the resumption of Aeneas' story:

Haec ait, et Maia genitum demittit ab alto,
ut terrae, utque novae pateant Karthaginis arces
hospitio Teucris, ne fati nescia Dido
finibus arceret: volat ille per aera magnum
remigio alarum, ac Libyae citus adstitit oris.
Et iam iussa facit, ponuntque ferocia Poeni
corda volente deo; in primis regina quietum
accipit in Teucros animum mentemque benignam.

This said, he sends down from on high the son of Maia, so that Carthage, the new town, might extend hospitality to the Teucrians, as Dido did not know their fate and might them keep away:  he flies through the air on great beating wings and swiftly he reached the Libyan shore.  He now does as commanded, and the fierce Phoenicians put aside their feelings in accordance with the god's will; among the first the queen adopts toward the Teucrians a peaceful mind and spirit.
This last part I didn't translate back in 1994, so I worked it out now in consultation with dictionaries and other translations, but the phrasing is mine alone.  Later in the week, I'll post, maybe in sections, Aeneas's exploration of the area and Venus's disguised visit to him, where she reveals to him the history of both Carthage and its queen Dido.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Aeneid translation notes, Book I, lines 210-222

I am mostly following "scene" cuts here, so this will be one of the few times that I divide the old coursework assignments differently than how they appeared in 1994.  This short scene of mourning will be followed by 81 lines on Venus's complaint to Jupiter and what Jupiter does in turn.  If I have time, I'll post the longer portion Sunday.

Talia voce refert, curisque ingentibus aeger
spem voltu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem.
Illi se praedae accingunt, dapibusque futuris;
tergora deripiunt costis et viscera nudant;
pars in frusta secant veribusque trementia figunt;
litore aena locant alii, flammasque ministrant.
Tum victu revocant vires, fusique per herbam
implentur veteris Bacchi pinguisque ferinae.
Postquam exempta fames epulis mensaeque remotae,
amissos longo socios sermone requirunt,
spemque metumque inter dubii, seu vivere credant,
sive extrema pati nec iam exaudire vocatos.
Praecipue pius Aeneas nunc acris Oronti,
nunc Amyci casum gemit et crudelia secum
fata Lyci, fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloanthum. 

They gird themselves for the future feast:  they tear the hides from the ribs and lay bare the flesh; some they cut into pieces and fix them still quivering to spits, they bronze on the shores, and they kindle the flames.  Then by food restored to their strength, they filled themselves with the wine that the King of Sicily had given them.  After their hunger was taken away by the feast, they reclined on the grass, filling themselves with old wine and rich venison.  After the banquet took away their hunger and the tables were removed, they let go and lost themselves in deep conversation, wavering between hope and fear, whether or not their companions were alive or if they suffered death and no longer can hear their names.  Devout Aeneas especially mourns now for spirited Orontēs, now for Amycus and then for the cruel fate of Lycus and brave Gyās and valiant Cloanthus.
Oddly, back in 1994, I left over half of this short scene untranslated (I didn't have my notes checked by the professor; we just had to be ready for translating the occasional "seen" translation for our exams), so I used a combination of the vocabulary words in the edition of Books I-VI that I own, my Latin dictionary, and comparing two translations elsewhere, one prose and the other poetic, in order to fill in the gaps.  There are more gaps in lines 223-304, but these aren't as pronounced (a line or two here and there) as the seven out of thirteen lines left untranslated in my notes.

I'm finding it interesting, reading both my old/new notes and comparing those to what I'm doing with two World War I-related stories that aren't yet readily available in English, to see the ways in which grief is described.  There are no poignant passages on the desire for revenge, but instead here there is a brief yet emotional outpouring that makes passages like this, brief as they may be, powerful to consider at length.  But the worldviews certainly differ over nearly two millenia and the qualities of what makes one "great" or a leader certain vary considerably.  Regardless, there certainly is an elegance here in Vergil's lines that can barely be seen in translation, but even those glimpses provide just enough to enable the reader to appreciate the achievement that the poet made even with his unfinished work.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Early 2014 purchases, including World War I-related books

It's been a long time since I've posted some book porn, so here are some of the books that I've purchased this year that might be of interest to readers and/or will be reviewed later this year:

 One of my few collecting hobbies is getting as many translations of all/parts of the Bible as possible.  I can read Latin with little difficulty (I studied it for two years in college in the 1990s) and the Stuttgart Vulgate is an edition I've wanted to own for some time.  Just so happens that the day I receive it in the mail (this past Wednesday), I also happened to find the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament.  Soon (maybe 1-2 years from now?) I hope to be able to concentrate on learning Koine Greek and this will be of great value for that end.

I've been reading Kyle Minor's latest collection, Praying Drunk, one story at a time over the past week or so.  Planning on writing a review in the next 1-2 months.  Adam Thorpe's Still I bought as a recommendation from Felix Gilman and I plan on reading it in the near future.

I plan on reading Mark Thompson's National Book Critics Circle Award biography finalist, Birth Certificate:  The Story of Danilo Kiš, in the next few weeks.  Kofi Awoonor's posthumous collection, The Promise of Hope, will be read and reviewed in May or June.

The Library of America edition of Wiliam Wells Brown's writings just came out this week.  I will read it at some undetermined date in the future (I have dozens of LoA editions to read through at some point).  I bought Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Aeneid to read in tandem with my own translation notes on Book I of Vergil's famous work.

These are two books to read in the near future:  Julio Navarro's Dime Quién Soy and Dominique Rolin's Lettre à Lise.  The premises of both intrigue me.

Now for the World War I-related books:  First up is Alexander Soltzhenitsyn's August 1914 and Jessica Gregson's The Angel Makers.  Both will be reviewed sometime in mid-to-late 2014.

The two books that have occupied most of my so-called "reading time" this month (more like slow, careful looking up of words in two languages):  Liviu Rebreanu's Pădurea spânzuraților (Forest of the Hanged) and Miroslav Krleža's Hrvatski Bog Mars (Croatian God Mars).  Both shall take several more months each to complete, but when I do, there will be reviews written of both.

An anthology and a cultural history:  Tim Cross's anthology of WWI-related material, The Lost Voices of World War I, contains several writers that I haven't yet encountered in English or any other language.  Alan Kramer's Dynamic of Destruction:  Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War, is very good so far and I'll likely review it around May-June.

A play and a novel:  R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End and Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road.  Both are very likely to be read at some point this year.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Carlos Ruiz Zafón to debut new piece on April 5th

But instead of the highly-anticipated fourth and apparently final volume in his Cemetery of Lost Books series, Zafón will be performing a concert on April 5, debuting music that he wrote to coincide with certain key scenes from the three books in the series already released.  More information (in Spanish) is available at this link.

Curious to hear how these eight pieces, backed by La Orquesta Sinfónica del Vallès, will sound.  Certainly takes "writing playlist" to a different level, no?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An interesting quote on reviewing by Joseph Brodsky

I was reading this article over at Brain Pickings on Nobel Prize-winning writer Joseph Brodsky's essays when I came across this quote:

The trouble with a reviewer is (minimum) threefold: (A) he can be a hack, and as ignorant as ourselves, (B) he can have strong predilections for a certain kind of writing, or simply be on the take with the publishing industry, and (C) if he is a writer of talent, he will turn his review-writing into an independent art form — Jorge Luis Borges is a case in point — and you may end up by reading reviews rather than the books themselves.

As as reviewer, I always fear A), likely commit B) fairly often, and have aspirations of C) on occasion, at least in terms of writing reviews worth reading, if not quite in the style of a Borges.  It is perhaps a trite truism when taken out of context, but I suspect that when considered at length, this quote can apply to more than just the composition of an 800-1500 word essay on a story or group of stories.  Yes, composition is the best word for this:  of what are we composed and how are our composed elements reflected in the things that we create?

Now I have another book to order in the near future, it seems.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Aeneid translation notes, Book I, lines 157-209

Here is a little pause, but an important pause, in the action, as the Trojans have landed near Carthage.  Aeneas displays more humanity here than in nearly any other scene in the poem.  Onto the notes, which seem to have fewer caesurae than the previous couple of assignments:

Defessi Aeneadae, quae proxima litora, cursu
contendunt petere, et Libyae vertuntur ad oras.
Est in secessu longo locus: insula portum
efficit obiectu laterum, quibus omnis ab alto
frangitur inque sinus scindit sese unda reductos.
Hinc atque hinc vastae rupes geminique minantur
in caelum scopuli, quorum sub vertice late
aequora tuta silent; tum silvis scaena coruscis
desuper horrentique atrum nemus imminet umbra.
Fronte sub adversa scopulis pendentibus antrum,
intus aquae dulces vivoque sedilia saxo,
nympharum domus: hic fessas non vincula navis
ulla tenent, unco non alligat ancora morsu.
Huc septem Aeneas collectis navibus omni

 ex numero subit; ac magno telluris amore
egressi optata potiuntur Troes harena,
et sale tabentis artus in litore ponunt.
Ac primum silici scintillam excudit Achates,
succepitque ignem foliis, atque arida circum
nutrimenta dedit, rapuitque in fomite flammam.
Tum Cererem corruptam undis Cerealiaque arma
expediunt fessi rerum, frugesque receptas
et torrere parant flammis et frangere saxo. 
 Aeneas' tired followers, seeking the nearest land, hastened their course and to the mouth of Libya they turned.  There is a place in a long recess:  an island makes this place an harbor by the projection of its side on which all of the water from the deep is broken in the bay and it divides itself in two in the withdrawn bay.  On this side and that are enormous cliffs and twin rocks tower in the sky, where under whose summit far and wide the protected waters are silent; then the shimmering trees up above are a backdrop with its shimmering shadow the dark grove looms; opposite of in front there is a cave made of projecting rocks within which there is fresh water and seats made from the living rock, the home of nymphs.  Here the weary ships are not held by chains, an anchor is not needed to hold them.  Here Aeneas docks with seven ships gathered from the whole number and the men then jumped off the ship and they placed their limbs dripping with salt on the shore.  And Achates strikes the first spark, the leaves catch fire, and he places fuel around and the fire awhirls in flame.  Then they prepared the grain of Ceres corrupted by the seawater and the utensils of Ceres, and weary of their troubles, they prepared to roast the recovered grain over the fire and to crush it on the rocks.
Even though some of the lines read oddly due to me being so literal with the translation back in 1994, there are some wonderful images here that would lose some of their import if they were rendered in a less poetic translation-English.  One thing that I've noticed through the first 200 lines of the poem is Vergil's descriptions of rock and sea; each feels more vibrant than when he describes the characters themselves.

Aeneas scopulum interea conscendit, et omnem
prospectum late pelago petit, Anthea si quem
iactatum vento videat Phrygiasque biremis,
aut Capyn, aut celsis in puppibus arma Caici.
Navem in conspectu nullam, tris litore cervos
prospicit errantis; hos tota armenta sequuntur
a tergo, et longum per vallis pascitur agmen.
Constitit hic, arcumque manu celerisque sagittas
corripuit, fidus quae tela gerebat Achates;
ductoresque ipsos primum, capita alta ferentis
cornibus arboreis, sternit, tum volgus, et omnem
miscet agens telis nemora inter frondea turbam;
nec prius absistit, quam septem ingentia victor
corpora fundat humi, et numerum cum navibus aequet.
Hinc portum petit, et socios partitur in omnes.
Vina bonus quae deinde cadis onerarat Acestes
litore Trinacrio dederatque abeuntibus heros,
dividit, et dictis maerentia pectora mulcet:
 Meanwhile, Aeneas climbed a rock and the entire view he sought far and wide over the sea, if he should see Antheus and the Phygian biremes, which the winds tossed about or Capys or the lofty ships bearing Caicus' arms.  No ship being in sight, Aeneas saw three stags wandering by the shore; behind these from the rear followed the entire herd and they were grazing in a long line in the valley.  He stopped here and he snatched his bow and swift arrows into his hand, which were being carried by the faithful Achates, and the leaders themselves bearing their heads high with branching antlers he first laid low, and then he confused the entire herd, driving the mob with his weapons amongst the leafy grove, not stopping before as victor seven enormous carcasses he had laid low on the ground and when the number equaled that of the ships.  He sought the harbor and he divided the kill amongst all of his comrades.  Then the wine, which good Acestes had loaded in jars on the Sicilian shore and which that hero had given to the departing Trojans was divided and Aeneas with these words soothed the mournful hearts of his comrades:
 After this heroic hunting act, Aeneas seeks to address the grief that is now befalling his comrades:
'O socii—neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum—
O passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem.
Vos et Scyllaeam rabiem penitusque sonantis
accestis scopulos, vos et Cyclopea saxa
experti: revocate animos, maestumque timorem
mittite: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum
tendimus in Latium; sedes ubi fata quietas
ostendunt; illic fas regna resurgere Troiae.
Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis.'
  Talia voce refert, curisque ingentibus aeger
spem voltu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem.
"Oh comrades – for we are not ignorant before of such evil – having suffered greater evils, God will also give an end to these troubles.  And you have approached the fury of Scylla and within the roar of the rocks, and you have experienced the rocks of the Cyclops.  Restore your sad spirits and dismiss fear; perhaps at some time we shall be glad to remember even these things.  Through diverse fortunes, so many hazardous things we are heading to, toward Latium, where the Fates showed a peaceful place; there it is the divine will for the Trojan realm there to rise again.  Endure, save yourselves for favorable times."

 With his voice he said such things, sick with these enormous concerns, he pretends optimism on his face, he represses the deep grief in his heart.
When I think of action/adventure/hero movies that seek to capture the rah-rah spirit of passages such as this, I am reminded here, yet once again, that grief, briefly unmasked, adds much more to such heroic quests than any stirring words.  Here Aeneas is his most vulnerable and human.  It is a fitting place to pause for now.

Monday, February 17, 2014

For those who've been following my posting of my old Aeneid translation and want to hear it read aloud, here's an interesting video

This sounds very similar to how my Latin professors at the University of Tennessee read this out loud.  Listened to it while reading something else and was pleasantly surprised to see how much I recalled (leaving aside that I had spent several hours on those lines, both twenty years before and over the past month).

Probably will post another 20-50 lines sometime during the week.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Marcel Theroux, Strange Bodies

My name is Nicholas Patrick Slopen.  I was born in Singapore City on April 10, 1970.  I died on September 28, 2009, crushed in the wheel arch of a lorry outside Oval tube station.

This document is my testimony.

As will shortly become clear, I have an unknown but definitely brief period of time to explain the events leading up to my death and to establish the continuity of my identity after it.  In view of the constraints upon me, I hope the reader will forgive my forgoing the usual niceties of autobiography.  At the same time, I will have to commit myself to some details with a certain, and perhaps wearisome, degree of exactitude in order to provide evidence to support the contention contained in the first paragraph of this testimony:  that I am Nicholas Slopen, and that my consciousness has survived my bodily death. (p. 17)
Body and/or identity-swapping has long been a staple of science fiction narratives (see my earlier review of Daniel Sueiro's 1968 novel for example).  There is a certain thrill in imagining waking up in another body, having another chance to do things differently (or perhaps just do them all over again).  But there is also an element of dread, of pondering what would be lost in the translation from one body to another.  Would we recall everything?  What gaps would there be that would torment us?  And what if the body/identity swap occurred without our permission?  Would we be who we are elsewhere?  What if something that occurred in one of those gaps will affect us in nefarious ways?  Would our identity as ourselves remain intact, or would the switch involve some imposition of otherness on what we consider to be our true, core identities?

These are some of the questions that Marcel Theroux addresses in his recent book, Strange Bodies.  From the very first paragraphs, where the impossibility of the identity previously known as Nicholas Slopen is shown through the bewildered reactions of former acquaintances, there is a deep mystery that permeates the narrative.  Is this new Nicholas, in a body that differs significantly from his old one, really Nicholas?  If he is an imposter, then how come he mimics so closely not just the knowledge of the old Nicholas, but also many of his mannerisms?  If he is indeed Nicholas, then how come he exists now after death?  Theroux explores and then explodes these questions in a narrative that is heavily influenced by science fiction and mystery/police procedural genres without feeling as though it is completely one or the other.

Over the course of nearly 300 pages, the impact of Nicholas' (re)arrival is seen through the reactions of those around him, his involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, and in his expounding on the life of Samuel Johnson, a former subject of his literary research.  Theroux carefully explores each facet of Nicholas' former life, revealing a life that contained its own possibly nefarious mysteries.  Each development slots nicely (almost too nicely; we humans are not precisely machines in our prevarications and bumbling stumbles) into what is established before.  What emerges is a tale that causes the reader to both want to read ahead quickly to learn what happens next and to pause for a reflection of what is being said.

One of the frustrations of writing a review as opposed to a full literary critique is that there is much to unpack here in Strange Bodies that a review of the overall narrative which avoids giving the "big reveals" cannot explore in depth.  While the mechanism for explaining how the "new" Nicholas has come to be is straight out of mid-20th century Anglo-American SF, it is the implications of this plot device that make Strange Bodies a mostly satisfying read.  Too often, writers would focus too much on the means by which the situation has been established and not concentrate enough on the consequences of these developments.  Too easily, Nicholas could have been devoid of a personality outside of his "past" self.  Instead, Theroux develops Nicholas' character through not just his flashbacks and musings on Johnson and others, but also in how he chooses to interact with his strange, new surroundings.

If Strange Bodies had to be reduced to a primary theme (there are several, including an exploration of a Faustian bargain through different means), it would be that of the persistency of authorial identity in the act of reading literature.  Theroux has referred to this in interviews, but it's most present in one of his epigraphs, quoting John Milton's Areopagitica:

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.  I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.
Theroux himself refers to this quasi-immortality near the end of the novel:

But the dead are dead.  That may be the truest and most definite fact about human existence.  Death is the bass ground that gives everything else point.  Every generation seems to know this except ours.  I feel I'm entitled to say this.  Who on earth is deader than me?

And the dead are dead for good reasons, profound reasons, that we ignore at our peril.  There's a reason why the old father in "The Monkey's Paw" turns away his dead son when he comes knocking.  The world belongs to the living: to Lucius and Sarah, to Leonora and, though it pains me to say it, to Caspar.(p. 288)
Strange Bodies ultimately is a novel that is about death and the quasi-life of literature.  It is about our hopes to achieve something that outlasts us, even if we ourselves are lost, at least somewhat, in the process.  There are times where Theroux's points are attenuated by the plot choices he makes, but ultimately his themes on life, death, and our desire to transcend both ring clearly for those readers who view literature as more than just entertainment, but also as something that allows us to commune with the souls that have gone on before us, pondering just who we are and why we are.  These sorts of tales have a timeless quality to them and while Strange Bodies may not be perfect in all of its facets, its imperfections reflect our own, making it a powerful read that has lingered in my mind weeks after finishing the last sentence.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Aeneid translation notes, Book I, Lines 102-156

Since it's been over two weeks since I last posted my old 1994 rough draft translation notes of Vergil's Aeneid, I'm going to post a much longer bit, from Book I, lines 102-156, that detail not only the devastation unleashed by Aeolus' winds, but what happens after the torment.  As always, these are very rough notes, written to make sure that I had the gist of the passages, but I think there might be something of interest here for those who are curious about early translation drafts, particularly those that are purposely more "literal" than those that "bend" the lines to fit better into English diction.  
Talia iactanti stridens Aquilone procella
velum adversa ferit, fluctusque ad sidera tollit.
Franguntur remi; tum prora avertit, et undis
dat latus; insequitur cumulo praeruptus aquae mons.    

Hi summo in fluctu pendent; his unda dehiscens
terram inter fluctus aperit; furit aestus harenis.
Tris Notus abreptas in saxa latentia torquet—
saxa vocant Itali mediis quae in fluctibus aras—
dorsum immane mari summo; tris Eurus ab alto 
in brevia et Syrtis urget, miserabile visu,
inliditque vadis atque aggere cingit harenae.
Unam, quae Lycios fidumque vehebat Oronten,
ipsius ante oculos ingens a vertice pontus
in puppim ferit: excutitur pronusque magister
volvitur in caput; ast illam ter fluctus ibidem
torquet agens circum, et rapidus vorat aequore vortex.
Adparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto,
arma virum, tabulaeque, et Troia gaza per undas.
Iam validam Ilionei navem, iam fortis Achati,
et qua vectus Abas, et qua grandaevus Aletes,
vicit hiems; laxis laterum compagibus omnes
accipiunt inimicum imbrem, rimisque fatiscunt. 
Such a blow from the howling north wind strikes the sail directly, bearing the wave up into the stars. The oar is broken, the prow turns and gives its side to the waves and a towering mountain of water falls in a mass.  Some ships hang on the highest waves; for others, the bottom is shown between the waves, boiling with sand.  Three the south wind whirl into hidden rocks (rocks in the middle of the sea that the Italians call the Altars, a vast reef in the high seas), three the east wind drive from the deep sea into the sand bars, piteous to behold.  One ship, which was carrying the Lycians and faithful Orontes, before the Aeneas's eyes a huge wave from on high strikes:  the pilot is cast out headlong, turned face down; but the sea whirls the ship around three times making a circle in the same place and a whirlpool swallows it up rapidly.  Men here and there appear in the vast abyss, men's weapons, planks, and Trojan treasure show up under the sea.  Now mighty Ilioneus's ship, now that of brave Achates, and that carrying Abas, and that of aged Aletes, the winter storm conquers; the seams loosen and split on all of them, letting in the unfriendly seawater.
As was the case earlier, I left a few key lines untranslated back in 1994, likely meaning to go back and work on the structure, so I consulted my dictionary and a recent translation and worked out a rough translation to fit in with what I had written twenty years before.  Although a few of the sentences could be rewritten slightly to allow for a more "native" feel, the descriptions here convey the awe and terror of wind and wave that sailors for millennia have felt.

At this point, Aeneas' enterprise feels doomed; who can resist the wrath and power of mighty Juno, aided and abetted by the winds under the dominion of Aeolus?  Yet intervention does come, but not from above:
Interea magno misceri murmure pontum,
emissamque hiemem sensit Neptunus, et imis
stagna refusa vadis, graviter commotus; et alto
prospiciens, summa placidum caput extulit unda.
Disiectam Aeneae, toto videt aequore classem,
fluctibus oppressos Troas caelique ruina,
nec latuere doli fratrem Iunonis et irae.
Eurum ad se Zephyrumque vocat, dehinc talia fatur:

Meanwhile Neptune perceives that the murmuring sea was being greatly confused by a storm and pools of water were being pulled up into the shallows, he being greatly disturbed; and looking out over the deep sea, he raises his calm head above the surface.  He sees Aeneas's fleet scattered all across the sea, the waves and the falling ships threatening ruin on the overwhelmed Trojans.  Juno's wiles and anger do not escape the notice of her brother.  He calls Eurus and Zephyrus to him, then says these words:
This is a very literal translation; "he being greatly disturbed" would better fit as an appositive phrase immediately after Neptune.  I changed the tense from the 1994 past tense rendering into a present tense one in order to fit better with the sense of immediacy of the passage above; either way is to some degree acceptable in (re)telling the tale.  It is interesting to see how Vergil mixes in description of motive in the midst of narrative action; it is perhaps not the best to read in English these days, but it does work in terms of reading the poem aloud (or "hearing" it when reading it slowly to catch meanings that are at best half-forgotten over the intervening twenty years).
'Tantane vos generis tenuit fiducia vestri?
Iam caelum terramque meo sine numine, venti,
miscere, et tantas audetis tollere moles?
Quos ego—sed motos praestat componere fluctus.
Post mihi non simili poena commissa luetis.
Maturate fugam, regique haec dicite vestro:
non illi imperium pelagi saevumque tridentem,
sed mihi sorte datum. Tenet ille immania saxa,
vestras, Eure, domos; illa se iactet in aula
Aeolus, et clauso ventorum carcere regnet.'

"Are you sure of the strength of your line?  Now do you dare, winds, to stir up heaven and earth and to destroy masses without my divine authority?  To you I ought to...!  But it would be better to calm the rough sea.  After this you will atone to me with a greater punishment for your crimes.  Hasten your flight and take this message to the King of the Winds:  the power over the sea and the fierce trident were not given by lot to him, but to me.  He holds the huge rocks, which are your home, Eurus; let Aeolus throw himself about in his hall and let him rule the winds inclosed in their prison."
Not much to change here.
Sic ait, et dicto citius tumida aequora placat,
collectasque fugat nubes, solemque reducit.
Cymothoe simul et Triton adnixus acuto
detrudunt navis scopulo; levat ipse tridenti;
et vastas aperit syrtis, et temperat aequor,
atque rotis summas levibus perlabitur undas.
Ac veluti magno in populo cum saepe coorta est
seditio, saevitque animis ignobile volgus,
iamque faces et saxa volant—furor arma ministrat;
tum, pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
conspexere, silent, arrectisque auribus adstant;
ille regit dictis animos, et pectora mulcet,—
sic cunctus pelagi cecidit fragor, aequora postquam
prospiciens genitor caeloque invectus aperto
flectit equos, curruque volans dat lora secundo. 

Thus affirmed, he quickly calms the swollen waters more swiftly than a spoken word and he drives away the gathered clouds and he brings back the sun.  Cymothoe and Triton at the same time by leaning against the sharp rock dislodges the ships; Neptune raises his trident and makes a vast opening in the sand bar and he calms the sea and he glides over the surface of the sea in his chariot.  And just as often happens when in a great nation riots arise and the fierce spirit of the ignoble mob; and now torches and rocks they throw, serving in their anger as weapons; then, as if by chance, they have seen some man respected for his piety and good deeds, they become silent and they stand there, their ears pricked up; he controls their passions and soothes their hearts by words, – thus all of the uproar of the sea subsides, after that, the father, looking out over the sea, and carried along underneath the open sky turns his horses and flying along he gives the reins to his obedient chariot.
The beginning of this paragraph is very choppy, but it is interesting to see the epic metaphor of the seas being akin to an unruly mob.  It is passages like this that make epic poetry a delight to read and Vergil displays his mastery of these metaphors here.  This is an appropriate place to pause, as the next section covers the arrival of the battered Trojan fleet to the shores of Carthage.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When you hear of "war," what comes to mind?

I know this is a seemingly simple question, but it is a question that I'm having to keep constantly in mind when I am gathering texts and movies for the World War I project.  What does come to mind when you think about "war?"  Is war something that you conceive along the lines of images, of written words, of spoken speeches?  Are there old uniforms, musty relics lying about?  What is war to you?

Please share this, as I would greatly value any other perspectives on this, as it would help me when I start writing essays based on these materials in the coming months.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez, La mala hora (In Evil Hour)

El padre Ángel se incorporó con un esfuerzo solemne.  Se frotó los párpados con los huesos de las manos, apartó el mosquitero de punto y permaneció sentado en la estera pelada, pensativo un instante, el tiempo indispensable para darse cuenta de que estaba vivo, y para recordar la fecha y su correspondencia en el santoral.  «Martes cuatro de octubre», pensó; y dijo en voz baja:  «San Francisco de Asís.» (p. 7)

Father Ángel sat up with a solemn effort.  He rubbed his eyelids with the bones of his hands, parted the embroidered mosquito net, and he remained seated on the bare mat, pensive for an instant, the time indispensable for realizing that he was alive and for recalling the date and its corresponding saint's day:  "Tuesday, October fourth," he thought; and he said in a low voice, "St. Francis of Assisi."
In reading Gabriel García Márquez's earlier long fiction, it is difficult for me to escape comparing the characters of those stories to their namesakes that appear in One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Characters, often in altered form, who make brief but memorable cameos there, like Father Ángel, color the impressions of these earlier tales.  Certainly there were times in reading his 1962 novel, La mala hora (In Evil Hour in English), that certain scenes read differently just because of the names of the characters.  This is not surprising yet is very unfair when it comes to judging these stories, especially in the case of In Evil Hour.

The story is set in a nameless Colombian village (later clarified to not be Macondo) in which a nameless prankster has begun posting anonymous broadsides detailing the sordid lives of the villagers.  This darkly comic premise quickly turns violent, however, as an enraged husband settles the matter of gossip in murderous fashion.  This event triggers a more serious turn of events, as the mayor (named Arcadio, with no surname) enforces a sort of lawless martial law.  This in turn reflects on the very real history of La violencia, where around a quarter-million Colombians died in a massive wave of violence and near-anarchy during the middle decades of the 20th century.

In the story, García Márquez focuses on the dynamics of rumor and retribution, showing how the former fed into the latter, creating a situation in which baser passions come to dominate the socio-political discourse.  Fear engendered by mockery sweeps through the village, yet the source of the lampoons is never discovered, despite the fiercest efforts by the mayor's goon-like police force.  In a way, this never-solved mystery makes what followed after all the more terrifying to consider, as there are numerous occasions throughout national histories of hysteria feeding the worst systematic abuses of human rights.  Certainly this is the case in this novel and García Márquez's capturing of this violent "feeding frenzy" is one of the story's best elements.

Yet there are some weaknesses as well.  Despite the intriguing and occasionally chilling narrative, the characterizations on the whole feel less well-developed compared to the author's other work.  Mayor Arcadio in particular is more of a figurehead here for the government's capability of unleashing violence on its own citizens and while that is likely done on purpose in order to make that comparison clearly, it does rob the novel of lively, interesting characters around which this tale of rumor-mongering leading to violence revolves.  Furthermore, the humor at times feels a bit heavy-handed, lacking a consistency of nuanced subtlety that could have made it an even better satirical story to read.

However, these criticisms are mostly minor.  The prose is clear and yet brimming with colorful expressions and clever humor.  The theme on the causes and effects of state-instituted violence is on the whole treated very well.  While In Evil Hour might not contain a powerful conclusion like those found in No One Writes to the Colonel or One Hundred Years of Solitude, its conclusion does mirror nicely its beginning, bringing the reader full circle after a tumultuous yet entertaining experience.  It may not be one of his best novels, but In Evil Hour certainly is one of García Márquez's most sobering commenatries about the political climate in his native Colombia in the mid-20th century.

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