While reading The Ravickians, I kept comparing Ravicka to New York City. Part of what makes New York such an impressive city is the way it swells with people each day (tourists, businesspeople, etc.), providing the city a vitality that would not exist without the constant influx of visitors. These people provide life for the architecture, filling the offices of skyscrapers, cramming on a boat on their way to see the Statue of Liberty, or waiting for the next train at the subway. This lack of vitality seems to be the problem, since it’s not the decrease in people that the narrator is concerned with, but the constant number of residents. “‘Is it very bad?’ He asks me about the news, though he knows the answer as well as anyone does. ‘Nothing has changed so much, Bezul'” (81). The fact that it is unchanging is “very bad.” The static population signifies a lack of life, just as a static line on a heart monitor does. It doesn’t seem that the architecture in this book is changing, but it does seem like the architecture is dying, having been rendered obsolete. I always imagine the people arriving in New York in the morning to represent the city taking a deep breath, its lungs (the architecture) filling up with oxygen (people), and exhaling at the end of the day.
After spending some time re-reading some of the dialogue in The Ravickians, I starting thinking about (possibly over-thinking) how it functions. Here are some questions and thoughts that I have:
- This trilogy is interested in gesture. On p. 153 there is a comment about wanting to find the words to express the fact that a character’s mouth has been “open for years.” Physical gestures definitely convey meaning that dialogue cannot, but does the act of speaking (as opposed to the actual words that are spoken) also make a gesture/convey meaning that physical gestures cannot?
- In the text, direct address is used often, and it seems to be for the purpose of identifying characters. But if that’s the reason for its use here, what exactly is it’s use in our speech? Sometimes it’s to identify whom is supposed to receive or words, but sometimes we use it in 2-way conversations as well, seemingly for emphasis.
- On p. 149, the speakers finish each others thoughts – how does dialogue allow us to do this? And what does it tell us about these characters or this text, if anything?
We’ve been discussing in class the ways in which The Ravickians eludes our comprehension and plays with the structure of communication. By the middle of the book, the prose is almost poetry, and by the end, it’s a simple dialogue with no traditional indication of who is speaking. I think Gladman is purposely creating an elusive text to focus our attention on the ways we can’t understand her. This translating relationship, between reader and author, is even more complex than the relationships between the characters in the novel trying to understand one another. Even if we speak the same language as the book we’re reading, there is an inevitable translation from author-speak (constructed prose) to the book’s meaning in the reader’s mind; what we connect to and create as meaningful as we read.
Despite the odd breakdown in form towards the end of the book, there are passages in the Ravickians that are simple and seem easy to understand; one example is Amini’s description of going out into a city to get somewhere and hoping you have an adventure before you even arrive at the planned destination (20).
Other passages are completely confusing. For example, from a passage about being on a bus: “We are surrounded and we are alone. This state goes on and on until something breaks, until there is no more lonely left, until we are so full and extended with emptiness that there is no place to go with it. And then out of the dark, someone shows up and gets through” (18-19). What is the “something” and how does it “break”? How would someone “get though” the emptiness? And why would that wording be necessary here? Lots of questions for one small passage. It’s so elusive it’s almost poetry.
Later phrases from the “dialogue” section are just as odd. Presumably someone interjects things like “My shoes conforming around my feet” (125) into a conversation otherwise about a performance earlier that evening.
In general, I think Gladman’s intentions here can be clarified through a quote from page 25. The narrator is discussing Ana Patova’s writings, and how they tend to erase meaning as sentences go on. This novel seems to be erasing our access to clear meaning as it nears its end. Gladman is using this method of writing, while acknowledging in the text that it’s “interesting for creative or theoretical work” but bad for “everyday communication” (25). Is this work no longer interested in actual communication by the end? It’s true that sometimes poetry is more interested in sounds than meaning. The final passages of this novel make me think of that concept. But why write something early in a novel that appears so complex, only to break down into sentences that sound interesting but potentially have no meaning? I’m pretty confused about why Gladman would make that choice.
The article or letter that the link leads to is freaking weird. I think this is a letter between Gladman and a fan/poet/author (?). This guy discusses himself in the writing and opened ideas that I think we are getting close too. There is a discussion of languages developed in our world that matches the opening of the Ravickians. “That there is 4 languages being created, and trying to be understood. one: your translator’s English meeting mine; two: yourRavic; three: the one that is made as these thresh; four: everything that is below the line, unable to be carried across in sense—the untranslatable crisis of this.” That the complication of trying to convey thought through spoken word creates a “hunger” and that drive to commune. He or she also discusses what Gladman had also mentioned in an interview: that the language is an architecture. We (humans) create a community between two conversations. The middle ground, the sentences, and the actions that have no definition may breed an understanding and develop a structure. “Through reading, and now writing you, we create a kind of communal city…I imagine a nexus, mouth-to-mouth, a bridge of light and syllables that sisters itself, flanking cities, hybridizing them into a place of gloss. The architectures built and collapsed, slipped between, are made with languages that may not parallel. Your body’s language. Mine. Ravic. English. Ravic contracting through translation and translator into English — being made echoic and maybe hollowed. We meet here among the lingual debris.” It was an interesting concept that started to put things in perspective where there was only inner conflict. In summation, the feelings of complication we get from understand the language fluidity of this series maybe that “hunger”. The “hunger” maybe the motivator to move through the “lingual debris” to meet in lingual community.
I circled back to Event Factory to try and unravel one of the major themes I see woven into The Ravickians: it’s the idea of abandonment and connection. Amini seems fixated on connection, on having meaningful relationships with other people. Furthermore, she seems focused on the quantity of people in Ravicka — at one point in The Ravickians, she tells us about the results of a recent census (she writes that no one has died, but not one has joined the city either for some time, and it seems to trouble her).
Similarly, our traveler in Event Factory seems to have a heightened sense of emotion and interest surrounding these areas; she looks for people in the city, comments on its emptiness, and — when faced with another human being — seems desperate for connection and understanding. At one point in the in the text, she comments on Dar’s absence after they’ve left the underground city: “Did I still have a companion, my guide?” and later: “As long as there was the possibility that she was still behind me, I could walk the next hundred blocks” (65). Her ability to function well and move forward seems to hinge on human companionship. Accordingly, there are strong parallels between what the respective narrators of these texts focus on. Amini returns again and again to the idea of Ana and what it means to communicate with her, and places great weight on her interactions with people (the lady on the train, for example). I think about the experience she had digging through the rubble by the opera house, too: she writes, “My heart was left with that pile” — and wishes that whoever had left the film reels behind had shared more details about them. There is a focus on people, on knowing their stories, on sharing a story with them.
I don’ t know about you, but after finishing The Ravickians I was left with the feeling that I hadn’t understood most of what I had just read. Here is a link to a review done on Dzanc Books, which I found helpful.
“The production of these holes is one of the most amazing things Gladman is able to do with The Ravickians. Had she merely described them, merely enumerated the disappeared, the fled, qualified the lack of laughter in the street with the revving of an engine, the effect would have been poetic, even meaningful, but it would have failed to convey the dimension of these absences” (DeBeauchamp).
Renee Gladman explores the process of translation further on pg.133. Here, as the group discusses the poetry of the Bleetsgat, one remarks
“Were that poet Ravickian and not just translated as such. The Bleetsgat… well how can we tell that it is in the poem and not just in our reading of it? And I can’t stop wondering where I place the original while I am fixated on the text”
“-The poem is the door fallen apart
-Yes, broken open
-So the translation, I began to feel, was a destructive reassembling – pinning back the plank flung again”
Here, another exploration of the process of translation and understanding itself is presented. I think from what the text says is that the speaker is questioning the difference between someone’s understanding of a poem that they are building while simultaneously holding back the knowledge that it had or has a meaning to the writer before or during it’s creation until it’s completion. The difficulty in setting aside the understanding you may have of the original writing of it during reading it is a factor that impedes or complicates translation itself.
Indeed, I think I agree with the idea presented in the second half of the quote I selected that presents translation as a destructive action, a pulling of meaning from a thing only to re-apply it in terms that it may never have been made for. There are many examples of this in our modern world understanding of words, where many German, phrases or Asian languages express concepts or feelings or states of being that do not have a direct translation into English.
Is the attempt to translate the vast complexity of the Ravickian language and culture in some ways causing the fire to approach? Although the Bashir are possibly responsible for it, there is evidence in the later parts of the text that there is “fire from above” and that the Basharac may not be entirely responsible for it (pg.146).
By the end of the text, I found myself rather lost. I am as of yet unable to understand where the fires are coming from, and what the “antagonist” is, besides the counter-push mentioned in the later chapters.