Translation as a Destructive Process

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.

Ravicka as a Dreamworld


The complexity of the English language, as well as the very concept of  communication itself is displayed in the world of Ravicka to a degree that I think gives it a sense of similarity to other novels we have read this semester. This similarity is what I think is a trend we can consider to understand what American fiction may mean as compared to novels from previous and traditional historical decades. For example, at the start of class besides a few well-known authors it was difficult for me to exactly describe an accurate portrayal of what it might mean to be an American author, or what American fiction “was”. I think the novels we have read have a fascination with the placing of the narrator (and thusly the reader) in spaces that, either in artistic yet believably “real” settings  or completely made of unconscious quality-words and settings that make “no sense” in their comparison to the real world.What is more important is how to create these spaces in a way that will succeed in maintaining the reader’s attention and sense of place within the story.  In general, I think we can say that a large portion of present day American fiction enjoys blurring the lines between the real/unreal and the physical/cerebral worlds.

What most interests me about Renee Gladman’s novels is that they take the reader, and narrator to a point where the character or narrator of the world is still interacting with it and communicating, but the reaction of the world or the world’s inhabitants, as well as the narrators subsequent reactions to those, are written in a form that just “is”, similar to the semi-robotic actions of characters in The Avian Gospels. The characters don’t think they’re feeling somewhat usually, they just feel like it. It’s a relentless “continuance” of events or changes in the narrator and the world itself that suggests a lack of control.

If this is related to the overall theme of what creates a cerebral sense of horror or alienation, then I think it the horror or sci-fi element of the Ravickian novels is to be lost in a world made of words and gestures that you can never hope to achieve full understanding of. While that sentence may seem amusingly similar to the reality of “the real world” itself, I think that the notion of some place where communication will never be fully understood is intimidating to people, who have a natural drive to communicate and express things.

This is why as I have gone along in my readings wondering if Ravicka is perhaps not literally, but figuratively a representation of a place someone may visit when dreaming. The actions, motions and words of people do not convey the meaning besides the meaning itself (which is oft times inscrutable) similar to the way that dreams seem to continue on happening but do not necessarily make direct sense to the dreamer. (Depending on how a person experiences dreams, that said.)

If there is any credence to Ravicka being a type of dreamworld where communication devolves from understandable cultural words and signals into just the communication itself -being- the communication, I think it safe to say that Ravicka could be either a strict and worldly translator’s nightmare, or a culture-blending nomad’s paradise. And further, I would question whether visiting Ravicka would trigger a sense of anxious culture shock at the inability to communicate, or a great relief in the sense we get as readers that any communication is communication, despite it’s apparent inaccessibility.

Is This A Horrific Purgatory?
– – – In my attempts to consider this book and decide “Just what is going on here?!” I searched the internet for anything Matt Bell has said about it’s creation or writing. I came across this link to an interview with Matt Bell about his writing process, how he spends his day, and I found most importantly in relation to our reading, the suggestion that “I want stories to be the thing, as Johnston says, to have the words and sentences and plot be the experience itself, not a puzzle under which the real experience lies.”

With this in mind, I have become more interested in the interpretation of the book as being “It’s own, singular world” contained within the cover and back, and less as much a writing that describes some series of events told or gleaned later on by readers. And if this is at all possible or “understandable” despite what I have taken as a focus on defying understanding in a nearly Kafkaesque extreme as we read this book, what feelings or emotions are we being repeatedly shown in this book?

The motifs of violence, decay, rot, and other horrors that we are continually bombarded with suggest this is unfriendly, punishing ground that the character(s) have been placed in.
A radical notion struck me.  I’m wondering if the constant body-swapping that the husband and the other voices or even “beings” in the world experience suggests that he may not be all-together separate from the wife, never mind being separate from the other “consciousnesses” we encounter. For example, it is “clear” or suggested in certain memories in the deep house that he raped the wife in his desperate bid to have children. Is this mirrored by the squid’s attack upon him, almost in a complete re-living of the event he participated in, however now in an almost karmic sense experiencing it from the other perspective? And if the “point” of this world the characters have been placed in is to continually re-experience the sense of loss of children, abuse, and horror, is this not similar to an at least semi-tainted soul awaiting judgement?
And if this is true, and the book is more akin to being “ONE” as opposed to having many characters in it, then is this a representation of the constant back and forth violence that the conscious mind visits upon the sub-conscious (and vice-verse) in bids to achieve some task or fulfill some wanting?
Are we “experiencing” a garbled, tortured mind that has, in it’s totality, failed to achieve any successful progeny, and therefore repeats itself, rolling over and over through form and memory of failure, pain and helplessness, despite it’s staunch attempts and desire to accomplish that? Perhaps the husband/wife – bear/squid – house/lake – fingerling/foundling and other “elemental” dichotomies that are continually recycled just representations of the conscious/unconscious of a soul stuck in some strange Sheol/Hades/Barzakh, awaiting a final release or redemption?

Jealous of Creation

As we have discussed in class and on other blog posts, it is not altogether clear that the wife and husband are even human to begin with, and indeed none of the language used in the book thus far signifies this to me. One of the more interesting word choices or motifs that Matt Bell uses in describing the husband and wife is the mode of creation that they use to make things. There are occasional references to the wife sewing his clothing, or doing physical work on occasion, but for the most part she “sings” things into existence. Is this singing similar to casting a spell, or creating things from taking base materials and molding them with the power of voice? It is clear, (thus far) that the husband does not possess the ability to do this that the wife does.

I have interpreted some of his actions, especially earlier in the book, to be motivated by a jealousy about the closeness between the foundling and the wife. While it is true that he has been displaced in some ways by the foundling, perhaps his jealousy of the foundling and the fingerling stemmed from a jealousy over the wife’s ability or very nature to create in a way he cannot.

Similar Fairy Tales

I was curious as to if the text had any relations to old English fairy tales, like Hanzel and Gretel, which involved the eating of one’s own children or young. However, I could not think of any that I had read as a child that seemed even somewhat similar to this.

There is a theme of cannibalism present in many Fairy Tales, but an obscure Scottish fairy tale called “Molly Whuppie” tells the story of three girls who visit a giant’s home. At the end of the story, the girl in the story tricks the giant into beating his wife (who is hidden in a sack) to death. I thought some of the themes of this tale were similar to some of the events in the book, where a person or thing is mistaken for something else.

Another obscure fairy tale of Italian origin actually has direct references to a female bear, although there is no mention of children in the story. In this story, a princess who is sent from her widowed King is pining for a prince who has not yet married is advised to slip a piece of wood in her mouth which transforms her into a bear.

She eventually wins the adoration of the Prince and his subjects, and breathes life into his body when she kisses him (as a bear..?)

“But when the Prince saw these pretty offices they only added fuel to the fire; and if before he wasted by ounces, he now melted away by pounds, and he said to the Queen, “My lady mother, if I do not give this bear a kiss, the breath will leave my body.”

This mention of breathing into him to revive him is similar to how the father in our novel makes a pact with the bear mother. While “The She-Bear” bears only vague similarities and references to “In The House Upon The Dirt….” I thought it worth considering where Matt Bell may have gotten some of the motifs or characters we are discussing.

I also discovered that there is a complex classification system meant for fairy tales called the Aarne-Thompson index. I was not able to spend the time to classify “In The House Upon The Dirt…” with it, but I wonder how many of the motifs it may match, if this is indeed able to be called a “fairy tale”.


Lovers’ Discord (Explorations of Barthes)

“Love” is, along with “Art”, “Being”, “Freedom” and a host of other words is one of the most difficult concepts to completely describe in any language. But I find myself more curious as to Barthe’s experiences with love than on his writings on love. While the two of these are not doubt intrinsically connected, I think that we can question both of these in order to further explore the tenuous, occasionally tenebrous and seemingly-paradoxical facets of “love” in writing, or in general.
Despite the poetic nature of Barthe’s work that we have read, he remains in my eyes a bit of an anti-poet, ironically. He suggests that writing in the spirit of Love will, inevitably, convey either too much (and thus not be “true” or trusted) or convey too little (which fails to properly communicate the level of “love” felt from one to another). This is, in my opinion, an incredibly pessimistic view of writing, or communication of love in general. However, the small and perhaps overly-logical voice of myself that lingers in the back of my mind who has collected at least some negative impressions on the idea of “love” tells me not to think that Barthe’s suggestion about the impossibility of translating love into words or ever communicating it fully and without distortion in any sort is entirely incorrect.

When discussing the nature of language’s failure to convey “things” I am always reminded of the story of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps Barthe’s wish, or fear, is that if everyone was able to communicate perfectly, then one of the things that people would have done before the confusion of tongues destroyed the Adamical language is to speak so clearly they could find their perfect love (If one were to take any of that “soulmate” business seriously.) or to accomplish a goal or achievement that is so perfect it would be indescribable.

So I question, is Barthe only sublimely frustrated with love’s complexities, or does he lack belief in it in general? I can’t rightly say I judge either way, although the section of his work that states “What do I think of Love? As a matter of fact, I think nothing at all of love. I’d be glad to know what it is…” (Barthe, 59) suggests that one of those two possibilities are possible. One area of his writing on love that I find conspicuously absent among all the nods to Greek words in his piece is the lack of mention to “agape”, the Greek term for love that is not possessive or desirable in any unhealthy manner. I wonder and question if agape, or that type of love, is transmittable at all through writing, or if it only exists in a existential cloud that is understood only by those “in it” at the time.

Still, I think that the importance of writing to a love-object is that there is an attempt in the first place, despite the discord between what is meant and what is understood. A notion that entirely escapes Barthe, as far as I can tell, despite the clear sincerity that he conveys that he does indeed love things and wishes to do so.
Nothing would be done without attempts. I would suggest that there is the necessity of “repeated attempts” to reaffirm and build any love feelings between two parties, and perhaps this apparently “horrid duality” of saying either too much or too little is -necessary- to human communication and existence as we know it. I’m not sure whether Barthe would agree with me, or if I’d just ruffle his feathers proposing this.

Aftermath of Doubt

At the conclusion of the book (Avast, spoilers lie ahead!) I found myself stunned and dismayed with the ending, and what it seems to suggest about human nature left unchecked at large scales. While I would not necessarily change it, I did find it an utterly bleak and dismal comment on what Adam Novy may be suggesting is the nature of power and the ultimate truth behind motivations in the human condition. I mean by this, that each of the characters in the book seems to have moved suddenly towards a partial, if not total reversal in the nature of their original goals and aims that they had at earlier points in the novel. Morgan: No longer worried so much of the revenge he would take on the RedBlacks for the death of his pets, but instead worried about the women in his life. And while I thought that the tutor’s corruption and descent into madness and murder over lust for Katherine was to be the most horrifying thing in this book for me, it is now Zvominir, who had for the earlier parts of the novel been fanatically focused upon protecting Morgan and giving up his power to others, who undergoes the most hideous transformation now, ultimately resulting in his actions causing the deaths of Ezekiel, The Judge, Katherine, and even his own son. I question if there is religious significance to the murder weapon (a pitchfork) in these scenes. The Judge, who had been depicted as an evil despot indulging in mass murder (which, he no doubt was) shifts marginally towards a sympathetic character before his death, and is tortured by Zvominir’s words to end his family line in a manner perhaps worse than the physical brutality he put others through. While we might argue that this is “just desserts” the writing humanizes him at his last moments.

I would now like to discuss the tremendous amount of doubt that I now feel is necessary for the book to be read with. I think the narrator, the untold “we”, is in fact the survivors of this calamity which has consumed the lives of every character in the book, save a handful. As far as I could tell, the only ones we have left standing are Zvominir and Jane (who’s last mention is her marriage to Ezekiel). Which of these two leaders is it then, who goes about creating the “gospel” that we have just finished reading?

I think that Jane is the orchestrator, or at least has a greater hand in the drafting of the book. Perhaps, driven mad by his filicide, Zvominir is ousted, or commits suicide. I still think it safe to say it is Jane, and not him, who writes or has this written. Regardless of his fate, I now wonder which parts of the book may or may not be grossly fabricated. For example, I wrote earlier in the blog about Billy’s death, and the inability for anyone to describe that it was loneliness that propelled his actions. Now, considering that Jane may be the author, I find I doubt that more than before. Perhaps Billy was vindictive in that moment, and his loneliness untrue? Maybe he was trying to mug them? If Jane had written the gospels, or narrated to her people (and her child, who also goes unmentioned for the rest of the book) then it might account for the books inability to describe the characters outside of  the flat, almost robotic decision making processes that they go through.

“Endings needed to be sad in these conditions, for readers craved reality. Now, there aren’t illusions of deliverance in our future: we know we are doomed, so we use stories to deceive. We need relief, at the conclusion of the day, and too much truth but drives us deep into our beds. So let the truth be adjusted.” – pg.420

A final note, is if a sequel were drafted for this book, how much would or would not change. I find it possible that excepting several gender roles, it would be possible for a theoretical sequel of this book, to be nearly the same as this book. A father/mother and son/daughter in the slums of a destroyed, war-torn country, with a evil, murderous despot ruling over them or ruling the lands above where they hide. The child possessing a secret power, and the mother/father desperate to protect them. (Although, in this case Jane’s secret power is arson and guerilla brilliance.)
So, are we left only with Novy suggesting that the world works in cycles of violence, with no hope for our original aims? And is it the achieving of the power we do not have that will twist our aims, as inevitably as the tides, or cultural revolution?