Most vs. Bridges

When I read the quote on page 113; “‘Many languages of this region share the same word for bridge. That word is most.’ -Ayse Buldu,” I felt very confused. We know that when translated, the original meaning of words can be altered so that in the new language, some confusion may arise. However, this particular circumstance is different in that the word “bridge” becomes not a piece of architecture or even a place (noun), but instead a word that can be used as an adjective, noun, or adverb. Why does “most” encompass “bridge” in “this region?” I think it may have to do with the importance that architecture seems to have in Ravicka, and although I’m not sure what else it could be hinting at, I don’t think that is all.

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I’ve have been thinking about two things consistently in The Ravickians as I try to relate Ravicka to our world: text messaging and gentrification.  These two ideas seem unrelated and they probably are so I’ll discuss them separately.

The absence of cell phones seems particularly apparent in this book.  Of course, none of the books we have read this semester have mentioned cell phones at all, but given the emphasis on courier communication in this book, the absence seems purposeful.  The vast majority of the communicative exchanges facilitated by couriers that we see in this book could easily fit inside an SMS and are equally uninformative.  Like cell phones, couriers seem to be readily available at most times.  In our universe, cell phones/text messages have rapidly changed the way that we interact with language.  Text message interactions seem to give us the illusion of real communication when in actuality they are an extremely inefficient means of communicating.  I read the last section of the book as a series of courier exchanges between several characters and almost all of them could have been text messages as well.  A good deal of these exchanges are merely call and response type communications (“-Ana Patova? -Yes”) and it is very difficult to extract information from them.  In a text so focused on language and situated at the forefront of some major shift, I wonder if the use of courier communication is meant to comment on our own deteriorating communicative abilities as a result of constant text messaging (maybe a huge stretch).

Like those living in most major cities in the United States, though Ravickians live comparatively near each other, different people experience very different images of the city.  This mirrors my experience in NYC, where the predominately well-off and white folks in my social sphere who lived in gentrified neighborhoods almost never ventured into poorer neighborhoods (or even poorer boroughs).  Due to the gentrification of certain neighborhoods, wealthy folks never spent any real time around poor folks and though they had an image of the city in their head, they were oblivious to life in New York for those with less money. This concept of people living in the same city but seeing it very differently comes up quite frequently in The Ravickians.  On page 76, the narrator considers this, saying, “the city is a system of streets, canals and vertical structures.  It has a published shape, represented on many walls in many districts and handed out in folks at the Tourist Bureau, and it bears and imaginary form.  You will guess imaginary forms to be divergent: mine does not resemble yours.  But if I love the same city you love, our maps should be interchangeable.”  The crumbling of the architecture in Ravicka seems an inverse of gentrification efforts in major cities where architecture is renovated and re-marketed.  Also, the Ravickians who are mysteriously missing from the city proper seem to mirror poor folks who are constantly being displaced from gentrified neighborhoods in the United States.

Emptiness

To take a look at emptiness in The Ravickians is difficult simply because our protagonist attempts, so fervently, to deny that there is an emptiness at all. However, this is where it becomes so apparent that the world of Ravicka exists, at this point in time, amongst an air of silence. 

She tries to explain Ravicka as a being filled with noise, but in doing so, betrays the silence: “Ravicka is not at all silent as they say it is. When I am in the city I hear everything. When on Bodi I can hear voices from Shumgater, two blocks away. When those voices cease I hear the Balşa wind. Very late at night, a single car speeds through the streets. I hear its engines shifting gears.” Here, the noises of Ravicka, the single car, the distant voices, they speak volumes to the silence that surrounds them. In a place full with something, these instances would go unnoticed, in this empty Ravicka, they are all we have left.

Similarly, Amini, our protagonist, discusses, inadvertently, the potential emptiness of language. She notes that, when translating, “Sometimes you will have to put a “0” there; this will indicate a hole….” This must happen (or should, at least) when a proper translation is not discernible. But, what does an “0” leave but nothingness. An empty pocket of communication that does not exist, and fills the streets with nothing but more silence.

Language and Architecture

After finishing The Ravickians, one of the things I’m drawn to the most, and one of the ideas I would like to further explore, is the tie between architecture and language that the text seems to grapple with. Why does the book speak of buildings and roads, bridges and windows, so frequently? It seems to me that this discussion stems from the dilapidation of Ravicka, which the characters continuously refer to. Our narrator for most of the book, Amini, seems acutely troubled by the shifting of Ravicka. Indeed, near the beginning of the book, she sifts through rubble, starts musing about buildings and writing about buildings. And this leads to contemplation on the very demise of Ravicka: The decay of Und Ravidjka is not the result of meddling from our contentious neighbors or other faraway enemy states. Rather, it is an internal disabling” (53). The disabling pattern seems to tie to the decay of the buildings. She writes, also: “Well for a long time, as a thing is being made, you cannot tell whether it is growing or dying” (55). Amini seems to asking about the identity of Ravicka — will it become lost as it turns into rubble, or will it take on a new identity? I wonder about how the people of Ravicka are disabling their city from the inside, and why it’s happening. 

Further on, Zaoter Limici reads at his poetry presentation: “I have written poems to speak to the contours of Ravicka. For every oblong window of the train station, I have constructed my own oblong phrasing” (96). Then, later: “The paved road is a story and a poem” (101).  So to me, through the discourse related to both of these characters, it seems there is a link between the language and communication of Ravick and its architecture. But what is that link? And how is it shifting as Ravicka grows or dies?

Art, Language, and Translation

On p. 133, Gladman writes, “[H]ow can we tell that it is in the poem and not just in our reading of it?” I think that this ties together what the book is trying to tell us about art, language, and translation. Poetry is a form of art that works with language to convey a message – but it does so differently than prose. Its ultimate goals are not simplicity, directness, and comprehensibility, which are often the primary goals of prose. As a result, it causes its readers to be unsure of what the poem is really saying – the reader often cannot know for sure what the poem means. Similarly in art that does not use words, viewers or listeners can never be completely sure about the meaning. It seems to me that Gladman is telling us – in the book as a whole – that there is a similar effect at work with the translation of prose language. Translators and the readers-of-translation can never be sure that they are reading and understanding what the original writer intended. Then, the question becomes, What is the value of translation if not to directly translate meaning? Is it similar to art, which does not have a “practical” purpose in life but rather exists for its own sake? Translation seems to have a very practical role in the world, but this text might be telling us that it is not quite as practical as it seems.

On Physical & Verbal Connectivity

While finishing The Ravikians, I was particularly interested in the metaphorical implications presented in the section entitled “Grand Horizontals”; in fact, that title alone is a connection. Rather than being given narrative, we are instead provided with snippets of dialogue, with different speakers indicated by a dash – a horizontal mark – at the beginning of their lines. Although the information feels jumbled on the pages (or at least it did for me) in not knowing for sure who is speaking at any given time, we are still given some important information about Ravika and its language, for instance:

“Many languages of this region share the same word for bridge. That word is most. – Ayse Buldu”(113)

I am still trying to figure out the implications of this – the fact that nearby regions can share the same word for something even if the native languages of those regions may be drastically different. Although we have established that an English “translation” of this presumably Ravickan text is bound to be inaccurate, the fact that “most” has an English equivalent feels as though it should be relevant in some way, especially since these books have previously been littered with foreign names and terms; I’m just not sure what that relevance is. On the subject of English versus Ravick, however, I was glad to find that we were at last given an explanation as to why the latter was so gestural in comparison to English:

“The speakers of [English], their foremost concern is shape into volume – putting the appropriate figure into the container that is made for it…As the mind gives forth speech…bridges are created…They are beautiful, but not treated as such. These bridges are the little words, the connectors, the articles, as they are called. Prepositions. English users pronounce the relations between things instead of performing them.” (127)

It seems that Ravick is a language focuses more on the physicality of connection, which is why I was surprised to come across the notion of articles as beautiful. How can a speaker of a language with such emphasis on movement feel any attraction to a language wherein gestures are a secondary mode of communication, completely absent from the language itself?

What puzzles me most, however, is what we are meant to make of the fact that physical structures of this sort are being destroyed in Ravicka. To subtract bridges from an area whose culture is heavily reliant on connectivity of all sorts seems counter-intuitive to its survival, which leads me to believe that their destruction is an act of terrorism on behalf of another country/city-state – but to what end?

Translation

While reading The Ravickians, I found the passage about the translation of the word “yellow” to be particularly jarring. The narrator says that if we are reading a translation (which I suppose we are) then we would read the word “yellow” which is not the correct word to describe what she is seeing. “But, why talk about the air here if this is a translation you are reading? I will tell you about it and you will read me saying the word “yellow” and think to yourself science fiction. Well, perhaps I do have a complaint for my translators, especially those moving from Ravic to English, Why when I say dahar to you say ‘yellow’? I know that word. The air here is not yellow. It is dahar (yellow)” (43). This brings into question everything that we have read in this series thus far. Are we reading the words that the narrator wishes us to read, or are they an inaccurate description? We have explored the idea of untrustworthy narrators in a few books we have read this semester. In this case, it isn’t the narrator, but the “translation” that we are reading. The only option we have is to picture Ravicka the way it has been described to us, although we must keep in mind that its “true” form may be entirely different. This defamiliarizes us even more than the original description of this odd city, because we must call into question every thing we know.