‘A Letter to King Richard II’This unusual manuscript is the fruit of over a decade of diplomatic rapprochement between England and France. The Letter to King Richard was written in support of Charlves VI of France's policy of reconciliation with England. The image here illustrates this union, with the crowns of France and England joined through the peace of Christ, represented by the Crown of Thorns, between them.Philippe de Mézières, Epistre au Roi Richart.Paris, 1395.Presented to Richard IIRoyal 20 B. vi, f. 1v© The British Library Board
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Thursday, 17 November 2011
A couple of years ago Jo Steffens brought out a book called Unpacking my Library: Architects and Their Books (Yale University Press, 2009), a wonderfully snoopy interesting look at the libraries of architects. Now, the very fine scholar Leah Price has brought out, in the same series, a book called Unpacking my Library: Writers and Their Books (Yale University Press, 2011). I want it!
Recently the FT did a piece on it, which you can read here.
This is library of James Wood and Claire Messud, in Cambridge Massachusetts.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
On the weekend of the ridiculously over-hyped opening of the Leonardo exhibition, I felt as if I had just discovered another masterpiece. High Art is alive and well.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
They're gone. All gone.
I may just close this blog down. I may just close my stupid Google+ account down too.
Monday, 11 July 2011
Well, this is now my favourite clessidra: Marc Newson’s Ikepod Hourglass. It is a 60-minute counter, measuring 265 x 300 x 3 mm, and the ‘sand’ is carbon or nickel plated nanoballs.
For some other photos and a review see here. While my heart says that I have to have one, my head (and other half) says, Lear-like: never, never, never, never, never.
Friday, 8 July 2011
Below is from the OUP website:
- Examines Chaucer and his Italian sources with a strong emphasis on Italian manuscripts
- Seeks to understand Chaucer’s Italian sources as they were read by Chaucer himself, within a manuscript context that accommodates many layers of meaning on the page
- An appendix of the Mannelli glosses published in one place for the first timeWhen Chaucer came into contact with Italian literary culture in the second half of the fourteenth century he was engaging with a productive, lively and highly varied tradition. Chaucer and Italian Textuality provides a new perspective on Chaucer and Italy by highlighting the materiality of his sources, reconstructing his textual, codicological horizon of expectation. It provides new ways of thinking about Chaucer’s access to, and use of, these Italian sources, stimulating, in turn, new ways of reading his work. Manuscripts of the major works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch circulated in a variety of formats, and often the margins of their texts were loci for extensive commentary and glossing. These traditions of glossing and commentary represent one of the most striking features of fourteenth-century Italian literary culture. These authors were in turn deeply indebted to figures like Ovid and Statius, who were themselves heavily glossed and commented upon. The margins provided a space for a wide variety of responses to be inscribed on the page. This is eloquently demonstrated in the example of Francesco d’Amaretto Mannelli’s glosses in Decameron, copied by him in 1384. This material dimension of Chaucer's sources has not received sufficient attention; this book aims to address just such a material textuality. This attention to the materiality of Chaucer's sources is further explored and developed by reading the Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Clerk’s Tale through their early fourteenth-century manuscripts, taking account not just of the text but also of the numerous marginal glosses. Within this context, then, the question of Chaucer's authorship of some of these glosses is considered.
Table of Contents:
1: Chaucer and Ovid: The Latin and Vernacular Heroides
2: Boccaccio as Glossator
3: Reading Boccaccio in the Fourteenth Century
4: Chaucer as Glossator?
Readership: Students and scholars of medieval literature
K. P. Clarke, Sykes Research Fellow in Italian Studies, Pembroke College, CambridgeKenneth Clarke studied Italian and History of Art at Trinity College, Dublin and the Alma Mater Studiorum, at Bologna, and went on to do his doctorate in medieval English at University College, Oxford. He is the Sykes Research Fellow in Italian Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he currently teaches medieval Italian and English literature.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
The ground worked in Farmers Cross is not just that in the Cork of O’Donoghue’s childhood but that which he came to work himself over the years: the poetry of the middle ages. There is a translation of Piers Plowman (B Prologue 1—37), a man who knew the land, a poem all about getting into that front row in Heaven. There is a translation of Dante’s Purgatorio 2. 61—81, Virgil and Casella, which opens: ‘«Voi credete | forse che siamo esperti d’esto loco; | ma noi siam peregrin come voi siete’, rendered as: ‘I think you must believe | that we know all about arrangements here; but we are outsiders, just the same as you are.’ That esperti d’esto loco (echoing of course Inferno 26. 98 and the ‘expertise’ of another great traveller, Ulysses) becomes a very vernacular ‘arrangements’, while peregrin moves from ‘pilgrim’ and ‘stranger’ to the somewhat starker ‘outsider’, echoing a theme very much being explored in Farmers Cross. The theme of the traveller, the outsider, is not explored via the figure of (Dante’s) Ulysses but instead an older, and altogether stranger figure in the Old English poem ‘The Wanderer’. O’Donoghue effortlessly allows the poem’s universality to compellingly apply itself to the present (pp. 28—9):
Cities lie in ruins; populations lie dead,Bruce Mitchell, the great Old English scholar, described the Wanderer’s philosophizing as ‘strong in feeling, high in dignity, and wisely reflective’: I can think of no better description of Bernard O’Donoghue’s Farmers Cross.
their bodies heaped by the crumbling walls.
Some die in battle, but more are victims
of assaults from the skies. Some are left
for scavengers to come under cover of night
to steal what they can. Few have the honour
of dignified burial by friend or relation.
Compare the Old English:
Wōriað þā wīnsalo,———walden licgað
drēame bidrorene,———duguþ eal gecrong,
wlonc bī wealle.———Sume wīg fornōm,
ferede in forðwege,———sumne fugel oþbær
ofer hēanne holm,———sumne se hāra wulf
dēaðe gedǣlde,———sumne drēorighlēor
in eorðscræfe———eorl gehȳdde.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
They have included a short film on the discovery and highlights of its conservation, and the displays carry some material on the huge task of preserving what remains and understanding it. For example, due to some of the inks used, the parchment has disappeared while the letters themselves have survived, like a kind of 8th-century insular alphabet soup.
The National Museum have released two publications to mark this exhibition; The Faddan More Psalter: Discovery, Conservation and Investigation and Reading the Faddan More Psalter: An Introduction while the documentary is also available for purchase.
If you are in Dublin this summer, this is a must see, the kind of survival no one dared hope for nor thought they would ever see in their lifetime.
Monday, 4 July 2011
Wednesday, 29 June 2011
This is the Casa Kike, in Costa Rica, designed by architect Gianni Botsford for his father and his 16,000 books. It won the RIBA’s Lubetkin Prize in 2008, and the RIBA International Award Winner 2008. I think you’ll agree that it is a very striking house. I am in love with how the books have been included as co-occupant of the house, almost built around them.
This (and photos and drawings) from Botsford’s website:
By coupling indigenous techniques and materials with modern design technologies and aesthetics GBA has created this intimate double pavilion for a writer in Costa Rica.
A main studio space, with library, writing desk and grand piano, is the writer’s daytime space. The pavilion’s wooden structure, sourced from local timber, sits on a simple foundation of wooden stilts on small concrete pad foundations. Roof beams of up to 10 m long and 355 mm deep allow for an interior with no vertical columns. The mono-pitched roof elevates towards the sea shore, while the interior is through ventilated via a completely louvred glazed end façade.
Set at a short distance along a raised walkway, a second smaller pavilion mirrors the first. This contains sleeping quarters and a bathroom. Externally, the pavilions are clad in corrugated steel sheeting, another locally used construction material. The overall effect is that of a building which blends with its surroundings, both visually and environmentally.
I did spot one in Lady Antonia Fraser’s study, though not while we were having tea and talking about literature and scented candles. Rather, it was while I was having tea with myself and reading the Guardian’s wonderful online (though now sadly discontinued) Writer’s Rooms series, photographed by Eamonn McCabe.
There must be something wrong with me that while I admire the lovely bookcases, the gorgeous desk and elegant room, I cannot really keep my eyes of that little book caddy.
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
This is an exciting year for Christian Materiality, as well as for Material Christians. Those interested in the former and who, in fact, are the latter can now acquire the new and excellent Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe (New York: Zone, 2011). This, combined with the major exhibition at the British Museum, Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe (with a beautiful catalogue edited by Martina Bagnoli, Holgar A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann and James Robinson, British Museum Press, 2011), makes for lots to think about.
In her introduction, Bynum discusses how she is interested in exploring ‘one of the central contradictions of the later Middle Ages: the increasing prominence of holy matter in a religion also characterized by a need for human agency on the part of the faithful, a turn to interiority on the part of spiritual writers and reform-minded church leaders, and an upsurge of voluntarism, negative theology, and mysticism’ (p. 18). She talks a lot about the thingness of holy matter and how those critical views suggesting that these objects always pointed beyond themselves fails to do sufficient justice to just how thingy they are, how they call attention to themselves as things. She also discusses what she means by materiality, emphasizing its plasticity and tactility, developing these around ideas of fragmentation, parts, and wholes. She seeks to clarify what she means by the ‘body’, ‘materiality and agency’ and ‘material culture’, terms used with an historical perspective and in contrast to their current, popular use in cultural studies. (There’s a very enjoyable impatience in her attitude to how her own work has becomes subsumed into some of these new trendy topics).
The very schematic table of contents is richly suggestive of what the reader will find inside:
Introduction, Nicholas of Cusa and the Hosts of Andechs; The Periodization of Holy Matter; Materiliaty; Beyond “the Body”; Matter as Paradox. Visual Matter, Image Theory; The Materiality of Images: Two Theoretical Considerations; The Materiality of Images: Examples; Viewer Response; Materiality as Self-Referential; Material Iconography; The Material in the Visionary; Living Images; The Cross; Conclusion. The Power of Objects, Two Caveats; Definitions and Examples: Bodily Relics and Contact Relics, Dauerwunder, Sacramentals and Prodigies; The Theology of Holy Matter: Relics, Sacramentals and Dauerwunder; Dissident and Heretical Critiques; The Example of Johannes Bremer; Holy Matter in Social Context; The Case of Wilsnack; Conclusion. Holy Pieces, Parts, Wholes, and Triumph over Decay; Theologians and the Problems of Putrefaction; The Contradiction: Fragmentation as Opportunity; A Comparison with Jewish Practice; The Iconography of Parts and Wholes: The Example of the Side Wound; Concomitance as Theory and Habit of Mind; Conclusion. Matter and Miracles, Three Examples; Elite and Popular: Again a Caveat; Theories of Miracle as a Way of Accessing Assumptions about Matter; The Historiography of Matter; Conceptions of Matter and Change; Change as Threat and Opportunity: A Reprise; Reducing Change to Appearance; Explaining Miracles by Limiting Change; Using Physiological Theories to Contain Miracles; Matter as Dynamic Substratum; Holy Matter as Triumph over Matter; The Materiality of Creation. Conclusion, Reinterpreting the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries; Jews, Muslims, and Christians; Theories, Medieval and Modern; Again the Paradox.
Dating to around 1173–1180, it is in silver, with niello and gemstone, and measures just 2¼ × 2¾ × 1¾ in. (5.7 × 7 × 3.4 cm)—that is, very small, especially given the exquisite detail. Since Thomas was martyred in 1170, it is a very early example of a reliquary associated with him. The sides display a brief narrative of Thomas’s martyrdom, four knights assaulting him, one extending a sword towards his neck, which was bowed as in prayer when he was killed. An angel on the lid makes a sign of blessing over the event. On the other side (not shown above), Thomas’s body lies in state, while an angel carries a small child—the saint’s soul—to heaven. The top of the casket is set with a piece of red glass (supposed to be a ruby) and it seems likely that the casket contained a blood relic. Bynum illustrates this piece in Christian Materiality, fig. 15, p. 72, says of it on pp. 70–1: ‘the reliquary of Thomas Becket’s blood, the blood itself (which is presumably a few rusty, dried flakes) is hidden in a casket, not displayed, but a large jewel has been constructed on the top by backing rock crystal with red foil to evoke the redness of blood. The stuff of the jewel is palpable and shouts out living redness, but it plays visually with its own physicality; it is neither the blood in the container nor the ruby it appears to be’. See too the catalogue entry by Barbara Drake Boehm, no. 97, p. 186, for a circumspect analysis of the inscription, partially damaged, and what might have been contained in this reliquary.
The catalogue, beautifully illustrated, has the following essays: 1. Derek Krueger, ‘The Religion of Relics in Late Antiquity and Byzantium’; Arnold Angenendt, ‘Relics and Their Veneration’; Holger A. Klein, ‘Sacred Things and Holy Bodies: Collecting Relics from Late Antiquity to the Early Renaissance’; Guido Cornini, ‘“Non Est in Toto Sanctior Orbe Locus”: Collecting Relics in Early Medieval Rome’; Éric Palazzo, ‘Relics, Liturgical Space, and the Theology of the Church’; James Robinson, ‘From Altar to Amulet: Relics, Portability, and Devotion’; Martina Bagnoli, ‘The Stuff of Heaven: Materials and Craftsmanship in Medieval Reliquaries; Barbara Drake Boehm, ‘“A Brilliant Resurrection”: Enamel Shrines for Relics in Limoges and Cologne, 1100–1230’; Cynthia Hahn, ‘The Spectacle of the Charismatic Body: Patrons, Artists, and Body-Part Reliquaries’; and finally, Alexander Nagel, ‘The Afterlife of the Reliquary’.
Those who can are encouraged to watch the recent one-hour piece on BBC 4 presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, featuring Sr Wendy Beckett and Neil MacGregor (as well as Pembroke’s own Emily Guerry talking about La Sainte-Chapelle). Well worth watching, with an especially interesting segment on Bishop Oscar Romero, known in El Salvador as San Romero.
Read Bynum’s new book, go to the exhibtion.
Monday, 27 June 2011
Such is my delight, I reproduce a sonnet below:
Chi è questa che vèn, ch’ogn’om la mira,
che fa tremar di chiaritate l'âre
e mena seco Amor, sì che parlare
null’omo pote, ma ciascun sospira?
O Deo, che sembra quando li occhi gira!
dical’ Amor, ch’i’ nol savria contare:
cotanto d’umiltà donna mi pare,
ch’ogn’altra ver’ di lei i’ la chiam’ira.
Non si poria contar la sua piagenza,
ch’a le’ s’inchin’ ogni gentil vertute,
e la beltate per sua dea la mostra.
Non fu sì alta già la mente nostra
e non si pose ’n noi tanta salute,
che propiamente n’aviàn canoscenza.
(Rime IV, ed. De Robertis, pp. 16–19)
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Listen to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time, with Sir Anthony Kenny, Prof. Anne Hudson, and Dr Rob Lutton discussing John Wycliffe and the Lollards.
from the website:
John Wyclif was a medieval philosopher and theologian who in the fourteenth century instigated the first complete English translation of the Bible. One of the most important thinkers of the Middle Ages, he also led a movement of opposition to the Roman Church and its institutions which has come to be seen as a precursor to the Reformation.
Wyclif disputed some of the key teachings of the Church, including the doctrine of transubstantiation. His followers, the Lollards, were later seen as dangerous heretics, and in the fifteenth century many of them were burnt at the stake. Today Lollardy is seen as the first significant movement of dissent against the Church in England.
Monday, 23 May 2011
The first stanza (ll. 1-12; f. 39r in the manuscript) amply demonstrates Jane Draycott’s skill:
Perle plesaunte, to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere:
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in vche araye,
So smal, so smoþe her sydez were;
Queresoeuer I jugged gemmez gaye
I sette hyr sengeley in synglure.
Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
Þurȝ gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of þat pryuy perle withouten spot.
One thing I know for certain: that she
was peerless, pearl who would have added
light to any prince’s life
however bright with gold. None
could touch the way she shone
in any light, so smooth, so small –
she was a jewel above all others.
So pity me the day I lost her
in this garden where she fell
beneath the grass into the earth.
I stand bereft, struck to the heart
with love and loss. My spotless pearl.
Sunday, 8 May 2011
The great collector, art historian, expert in the Italian Seicento Sir Denis Mahon has died.
Read obits here, here, here, and read an interview here.
Sunday, 17 April 2011
Monday, 28 March 2011
The first day of readings opened strongly with Joseph Woods, Luis García Montero, and Paul Farley, introduced by Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin. Woods read from is forthcoming collection with Dedalus Press, who have published his previous two, Sailing to Hokkaido (2001) and Bearings (2005) in a single volume entitled Cargo (2010). Montero read in Spanish with translations read by Martin Veiga. Paul Farley gave a strong and highly enjoyable reading, mainly from his last two collections, The Tramp in Flames and The Ice Age. The second reading of Friday was introduced by Philip Coleman, and had Heather McHugh and Michael Longley read. Very different poets and very different readings. McHugh got up and grabbed the crowd by the...eh, throat. With a kind of sharp and unpredictable humour, it was terrifying to watch and exhilarating to experience. She commented, joked, challenged, discussing as she went along, at one point stopping to question her choice of a particular word. The last poem she read was entitled ‘What He Thought’, a wonderful exploration of the glib, the easy, the lesson of difficulty. It closes with the image of Giordano Bruno, face covered in an iron mask to prevent him inciting the crowd: ‘poetry is what | he thought, but did not say’. Longley read mainly from his new collection A Hundred Doors (Cape, 2011), with a gorgeous, almost unbearable nuance. Particularly powerful was his poem ‘Citation’, a ‘found poem’, made from his father’s citation for the Military Cross. Longley read with the softness of one putting petals back on a flower, with syllables that were so delicate you needed a pair of tweezers to separate them. He is an artist working with gold leaf, brushing it on with his breath.
Sunday’s afternoon reading was with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Don Paterson. These are two poets who listen to waters that run deep under ‘official’ English. Ní Dhomhnaill writes in Irish and has often talked about the experience of writing in a language that is spoken with fluency by a small proportion of the population but claimed to be spoken (for all sorts of social and political reasons) by a considerably higher number.1 I greatly enjoyed the reading but she has a school-mistress quality that made me a little nervous and she read like she was speaking to a group of intelligent but lazy students who could get this if they really tried. I felt as if I had not done my homework. Paterson read from his latest collection Rain as well as new, unpublished work.2 He has a remarkable sense of ease with his own discomfort, all the more remarkable because it in no way mitigates that discomfort for the listener/reader. I believe Paterson to be a great poet.
A theme of silence ran like an undercurrent throughout this year’s festival, inadvertently perhaps, inasmuch as these things ever are, pointing up the end of the festival. From Carson’s lecture on untranslatability and the silences of translation, to Longley’s remarks about the silent white spaces on the page (and cf. the epigraph by Barbara Guest, The future writ in white space, in his A Hundred Doors), to Aengus Woods’ meditation on Adorno and the (too) oft-quoted remark about poetry being impossible after Auschwitz and Gerald Stern’s response that only poetry is possible after Auschwitz, not to mention (!) Kaplinski’s silent poem one minute long.
It was a chance to meet old friends and make new ones. Catching up with the poet and illustrator PJ Nolan for example, was a great pleasure, as was meeting the poet Leanne O’Sullivan. I was greatly glad to meet Nikolai Popov, an academic and translator (as well as the husband of Heather McHugh), a man with an aristocratic intelligence and the vague and exquisite sadness of an exile. Meeting him was what I think it would be like to meet Dante.
Belinda McKeon closed proceedings by thanking those who’d contributed to making this year’s Poetry Now Festival the great success that it was and struck an emotional note as she expressed her regret that the festival is to be dismantled. Heaney, too, expressed grave concern at this decision when he accepted the Irish Times Poetry Now Prize for Human Chain. When Longley began his reading, he lamented the decision to ‘tinker with the Festival in any way’. It was a remark warmly received by the audience. This is a bad decision and being taken for bad reasons. The financial crisis has created a state of exception in which all manner of decisions are allowed to be taken under one guise but with motivations that are not at all related, quite unequal to the consequences. Dun Laoghaire has suffered a terrible loss and the end of the Festival left me with a sense of having witnessed something pass from us, without being able to properly articulate it nor indeed resist it.
Belinda McKeon let poetry have the last word, and read a wise and warning poem:
‘Had I not been awake’
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamores
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
It came and went so unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,
A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.
from Seamus Heaney, Human Chain (Faber, 2010), p. 3
1. See her essay ‘Why I Choose to Write in Irish, the Corpse That Sits Up and Talks Back’, first published in The New York Times Book Review, 8 Jan 1995, pp. 27-28, repr. in Representing Ireland: Gender, Class, Nationality, ed. Susan Shaw Sailer (University Press of Florida, 1997), pp. 45-56.
2. On which I’d had occasion to write about.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Anne Carson’s Nox (New York: New Directions Books, 2010) is very hard to talk about because it is a lot of things. And it has quite a bit of thingness to it. Written after the death of her brother, it is an extended exploration of Catullus’s Poem 101, itself written after the death of his brother. Because the elegy is stunning, I reproduce it here:
Multas per gentes et multa per aequora uectusProduced on a single long sheet of paper, folded like an accordion and stored in a box, it is not a book but feels like it is at a point somewhere between a papyrus roll and a codex. A meeting of Greek and Latin, the old and the new. Anne Carson is a distinguished classicist and this powerfully liminal bookness can not be accidental. She seems to be exploring the very nature of how we read in its most physical dimension. When one reads it, it is almost easier to handle the pages while leaving it inside the box, like one is rummaging through Carson’s most personal effects. A box of memories, a box of memory, even.1 It is a livre d’artiste, with the word artiste including poet: at once a book-object, art-book, a book-poem, a page. When open, the left hand side has a ‘dictionary’ entry for each word of Catullus 101, while the right hand page will have pieces of paper glued on, family photos, scraps of letters written by her brother Michael, pieces of her own mind. The sections are numbered 1—10, subdivided 1.1, 1.2 and so on. I place the word dictionary in scare quotes there because even these entries, which look ‘official’, are in fact her own, highly nuanced understanding and definition of the word: it, too, becomes another mode of expression. It is encylopaedic, like a poetic Isidore of Seville: Truth from Words.2 Thus, the poem unfolds along parallel lines, etymology, translation on one side, recuperation, recreation, history (his-story) on the other, both constantly intersecting, nourishing each other. The book is almost impossible to “cite” in the tradition sense: it must be experienced.
--aduenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
--et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
--heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
--tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
--atque in perpetuum, frater, aue atque uale.
Nox opens by thinking about history, its closeness to elegy. History comes from the Greek ‘to ask’ (ἱστωρεῖν): ‘One who asks about things - about their dimensions, weight, location, moods, names, holiness, smell - is an historian’. The word ‘autopsy’ is used by historians to mean eyewitnessing. “To withhold this authorization is also powerful. Herodotus carefully does not allege to have seen a phoenix, which comes only once every five hundred years... Herodotus likes to introduce such information with a word like λέγεται: ‘it is said,’ as one might use on dit or dicitur” (1.2). This leads to Carson repeating what she had heard about her brother’s dog and his reaction to Michael’s death, calming down once he put his paws on the coffin. Putting together the tiny scraps of information Michael revealed about himself, his few letters home, his few telephone conversations, Carson proceeds on this recuperation, meditation, creating both a history and an elegy. All the while, each word of Catullus 101 slowly works on the reader, with an insistent slowness that becomes inescapable. In section 7.1 Carson says that Catullus 101 has always exerted a powerful force on her:
Nothing in English can capture the passionate, slow surface of a Roman elegy. No one (even in Latin) can approximate Catullan diction, which at its most sorrowful has an air of deep festivity, like one of those trees that turns all its leaves over, silver, in the wind. I have never arrived at the translation I would have liked to do of poem 101. But over the years of working at it, I came to think of translating as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch. I guess it never ends. A brother never ends. I prowl him. He does not end.
That image of the tree showing its silvery leaves in the wind is a festivity that is revealed to us, that to which we have access. Carson has used the image of the tree to capture the difference between Greek and English: “There’s something about Greek that seems to go deeper into words than any modern language,” she has said. “You’re down in the roots of where words work, whereas in English we’re at the top of the tree, in the branches, bouncing around.” This is not an either/or, it is a both. Without one, there is not the other. Feeling around for the roots makes us understand what we are doing when we are bouncing around in those branches.3
Another important dimension to this book is that it is a facsimile: from the Latin fac make (imperative of facere) and simile like (neuter of similis), make like. On the back of the box Carson writes: ‘When my brother died I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book. This is a replica of it, as close as we could get.’ This is like the original but not the original: that is, it is untranslatable, like Catullus 101. Replica is a suggestive word to use: replicatio means a folding or rolling back again (of a book, for example), while in English it also means a reply, or a reproduction. In a sense, this is a replicatio, a rolling back of the original, and it is a reply to her brother, a reply with an address that he never left. That poignant ‘as close as we could get’ does not just refer to the accuracy of the facsimile, but to the closeness it brings them, brother and sister. In a famous essay, Walter Benjamin talked about the age of mechanical reproduction taking something away from the ‘aura’ of the work of art. The reproduction points relentlessly to its original, and to that which it is not: ‘The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity... The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical–and, of course, not only technical–reproducibility’.4 In a very wonderful analysis of this idea of authenticity and reproducibility, Michael Camille looked at the way in which facsimiles of the Très Riches Heures are packaged and sought to examine how, in fact, the facsimile emphasized the aura of authenticity by pointing up its rarity. The facsimile became the only means of accessing the manuscript, something Camille noted was the effect of the publicity material released by Faksimilé-Verlag Luzern: ‘After the facsimile has been produced the original will be locked away forever!’5 When one opens out the page(s) of Nox, it becomes apparent that the back side of the page is white. In the language of manuscripts, its recto is blank, while we read its verso. In a wonderful interview with Parul Seghal in the Irish Times Carson says that “Because the backs of the pages are blank, you can make your own book there. We did this with a class of eight-year-olds. They loved it.” We are invited to make our own reply. In many ways, that is what makes Nox so powerful, the way it invites, the way the reader participates and experiences, and shares. As Seghal says: “Nox trains the reader how to read it”.
Benjamin also says in his essay on mechanical reproduction: ‘Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space’ (p. 214). But in talking about the technical challenges for the book, Carson has spoken of how her friend and collaborator Robert Currie thought about the book: “I like to walk around ideas, but I’m not intrinsically spatial as a thinker. I make a page, which is a flat event. Currie has a way of observing any page and knowing how it would be in space. He added spatiality to these pages.” The possibilities afforded the kind of quality reproduction that can now be made and the nature of the very design of Nox extend even to Benjamin’s sense of the production lacking ‘time and space’. In other words, Nox is an event in 3D, an encounter occuring in time and space.
The Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Poetry Now Festival festival opened in heady style with a lecture by Belinda McKeon earlier in the day entitled “The Eye of the Poem” in which she discussed the idea of attention and attentiveness, the poem as object of attention, the reader as object of the poem’s intention. With generous and penetrating reference to all of the poets reading this year, she explored the notion of how attention concretizes both that which is in the poem and the reader encountering the poem. The lecture will be available as a podcast and will repay attention.
Anne Carson delivered the opening address at this year's DLR Poetry Now Festival: The Untranslatable (In All of Us).6 It was with great excitement and not a little trepidation that I made my way to hear it. Speaking while images were projected onto a screen, it was two lectures, one in images and one in words. She talked about silence and cliché, and what happens when we arrive at the untranslatable. She discussed the plant Odysseus is given by Hermes to resist the power of Circe: μῶλυ (Od. 10. 305), a word that belongs to the gods. She then reflected on the trials of Joan of Arc, described as fraught with translation issues: thousands of words passed between her and the lawyers, all being translated back and forth between her French and the Latin of the lawyers. But Joan’s response to a question on the nature of the voices she heard resisted translation, it was a language of the gods: “The light comes in the name of the voice”. With great ease, Carson then moved on to talking about Bacon and his “Brutality of Facts”, examining the surface of the work, its painted, violent reality and the continual drive to eradicate narrative, his attempts to “destroy clarity with clarity”. She set up a dichotomy between cliché and catastrophe, one the opposite of the other. The cliché is the question, it allows us not to think, or to think the already thought; the catastrophe is the answer.7 She then looked at translating the colour purple from the Greek word κάλχη, referring to the purplefish, but which leads to the verb καλχαινειν, to make dark and troublous (like a stormy sea), to ponder deeply (LSJ). When Hölderlin came to Sophokles’ Antigone: “You are obviously grown dark in mind over some piece of news” (Soph. Antig. 20: τί δ᾽ ἔστι; δηλοῖς γάρ τι καλχαίνουσ᾽ ἔπος) he translated it with: “Du seheinst ein rotes Wort zu färben”, You seem to colour a red word, you dye your words red. This “deadly literalism” as Carson calls it leads her to think about his madness and the madness that is in translation, as well as the silence that falls within the word. But if cliché and catastrophe seem to offer two ways (only), one of naming, one of chaos, translation offers a third place to be, between naming and namelessness. She ended with Paul Celan’s poem in praise of Hölderlin (‘Tübingen, January’) and his neologism Pallaksch, which sometimes meant yes, and sometimes meant no. Perhaps a word from the gods, meaning yes and meaning no. A good one for a translator to tackle, a middle way between cliché and catastrophe.
It was a stunning, sensitive and graceful offering, received gratefully by an audience in rapture.
McKeon’s meditations on attentiveness and the power of poetry to keep us in its aim, as well as Carson’s consideration of translatability, καλχαινειν, cliché and catastrophe took on a very sharp focus as the audience realized that the DLR Poetry Now Festival will no longer exist in its current format. It is to be incorporated into another literary festival (‘Mountains to Sea Book Festival’), in a much reduced scale. I greatly regret this loss of an individual identity for the Poetry Festival, especially considering how long it has taken to establish and build up. Financial pressure is certainly part of it, but other pressures of audience and accessibility have undoubtedly played their part, all with concerns of metrics and measurability, impact and the perceived elitism of poetry. It all makes me fear that we are all now much too close to a kind of cliché and catastrophe that have nothing to do with poetry.
1 See the remarks by Jess Row (here) on memory, the ars memorativa, esp. via the Rhetorica ad Herennium. The box in which Nox comes is not just like that archivists use for precious and delicate books or manuscripts, it might also be the room Carson likens to translation itself.
2 To paraphrase the title of John Henderson, The Medieval World of Isidore Seville: Truth from Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
3 And cf. “Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do.” Carson, Autobiography of Red, p. 3.
4 See Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in Illuminations, ed. with an introduction by Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), pp. 211-244, with citation from p. 214.
5 See Michael Camille, 'The Très Riches Heures: An Illuminated Manuscript in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Critical Inquiry, 17 (1990), 72-107, at p. 72. For further fascinating work on facsimiles, see Sandra Hindman and Nina Rowe (eds), Manuscript Illumination in The Modern Age: Recovery and Reconstruction (Evanston, Il: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 2001).
For reviews of Nox see that of Meghan O'Rourke in The New Yorker; Andrew Motion in The Guardian; Sam Anderson in New York Magazine; Ben Ratliff in The New York Times; Michael Dirda in The Washington Post; Peter Stothard in the TLS; Tom Payne in The Telegraph; Jess Row in The New Republic
Not strictly speaking a review, but excerpts from a reading, an interpretation can be seen here:
6 There is a transcription(?) of another slightly modified version of the lecture here.
7 Cf. καταστροφή, an overturning, sudden turn, conclusion (LSJ)
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Friday, 18 March 2011
From the website:
In the 11th and 12th centuries a new type of institution started to appear in the major cities of Europe. The first universities were those of Bologna and Paris; within a hundred years similar educational organisations were springing up all over the continent. The first universities based their studies on the liberal arts curriculum, a mix of seven separate disciplines derived from the educational theories of Ancient Greece.
The universities provided training for those intending to embark on careers in the Church, the law and education. They provided a new focus for intellectual life in Europe, and exerted a significant influence on society around them. And the university model proved so robust that many of these institutions and their medieval innovations still exist today.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
On March 29th, a letter in the collection of Roy Davids will come on sale at Bonhams, London, written by James Joyce to Carlo Linati, an Italian writer and translator. In the two-page letter, written in Italian, Joyce asks Linati to translate some of his work, explaining the trouble he was having with the censors: He wrote: “For the publication of Dubliners I had to struggle for ten years. The whole first edition of 1,000 copies was burnt at Dublin by fraud; some say it was the doing of priests, some of enemies, others of the then Viceroy or his consort, Lady Aberdeen. Altogether it is a mystery.” A transcription of the Italian has not been published [a translation has appeared in The Letters of James Joyce, ed. Stuart Gilbert (1966)] but hopefully when this letter makes its way to a new owner, it will see the light of day.
Thursday, 17 February 2011
tempera on wood, 104 x 84 cm; Florence, Uffizi Gallery.
The Cambridge University Press booksale this January was where I spend a few hours at the beginning of term and I picked up a few bargains that I was delighted with: they sell the hardbacks for £7 and the paperbacks for £3. Particularly pleasing were: Piero Boitani, English Medieval Narrative in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, trans. Joan Krakover Hall (1982); Susan Woodford, Looking at Pictures (1983); Jeryldene M. Wood (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca (2002); Jeremy Tambling, Dante and Difference: Writing in the Commedia (1988); Peter Humfrey (ed), Venice and the Veneto, Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance (2007); Fiona Somerset, Clerical Discourse and Lay Audience in Late Medieval England (1998); Jessica Rosenfeld, Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle (2011). A pretty good haul, all things considered. I was also quite delighted to pick up Nicolai Rubinstein (ed), Florentine Studies: Politics and Society in Renaissance Florence (London: Faber, 1968) in G. David & Sons a couple of weeks back. A lovely, elegant thing really.
In January I had a very brief but very enjoyable visit to Florence to visit some colleagues, to work in the library, and to see the wonderful Bronzino exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi. I was kindly hosted by William E. Coleman and Edvige Agostinelli, who are in the final stages of a very exciting project editing Boccaccio's Teseida - they are preparing an edition for the Chaucer Library, which will be a text they believe is closest to what Chaucer had access; an 'old spelling' edition with SISMEL; and a digital facsimile of the autograph, BML, MS Acq. e Doni, 325. They've been working hard on the autograph and have a whole host of new readings to offer. It is important work and will be very exciting to work on.
At the BNCF, I was able to look at a manuscript, Magliab. II, II, 8, which I'm writing about right now: it is the oldest extant witness to the Decameron and has been the subject of some very exciting work by Marco Cursi: see esp. his Il Decameron: Scritture, scriventi, lettori. Storia di un testo (Roma: Viella, 2007), but see too 'Per la più antica fortuna del Decameron: mano e tempi del «Frammento Magliabechiano» II, II, 8 (cc. 20r-37v)', Scrittura e civiltà, 22 (1998), 265-293. I'm picking up some crumbs left behind.
The Bronzino exhibition was a revelation. Verily. A magnificent achievement for all concerned, with a beautiful, serious, scholarly catalogue (Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali (eds), Bronzino: Painter and Poet at the Court of the Medici [Florence: Mandragora, 2010]). The great portraits were on display, especially 'Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni', and I stood and marvelled at her dress: you can see the threads, and to be honest, it looks like it has been woven rather than painted. And I was intrigued by the two Panciatichi portraits. The famous portrait of Lucrezia is the subject of a wonderful essay in the catalogue by Elizabeth Cropper, which argues that the religious views of the couple offer ways to interpret some parts of the painting, such as her chain and its device reading amour dure sans fin. I got to wondering about his portrait. The background is just so odd, perspective that does not quite make sense, buildings that cannot be identified, possibly recognizable Florentine (Michelangelesque). And at the same time, completely...bonkers. Perhaps, if there are dimensions to the Lucrezia portrait that were executed with discretion because of a whiff of unorthodox Lutheranism, there might be new ways to interpret this portrait too? I'm not exactly suggestion that it merits some sort of Dan Brown wild symbology goose chase, but maybe the background is begging a question that has not yet been asked. Why is it so elaborately impossible?