-- afgewend haast
this morning i sat to read jellema by the window - trying to live the good life, well slept and although coldridden, content, book in the morning, tea, concentration, repose, everything right: and thought - like often - i need to write about him (and here the question arose: what do you mean when you say that you like a book?), i need to say so much about him, i want the whole world to read him (his work consists largely of poetry, translations and essays). but then, he wrote in dutch and is to my knowledge largely untranslated. this fate that he shares with so many, he translated such an impressive amount (and i love his meister eckhart translation, among others), but in turn, this honor is not bestowed on him. and i thought i have to do it myself then, knowing i am not the translator type of person, an insight and limitation i am aware of, that this is not in my personality, not something i can do. i can translate for practical use, but not transferring the beauty into another language. which also has to do with that i don't know any of my languages well enough to do this sort of undertaking, and i cannot do it into english, because my english is worse than my other languages.... but i can say maybe what is going on there in those poems, in that book and why his writing has such a strong effect on me. trying to grasp: - what is actually going on when you read his writing:
the moment of repose, in reading, or - in love too:
Nu is mijn ziel met het moment in rust,
(my soul is in quiet with the moment)
alsof ik nooit tevoren zo bestaanbar was.
(as if i never before was so --)
and i cannot translate the word bestaanbar - (but can you describe it?) - what it means it has to do with standing. but it has a meaning of standing as in standing still and of continued prolonged existence, it's very fundamental.
the story of my reading: i came across him first - how, why? i don't even know anymore, i think because of eckhart even, saw a footnote and looked him up, went to the library, got the books and -- it had an impact. i thought i need to read this all right now. but this was a busy time in my life and i didn't get round to read this all. but it called me back, i couldn't concentrate on the things i was supposed to do, because i felt i need to read jellema. but then i couldn't and then i went somewhere else and all of a sudden i had a very hard time to get the book. until last december when i was travelling and some very kind and helpful (ontroert again) were able to get it for me. and now, now i've got the time to read it properly.
so i have called this ontroeringen, because this is the title of an essay collection (which i haven't read yet) by bernlef, but it is also the feeling that predominates my feelings when reading. ontroert. what does this mean. it's in some ways a word for being moved which since recently i decided i don't want to use anymore, because -- i don't know, i am scared it gets overused. and i like that ontroeren is a compositum which to move isn't. besides moving means other things too, while ontroering is a word made especially for the very phenomenon of being moved.
and that you just can't say you're excited about something - or moved, you need to say why, what are the foundations of your enthousiam (and enthousiasm means: the gods within). and i immediately thought those foundations are - as usual - unnamable, in the sense that it's a foundation with no solid ground and maybe therefore even stronger. but there it is, all just wittering, rabbiting, grand titles and no explanation. instead you write the story of how you got to know the book. but no cheap - or at least not immediate - escape into saying: it was the unnamable, instead: to try to aim deeper, to explore this more. what does it mean to be moved by a book. the easy solution would be to go on, explaining, what about the plot was interesting, the genre discussion. a necessary glassbead game in its own way.
but maybe there is no explanation and the answer is still: the unnamable. descriptive rather than prescriptive. describe your don't know why.
and there it is:
Wat weet ik van je:
(what do i know about you)
je hebt veel slaap nodig
(you need a lot of sleep)
en koffie verdrag je slecht;
(and you don't tolerate coffee well)
dat je houdt van je hond
(that you love your dog)
en ten dele waarom;
(and partly why)
dat je gelukkig bent
(that you are happy)
of verdriet hebt kan ik zien
(or sad i can see)
en horen, met eigen ogen,
(and hear, with my own eyes)
met eigen oren;
en je houdt van mij.
(and you love me)
Maar welke droom heeft je veranderd
(but which dream has changed you)
in zwarte panter, witte raaf,
(into a black panther, white raven)
hoeveel gezichten heb je willen kussen
(how many faces did you want to kiss)
of slaan, het waarom niet gedaan.
(or hit, and why didn't (you))
Wat ik niet weet: hoe zou je zonder mij
(what i don't know: how would you have been)
geweest zijn, waar, met welke mensen,
(without me, where, with which people)
wie in mijn plaats - ik weet het niet.
(who in my place -- i don't know)
Noch hoe je dood zult gaan,
(neither how you will die)
noch ook de dag waarop.
(and on which day)
maybe my sort of translating is a sort of speaking after, repeating what you said, but in a different language. a sort of saying after you. not really a repeating. i follow your word. and it feels so much more banal, in english (i often feel there is a lot of dutch character lost in translations of the dutch, with other languages i don't feel this so strongly). but there it is. the things you don't know. het waarom niet gedaan. this is the line that -- moved me most. the reasons why people don't do the things they do. literature, the books you read an those you didn't. identity is also always about the unknown. there are the things you know. and those that you don't. to me - and i feel this very strongly - this is a big part of what attracts me to his writing, that he always thinks with the things you don't know, that this sort of unknown is always included in his thinking and writing. here in this poem this is expressed explicitly. very often it is not. and i do prefer -- i am not sure art is the right word, - i prefer art that is like this.
that following is beyond me to translate i just can't do it and it's not because of the vocabulary (and i feel a great sadness that i can't share this properly because no one speaks dutch). it's just too much beauty at once. because, to me there is more between the lines than in - the lines. it is in a way also mentioned in the poem, a reference to: when we still used words to speak (toen men in woorden sprak) and also the phrase afgewend haast, which so describes to me the very nature of all his writing. i think the corny expression for this is this sort of "intimacy by way of distance" sort of thing, but it is so much more and so much more deeper. afgewend haast means being averted in some way, the way you avert your eyes, but haast means -- not quite. not just. you see still. there is a precariousness in this haast, a gentleness too. a danger [afgewend -- also in a further sense the disruption of the unity, or better, balance of language and (therefore) implied understanding] that things are not seen, a security (haast) that they are seen. it balances those. haast is your confirmation that they are seen. that they are bestaanbar. haast is opening the door to the understanding that language does not necessarily need to imply understanding. and that this is ok.
so there is precision in it, feeling too. is that why you like it, because it has precision and feeling? but it also has what can be called 'the intensification of life'. it tells you something without words that you can't express with words. it's a way of writing that doesn't anymore speak with words. maybe this is one of the reasons why it is fascinating.
Er is nadering en begonnen zijn
van 't onvermijdelijke en ongewilde
vooraankondiging in beelden die stil de
daggedachten sturen, bezonnen lijn
en kleuren waarin men beziet de dingen
minder als bezit, al minder behorend
bij wat men doet, afgewend haast, bekorend
als na een afscheid de herinneringen
aan wie men was toen men in woorden sprak
ernstig en gemeend, in de goed bedoelde
die samenvatten liefde die men voelde
voordat verglijding evenwicht verbrak,
die eenderheid van taal en 't onderstelde
[ -- to be continued]