Saturday 22 November 3:00PM
Mercure Hotel. Room 606
I am not alone.
Since yesterday, there have been the most peculiar bouts of snowfall in The Hague. The wind is also picking up, blowing hard, very hard.
It gets more complicated. As if we were stuck in of one of David Lynch’s films. Behind the mirror. In the mirror. Hester Tollenaar, who translates my chronicles into Dutch, would certainly agree with me. Yesterday, we had the chance to talk on camera with Peter Rheijn, who is making a short film about us, about our group. I am completely lost in translation . The more I think about what a strange experience Crossing Border was for me, the more I lose my grip on myself and my writing. It dissolves into thin air. I am no longer a writer. I never have been one, certainly not when my writing has been published. A book never actually belongs to whoever may think they created it . A book is a complete mystery – I know, it is a cliché, but there is a certain truth to it.
I write my chronicles in French. Hester Tollenaar (today I finally know who she reminds me of: the Australian actress Cate Blanchett) translates them into Dutch. The gentle and magnanimous Shailoh Phillips (who really took me by surprise yesterday, when she said that she comes from an American Amish family) then translates Hester’s version into English. Where am I in all this, in this transaction? What is left of me, of my madness, of my initial apprehension? Am I still myself in those other languages? Is there still the same development over the course of time, forming whatever voice it may be within me, which writes in my place?
I am overserious. Some people scold me for taking things far too literally. Is this true? One thing is sure; I do not come close to Chris Killen’s British sense of humour. I somehow cannot manage to combine writing and laughter. It is a ludicrous endeavour, writing. A tragedy. I think of Brecht: “He who laughs / has not yet heard / the bad news.” And I think more and more of Francis Bacon, the western painter who by far appeals the most to me. At Crossing Border, it is as if I am fixed in one of the paintings made by this ingenious, dark artist: warped, dislocated, brutal, explosive, faceless, caged, a passageway for the first man, for prehistory. The discussions with the translators are of no use to me (it’s not over yet, perhaps the positive effects this festival has on me will seep through later, in a matter of weeks, or a months). I am compliant. I give them full leeway to abuse my texts, to defile, to disfigure, to skin and bone them, and finally put them on the Crossing Border website. Above all, above all things, I am counting on them to show me if I am a ‘poor writer’, or if my languages (the Arabic, the Berber that I have all but forgotten in the meanwhile, the French and now the English) in the end form a single language. Which one?
The translators maintain a certain distance to the writing, to the writer . They have a different, relentless intimacy with the words. I want them to be malicious, to spare neither my texts nor me. I want them to laugh at me, as in my dream yesterday (a nightmare?). Someday I want to watch Mulholland Drive by David Lynch with them.
Yesterday evening, waiting for love, I felt sad, very sad. Without knowing why. In the theatre, I opened one of the many doors to the Royal Room. A woman with long hair was singing, alone, and then with a man (I happily imagined him to be her brother). In English. Not mine, not what I speak. They sang, they called out. It was beautiful and sad. So beautiful and so sad. Leave. Happiness… I did not know them. It was a great discovery for me: The Swell Season.
Late at night, in the dark, after love, I was still silently humming along to their music. It ushered me into a peaceful, deep, volcanic sleep. I was at the crossroads of my life. Of my writing. Without tears.
Translator’s notes (Shailoh Phillips)
1) The words in italic were already in English in the original text.
2) Alternatives to ‘create’ would be: to spawn, to beget, to father, to bring forth.
3) It is very strange to have to choose your own flattering adjectives as a translator.
4) Actually, it was the Mennonites, who are slightly more up-to-date than the Amish. But I do come from Amish Country.
5) It is a strange relationship, between the author, the text and the translator. Now there is even another translator in between. I have to try and be invisible, to erase every trace of my presence. A vessel for the author, a vehicle. And yet I wonder if you know just how close the writing actually comes. I am compliant. I will try to say what you say. You are the singer, I just lip-synch. We are dancing and you are leading.