Brendan Monaghan
Epilogue
DOOR Kaweh Modiri
30-11-2012

Last weekend, when I was in Paris for a performance by one of Iran’s most important contemporary artists, Mohsen Namjoo, I told my French friends about the Crossing Border Festival and the writers and translators that I met there. Of course these special personalities – from China, Egypt and the Czech Republic – are above all individuals and not representatives of their country. Yet these meetings also give a very personal and tangible insight into a culture. The political consciousness of the Egyptian participants Wiam and Ahmed was in that respect typical of a generation that is fully engaged in rebuilding a country; a country that has been in a precarious situation since the revolution in Tahrir Square; a situation that bears many similarities with Iran after the 1979 revolution. The danger of the revolution being hijacked, and the cry for progress being stifled, is omnipresent. For this reason it is extremely encouraging to see and hear how someone as passionately articulated as Wiam is involved in what is happening around her. She knows that the Egyptian revolution has not been won, but has only just begun. Unlike most of our Western contemporaries, she does not regard herself as an object or a victim of change, but rather as the instigator of it. She knows the responsibilities that this entails, and is aware of the durability of this struggle. As mentioned, Wiam and Ahmed are primarily two exceptional individuals and not representatives of Egypt, yet it is a comforting thought in this case that they are not alone, but are part of a generation that has taken up the gauntlet, and is in the process of reforming an ancient civilisation and shaping its future.
And then there was Yan Ge, the twenty-seven year-old Chinese star-writer, with ten books to her name. She told me that in China she lives a secluded life on the 62nd floor of an apartment-block in Chengdu, a metropolis in Sichuan Province. Ever since I look at pictures of this futuristic city every day, and wonder what it must be like to gaze over this immense and ever expanding city from the 62nd floor, and to see the the world order silently change from this vantage point.
My friends became interested, and asked me what else I had done during the festival. I explained that I wrote columns that were translated into English, and that I had chosen my translator, Brendan Monaghan, as the protagonist in these columns. Laughter followed, as my French friends have seen my film My burglar and I, and know my unorthodox approach to literary protagonists.
I explained that it wasn’t so amusing in the end because my translator certainly could not appreciate the humour of this project. He felt hassled and steered clear of me from the first day.
This led to even greater laughter amongst my French friends. They thought that it was fantastic that I had terrified my poor translator. I objected once more to their mirth, because the fact that I had no personal contact with my translator was no laughing matter. Whilst the other writers and translators discussed the columns every evening, and spent hours glued to the phone contesting the accuracy of each word, my translator did not even call me once during the festival.
‘You made your bed now lie in it’ was the response of one of the girls in the group. ‘Why don’t you look for a willing protagonist? Someone who wants to be pursued by you. Why does it always have to be someone who doesn’t really want your attention?’
I thought about the question for a while, but actually I already knew the answer: I don’t like willing protagonists.

Alle vertalingen van Brendan Monaghan
Epilogue
30-11-12

Last weekend, when I was in Paris for a performance by one of Iran’s most important contemporary artists, Mohsen Namjoo, I told my French friends about the Crossing Border Festival and the writers and translators that I met there. Of course these special personalities – from China, Egypt and the Czech Republic – are above all individuals and not representatives of their country. Yet these meetings also give a very personal and tangible insight into a culture. The political consciousness of the Egyptian participants Wiam and Ahmed was in that respect typical of a generation that is fully engaged in rebuilding a country; a country that has been in a precarious situation since the revolution in Tahrir Square; a situation that bears many similarities with Iran after the 1979 revolution. The danger of the revolution being hijacked, and the cry for progress being stifled, is omnipresent. For this reason it is extremely encouraging to see and hear how someone as passionately articulated as Wiam is involved in what is happening around her. She knows that the Egyptian revolution has not been won, but has only just begun. Unlike most of our Western contemporaries, she does not regard herself as an object or a victim of change, but rather as the instigator of it. She knows the responsibilities that this entails, and is aware of the durability of this struggle. As mentioned, Wiam and Ahmed are primarily two exceptional individuals and not representatives of Egypt, yet it is a comforting thought in this case that they are not alone, but are part of a generation that has taken up the gauntlet, and is in the process of reforming an ancient civilisation and shaping its future.
And then there was Yan Ge, the twenty-seven year-old Chinese star-writer, with ten books to her name. She told me that in China she lives a secluded life on the 62nd floor of an apartment-block in Chengdu, a metropolis in Sichuan Province. Ever since I look at pictures of this futuristic city every day, and wonder what it must be like to gaze over this immense and ever expanding city from the 62nd floor, and to see the the world order silently change from this vantage point.
My friends became interested, and asked me what else I had done during the festival. I explained that I wrote columns that were translated into English, and that I had chosen my translator, Brendan Monaghan, as the protagonist in these columns. Laughter followed, as my French friends have seen my film My burglar and I, and know my unorthodox approach to literary protagonists.
I explained that it wasn’t so amusing in the end because my translator certainly could not appreciate the humour of this project. He felt hassled and steered clear of me from the first day.
This led to even greater laughter amongst my French friends. They thought that it was fantastic that I had terrified my poor translator. I objected once more to their mirth, because the fact that I had no personal contact with my translator was no laughing matter. Whilst the other writers and translators discussed the columns every evening, and spent hours glued to the phone contesting the accuracy of each word, my translator did not even call me once during the festival.
‘You made your bed now lie in it’ was the response of one of the girls in the group. ‘Why don’t you look for a willing protagonist? Someone who wants to be pursued by you. Why does it always have to be someone who doesn’t really want your attention?’
I thought about the question for a while, but actually I already knew the answer: I don’t like willing protagonists.

Column 4
18-11-12

Monaghan had a bit of time to kill in the break between Lisa Hannigan’s performance at the Royal Theatre and the next performance. It was raining outside, and as he neither smoked nor had an umbrella, there was no excuse to loiter at the entrance of the theatre like some kind of vagrant. He turned left into a street and went looking for a café. He needed something strong that would rouse his inner pilot light. ‘Whisky brings out the man I really am’, he said to himself.

He went into the first pub he came across. When he raised his head to look for the bar, he saw a face in the crowd that was very familiar to him. The man had a beer in his hand and wore a simple shirt that hung loosely over his jeans. He looked at Monaghan and an immediate expression of recognition appeared on his face. Monaghan began to sweat. There were only a few people in this town who knew him, and he didn’t wish to encounter any of them. They had already long passed judgement over him, without him ever having had any opportunity to defend himself. His temporary paralysis may have saved him the night before, but now there was no escape. Without any shadow of doubt the man had recognised him. He could sense this in his contemptuous gaze. It would not be long now before a reproachful finger would pin him to the wall. Scorn and accusations would be heaped on him from all sides. He wouldn’t get any chance to defend himself and to explain the nuances of the case. He would be bundled away, and perhaps thrown out the country.

The man approached Monaghan. ‘This is a private party’ he said apologetically, and walked away. It only now dawned on Monaghan that this man was none other than Wouter Bos, the former Deputy Prime Minister. That is where he knew him from! With a sense of relief and joy Monaghan turned around and walked into the rainy evening. He had managed to get through the break; that was something to be glad about. He walked back to the theatre and scaled the many stairs to the Paradise stage. He listened to a reading in Czech with Dutch subtitles, and then to a reading in Dutch without subtitles. The words swirled around him. He tried not to grab them, not to seize them; he did nothing to catch them. He closed his eyes and surrendered to everything he didn’t comprehend.

Column 3
17-11-12

For a moment during the Kyteman’s Orchestra’s performance the silence was so overwhelming that Monaghan forgot the pain in his body. He had forgotten that whilst he had been watching a house the evening before he had fallen out of a tree like a dead sparrow. Now it seemed to him to be like a glider flight. He had flown.

At the Royal Theatre he held his breath together with hundreds of other spectators, as they watched how the graceful instruments on stage turned into props; he was returning to flight. The stage was a starry sky, and the more he stared at it the more his feet left the ground behind. As a typical modern hero – unmindful of social mores, driven solely by personal motives – he beat his great wings and rose above the Royal theatre. People thronged between the various festival stages, moving through this newly constructed mini-infrastructure. The majority were in a hurry, but some were lost, or had time to kill. Spread across this tiny corner of the planet, people were exposing their souls on platforms. For a short moment he didn’t feel any urge to do, consider or, change anything. Nothing needed translation, nothing required clarification.

When he opened his eyes again he saw that the conductor, Kyteman, had taken a seat so that he could guide the strings through their delicate entrance.

Monaghan had experienced something similar during Daughter’s performance. It was remarkable and surprising that music managed to make silence palpable in a way that no other medium could.

This drowsy feeling didn’t leave him until he was waiting to order mulled wine in Cuatro. The tap on his shoulder felt like a strike by a nail from a powerful hammer. He was instantly assailed by spasms which surged like a whirlwind from his neck to his tailbone. His brains and his eyes seemed to freeze, so he could only face the instigator of this pain by turning his feet little by little. It was a petulant-looking girl, who examined him with a cheeky and quizzical eye.

‘May I ask you what you are called?’ she inquired. In a way it was good that Monaghan was so numb that he simply wasn’t able to react. He stared at the girl with his head tilted and a bland gaze.

‘The reason I ask is,’ the girl said hesitantly, but she changed her mind and did not finish her sentence. ‘Do you happen to be an artist?’ she asked in more friendly tone. Monaghan wanted to shake his head, but at the last moment he changed his mind as he considered that this was actually the case. He had been invited by the festival, which wanted to put translators in the spotlight. Yes. He was an artist. He practised the art of translation. He nodded. It felt like a clear confirmation, but in reality it couldn’t have been more than a barely perceptible movement of his head. The girl looked at him from head to toe.

‘Then I’m sure that I must have seen you in the programme. I thought you were someone else,’ the girl said with disappointment.

Monaghan nodded again, took his mulled wine from the bar and stepped carefully into the cold Dutch night.

Column 2
16-11-12

Mercure Hotel, The Hague, 10:35 PM. Monaghan put his card into the slot and opened the door of room 416. He was welcomed by a pleasant, mechanical click. The bed had been made and the desk lamp was still on. He would be safe here for a little while.

There was a book written by Kaweh Modiri lying on his desk. He was going to translate the columns of this young Dutch writer for the festival. That was the reason for returning to this city, which had dealt him such savage blows in the past.

During the introductions at the restaurant earlier in the evening, whilst the other translators and writers discussed the busy schedule, Monaghan’s thoughts were dominated by a single recollection: an address and a phone number that he could remember with uncanny clarity: Mariastraat 2, 3rd floor.

Why was that particular detail seared so mercilessly in his mind? It had been so long ago, and he had not been back in all this time. A liberating click was all he asked for. Like the sound when he entered his hotel room: click! A secret feeling of safety ensued. How miserly, a brain that refuses to forget!

Monaghan picked the book up and looked at the cover: ‘Meneer Sadek en de anderen; a witty and poignant story about an Iranian family in the most mediocre town in the Netherlands.’ Monaghan opened the book on a random page and began to read:

 

‘The serenity of a town that seemed to switch off every evening at six o’clock suggested that my flight came to an end here, that I didn’t have to go anywhere else.’

 

It seemed as if the words translated themselves automatically into English as he read them. He saw the translation – his translation – hovering a few millimetres above the pages. It was a gift. He was a master at what he did, and could effortlessly translate as fast at he could type. But what troubled him about this profession was the prohibition to take the author’s words to the streets and alleys where the original had no business, where only copies of copies dwelt; forgotten fabrications that trudged along the pavement. Whilst translating Monaghan disappeared into his own ingenious reveries, then shortly before the deadline he would return to what he was doing, neatly converting the text into Standard English.

 

The phone on the bedside table caught his attention. For the first time this evening he felt no hesitation. He grabbed the handset and dialled the number that had echoed through his mind all evening faster than a cowboy could pull his gun. It rang twice.

 

‘Hello’ an elderly female voice said. Monaghan held his breath. ‘Who’s there?’ the woman asked. Monaghan closed his eyes and pressed the handset firmly against his ear; it was as if, in all his intensity, he somehow wanted to imbibe the space at the other side of the line. ‘Is someone there?’ The old woman had a gentle, yet frightened voice. Monaghan did not want frighten her. But he couldn’t tell her. She would have panicked and have ruined everything. He put down the phone. There was only one thing he was afraid of. And he was now heading straight towards it. It was 11:20 PM. Monaghan got off the bed and left his hotel room.

Crossing Border prologue
05-11-12

In two weeks the Crossing Border Festival is starting. This year it will be calling at three cities with a programme packed with performances, recitals, film screenings, lectures, interviews and more. As writer in residence, I will report daily from The Hague and Antwerp on my experiences at this leading cultural festival, with its hybrid of music, film and literature.

I am especially looking forward to working with the translator who will translate my accounts into English, so that this blog will go online on the same evening. Who is this person who speaks in my name in another language? And why is he able to shelter unmolested behind my words? How can I make him visible? Give him a voice which can do battle with the writer’s.

‘My name is Brendan Monaghan, 33 years old, translator by profession.’

During the festival I will set off in hot pursuit; from hotels, trains, taxis and cities I will report especially for The Chronicles about the festival and, about the hunt for my literary protagonist during these few days: Brendan Monaghan. At night I will be behind the last door that closes and at the crack of dawn I will already be at the breakfast table with my newspaper and croissant, so nothing will pass me unnoticed. So I will be able to report to you in detail about the striking series of events that take place during the festival, and the dubious presence of Monaghan, who will be involved with almost all of these incidents.

The days are numbered that translation is a safe and anonymous profession.