Thursday 21 May 2015

My diary from May 1968 in Paris is a tremulous and speedy read, as if I don't recognize this person or recognize her too well and want to pass over as fast as possible, seizing a word here, an image there, a faintness of spirit, a sudden delirium. May 1968 is such a set piece. Revolution within and without. Can I bear it? The monkish handwriting in black ink with medium oblique nib, the curlicues and grace notes, the evasiveness, the embarrassment, the incomprehension. Do I still speak the language?

I read in The New Yorker about Nell Zink translating a friend's novel from Hebrew, a language she barely understood, and in the process writing a book that in no way resembled the original. The friend liked it so much he translated it back into Hebrew.

A reading, and another, and another, of a diary over many years is already a translation. A culinary reduction. Old words are altered by a new gaze; the original starts to break up; a phrase here and there has cracked clean in two.

Some of the things I felt unable to say in 1968 I was in fact saying; the sheer relief of writing obscured nearly everything, especially what I did with my days and what was going on around me. Words, as I wrote at 3 a.m. on Saturday the 23rd of March 1968, took away my voice.

I had to go teaching french literature in Ireland to get my voice back.

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