Friday, 1 October 2021

Maggie Nelson On Freedom, Judith Thurman On Dante, Translation,

Maggie Nelson On Freedom, Four Songs of Care and Constraint, is a ghostly read at the start of autumn. Maybe I would rather she was Anne Carson, or Rimbaud. I read Maggie Nelson, sometimes too fast, as the poem that spreads underneath, as mycelium spreads underneath the earth.

But the fact remains that no one can ferret out for us which pleasures are taken in an "experience without truth" (Derrida), and which can have truth-value (or something otherwise worthwhile); no one can figure out for us which modes of abandonment are wonderful, and which do damage (or more damage than they're worth); no one can determine for us when a strategy of liberation has flipped into a form of entrapment. As the slogan May you be blessed with a slow recovery suggests, such proximities constitute a knot that benefits from patient, perhaps even lifelong, untangling. 
Meanwhile, in The New Yorker, Judith Thurman has been reading Dante and new Dante translations of Purgatorio, which are, she feels, are very good in a pandemic. This year is the 700th anniversary of Dante's death. There have been more than a hundred translations of the Divine Comedy. I have three of them. That is already strange in today's world. Where we drown in world views and the freedom to pass judgement in public.   
Many branches of radical ecological thinking edge into this territory, insofar as  grappling with systemic threats to the biosphere as we know it often demands a kind of zoomed-out perspective on humanity and planet that can prompt deeply unnerving paradigm shifts and proposals. ...  Our method of inhabiting the planet could be otherwise. Our attitude toward death, including our own deaths or that of our species, could be otherwise.
Maggie Nelson On Freedom is not translating Purgatorio. Or maybe she is. Purgatory was a recent invention, a middle child of three, between Inferno and Paradiso. Purgatory takes place on this Earth, not above or below. Here. Now. Grazing the meadow. Playing at trains in L.A. Reprieved. 

The Maggie Nelson poem I was trying to find underneath her four songs of care and constraint is the poem of the exorbitant reader and the anxious human. I haven't read what she has read, but I have read as she reads.  

Such is the approach taken in the pages that follow, in which "freedom" acts as a reusable train ticket, marked or perforated by the many stations, hands and vessels through which it passes. (I borrow this metaphor from Wayne Koestenbaum, who once used it to describe "the way a word, or a set of words, permutates" in the work of Gertrude Stein. "What the word means is none of your business," Koestenbaum writes, "but it is indubitably your business where the word travels.")


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