Nob 29, 2012

On Dante's Inferno and Bergvall's "VIA"

Read or listen to Caroline Bergvall's "VIA (48 Dante Variations)"

DE— But to be now the pop culture cultist (remember SpongeBob!), Bergvall reminds me of a scene in Nightmare on Elm St where the kids in the car wish to escape but find out through landmarks (statues, so forth, but in Bergvall, the words, the woods) that they're going on and on in circles. What's a lovely part of this scene is when a kid suggests that they refer to a road map. Clever kid, so one pulls out a road map and he/she unfolds it and it unfolds some more and there's no end to unfolding it, soon it swamps the passenger seat, threatening the driver's view. It's another Sisyphus thing, like Bergvall condemned the Dante persona to Hell even before he enters Limbo.

DE— It could be cyclical too, perhaps? Like we find/create a groove (settling in with a person or an ideology or an aesthetic, finding yourself in religion, or in the faithful exercise of civic or filial duties) only to find yourself on the road again, the splinter of the brain tearing past the old comfort zone only to create new ones later.  In a larger view though, that's where you might find your "self" in VIA, in endless transition, staying and going, going to stay, staying to go, one liminal encounter after another, but always bound within the pages of your book. The more things change . . .

DE— I remember your work on the timing thread, and I think this fits! Dante also tried to figure himself here as in the midpoint of his life-span and at the mid-point of the cosmic life-span (if I remember correctly, which I doubt, his journey was taken halfway between creation and apocalypse or something).

AN— also: humans are always by definition works in progress. always crossing bridges, climbing up ladders, all fields attest to the human drive to escape its own bounds. whose grasp exceeds whose reach

DE— I love this delicate fan notion of yours. What a lovely way of putting it but, yes, that's how it seems to me now, after you've said it this way. I thought at first that this image clashes with my own reading, one that hinges (perhaps loosely) around the idea of counsel in Dante. In this opening to the cantos, Dante had yet to find Virgil, his guide, and so it seems to me through Bergvall now how multiple and wasteful his steps are, how shadowy and treacherous (as translations so famously are) indeed these woods. Translations betray, we've so been often told, and translators make poor advisers, and it is of great significance to me that the main sin in Dante's Inferno is False Witness, the crime that makes a Satan of Lucifer, that feeds Brutus and Cassius and Judas (the most vile of counselors in his book) eternally into and out of the three mouths of this Satan

AN— this "fan" of translations could be damning us, if we read it now, again, through (whatever we believe of) dante

AN— i believe so too. but i've been toying around with the idea that VIA could likewise be a display of the super-adequacy of language, how something so remote and distant can be brought at the threshold of our thoughts in so many ways, perhaps always missing dante's idea, but also never losing sight of its shadowy shape, across the seven centuries

DE— I'm looking forward to the time comes when I can jog again, because I will seriously put Bergvall's audio on loop.

AN— bergvall's also among my great finds. i know most people want to see old favorites, but me, if they've got more armantrouts and perelmans, baums and bergvalls up their sleeves, I'd really really love to read them!

AN— thank you for this thread, and for the many worthy, engaging readings already found here.

DE— My own pet intertext would be Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote," a fiction written in a shape of a review where the reviewer lists the accomplishments of this man of letters, Menard, up until he writes his opus, Don Quixote, which he doesn't translate but rewrites line per line by thoroughly immersing himself in the novel and in the life of Cervantes. There's an idea here which I will represent without the power of a Bergvall or Calvino or Borges: that sometimes, when we read, what we're doing is writing the novel or epic again in our mind. So that even something we're reading in the language of our birth is actually being translated by us right into our own psychologies, over our own situations, dreads and desires, which are almost never akin to the stirrings of the "originary" writer.

AN— in this school of poemfish, about to disperse

AN— gosh, indeed! these are the kinds of threads I wish to read. bergvall's sense of being in the same place and being all over the place is brilliant. borges, who was mentioned above, would have enjoyed VIA immensely, and I would not be surprised if he'd go so far as to envy it

AN— another thing i've thought to bring to this thread was something from kung fu tze: "“It's better to read one book a hundred times, than a hundred books one time." deftly rewritten by bruce lee: "I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once. but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times." fear bergvall, indeed!

AN— haunting. yes, that fits. that's the word i'm looking for. that's how it has been for me listening to this, reading it, then reciting it myself

DE— This pilgrim of a poem leads me back to Dante Alighieri's Comedy, to his desire there for guidance, not only from Virgil, but also from Marsyas and Apollo, from Beatrice herself. He was himself acting as a guide, showing his poetry as a reliable compass of the cosmos. Almost every other critter and demon and character likewise try to instruct Dante (often within the limitations of their damnation), for example his old mentor attends him, as does Ulysses. As it happens, some of these guides are proven false. Here comes Bergvall. She cuts Dante off at the first stanza. He can't get to any of the guides, his first step shown to be multiple, endless, like the line in Eleatic paradoxes where any given point cannot be defined and therefore cannot be traversed (and thus the idea that we are moving at all is an illusion, and in this first step, Dante has taken 700 years and still his foot has yet to fall). Maybe Bergvall undermines Dante by short-circuiting him, reciting him back to himself (an Echo upon a Narcissus), sealing him within his first stanza before he could summon any guide, before he could himself "counsel" any reader. In this sense perhaps, VIA is a critique of Dante and other poets or philosophers (or poetic systems) with such clear and solid ideas of how life must be led, how thought ought be formed and expressed.

DE— Maybe among those cute guys is a Dante in search of Beatrice? Haha, and scholars, indeed should be able to laugh together. Dante generates lots of differences, heated arguments, scholastic cold shoulders, and it's amazing how Bergvall could put a word in without putting any of her own words in! Shared laughter, of the non-ridicule, non-sarcastic variety, should be very welcome.

DE— I think VIA could handle both and many other readings, could be a critique when viewed from one aspect, homage in another, and definitely as metapoetry. The woods, yes, (like the story-trees of Armantrout's own VIA) a horrible or delightful place to get lost in, or find the self. Bergvall was remarkably silent here, and I think this silence enables us to look at VIA every which way. Even her arrangement was a surrender of her poetic ego: she alphabetized! Maybe she's counterpoising her circularity to Dante's quest, her surrender of ego to his embrace of ego. Maybe it's like Dickinson's Sicily poem. You may proceed up that mountain Dante, the first (half-)step is enough of a cosmos, "infinity in a grain of sand," says Blake, "eternity in an hour." VIA could be seen as condemning us readers and translators to hell (or "saying" it was Dante who condemned us there) of reading and re-reading without coming any closer to seeing the Beatific Face. Perhaps VIA also condemns poets (Dante and others like him) who dwell in their configurations exactly because these would not exist apart from their craft, or belief. Or maybe it's a tribute to Dante's 700 years, and at heart, VIA celebrates the inherent capacity of poets/ poetry to survive, to reproduce and remain.

DE— Thank you. Despite the "darkling woods," and the "damning" repetition, I still would like to believe the celebratory aspect of this Bergvall piece. As has been mentioned before, the poet also "finds himself" in the process.

AN— i did not know eliot had those lines, but yes they are very fitting for VIA. i like how this poem brings us to the multiple, protean quality of language

DE— Yes. I believe that losing your bearings, while almost never a pleasant experience, can be counted on to expand our horizons—though your third sentence here is more eloquent on this point. I love this lesson on "re-viewing," revisiting, on dwelling again and again (via VIA). If this has taught me anything, it's how to enjoy getting lost in poetry, losing yourself in multiple possibilities, in a renewed sense of vastness.

DE— Thank you. It was a perfect convergence of material and technique, in my view. That's possibly why this "darkling wood" has become so fertile for questions and ideas.

3 komento:

Susan Scheid ayon kay ...

Well, this is a dazzler. I had trouble with VIA. I’m fascinated by the vagaries of translation, so I loved the concept, but I thought the execution skimmed the surface, and, for me, the reading added nothing. What you’ve done here is what I wish the poem had done. I’ve just gone over and read your original forum thread on this, too. Here’s mine, if of interest: (no one felt as I did about this poem, BTW).

Dennis Aguinaldo ayon kay ...

Bergvall could be thought of as lazy, perhaps even lazier than Goldsmith, but well that's the thing about conceptual art, it's all about the idea. Execution is often just a plus. Maybe it's my love for Dante that somehow opens me up to Bergvall's creative response. I had read your thread, I upvoted it early on too. Also, I've read the Antigonick post, and I know (in my bones) that I'll have a date with that book sometime in the future, when I least expect it.

It's possible that other people felt like you did but did not feel like weighing in. Maybe it was too late in the course to boo Bergvall, or Goldsmith had drawn all the boos, or Dante's just too intimidating even if only by association. Or perhaps, it being the last week of the course, few people had the appetite for negative vibes (except for Goldsmith).

I'd like to believe that more people would have weighed on the CONS side had Bergvall been introduced earlier. But it's just speculation now.

Susan Scheid ayon kay ...

I'll be interested to learn what you think of Antigonick. I don't find it the best of her experiments, but it's still fascinating. (Her Autobiography of Red, a retelling of Geryon and the Tenth Labor of Herakles, on the other hand, is a dazzler, by my lights, anyway.)

I think you're right, actually, that, toward the end of the class, it was hard to be anything but thrilled, so harder than earlier to engage in any contrarian commentary.

I wouldn't call Bergvall lazy, actually: the work she had to do to dig up those translations was no mean feat; the idea was a great one, and the alphabetization brought out something in the variety of translation that wouldn't have been apparent otherwise.

Ironically,what doesn't work about her work (for me) is actually highlighted by what you do with the same material. Because of your love of Dante, you brought out some of the richness in those materials that she failed to mine. I suppose, in the end, that may be how I view VIA: a splendid piece of research that offers raw materials from which others can make art (as you do here).