Monday, June 15, 2015

David Foster Wallace

He died, no he committed suicide when he was 46. I am now 68 and stumbled upon his writing. I am an avid reader, read all kinds of things and thinner books usually find a place in my purse to read in any forlorn moment. Now I just bough two of his books (the bookshop in Antwerp only had two of his books) on offer and I went home with Infinite Jest, 1000 pages plus and 93 pages of annotations and the Pale King. No way to carry the book in a regular purse. When I started I was wondering about whether I could read it all without getting bored, uninterested or disgruntled... I soon discovered that this was writing like I had never read:rich, long winded, interesting all about the young peoples at a sports college. The language sings, the fumes of pot almost waft off  the page. The words will run away from you, will crowd you, will make you smile... Of course this is a book to be read as a young adult struggling with all that goes on in life. Yet the beauty will floor you at times:

That cockroaches can, up to a certain point, be lived with.
That "acceptance" is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.
That different people have radically different ideas of basic personal hygiene.
That it is permissible to want. That everybody is identical in their
secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn't necessary perverse.
That there might not, but there are people who might as well be angels.

David Foster Wallace grew up in Illinois. He studied at Amherst, he suffered severe depressions. He wrote a short story about the 1983 episode. The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing." which was published in the Amherst review. Trillaphon is an anti-pychotic medication...

If it looks difficult, think of the education you'll get reading his work: the taste  and smell of a time of growing up as Generation X in the USA.

Monday, June 1, 2015

PEN-International's congres in Amsterdam.

Openingsspeech Job Degenaar WiPC/ICORN-conferentie, De Duif, Amsterdam, 25.05.2015

 In a rich and democratic country as The Netherlands there is still freedom of speech and expression. There are no writers in prison. In the picture you see
As a writer at the sunny side of the world you can do two things. Enjoy your luxury free life and write as a free human being about your free life. Here to your left you see the empty chair  filled by Gao Yu
Or enjoy this luxury and write, but also try to support your colleagues at the shadeside of the world that can't defend themselves: the path less traveled by, as Robert Frost should say.
 Many of you, here gathered, do the same. You try to do something for writers who are in big trouble, writers, not criminals, who are in prison, or under threat, or who have killed with impunity, writers who are unable to help themselves: you can't open a prisoner's door from inside. Most of them live in countries with dictatorial governments as China and Vietnam or with powerless governments, like Mexico and Honduras:
There is no distance between writers, only between the circumstances writers have to live.

In my capacity of the national WiPC Chair, for nearly 10 years now, I became a member of the international PEN-community – and I'm proud to be so. Most of our work is in silence, in the lee, because of diplomatic reasons. It needs carefulness and hidden actions, which is not the same as chicken-heart: when lights are spotted on a writer who is in danger, he could become in more danger. You always have to keep in mind what you want to reach: not your so called bravery, but the life of a colleague who is unable to fight for himself. The Dutch WiPC is at this moment especially focused on actions for East-Asiatic countries where most of the writers in the world are imprisoned.

What we do, is seeking contact with governments and diplomats, and ofcourse with other PEN-centres for consultation about the way how to take action, supporting imprisoned writers by sending cards to them, telling their stories in our own country, translate their work and give them a name and a face. The basic principle for our work is the dialogue, not the confrontation. You can't win anything by offending regimes if  you want to change their minds.

To mention three small, recent successes from our centre: we received from the Vietnamese Nguyn Hũu Caũ, who was freed after 40 years imprisonment, and his family, personal thanks for the work we have done. And together with a French sinologist we nominated two years ago the Chinese Li Bifeng for the American Hellman-Hammett Grant and we translated some texts of him into Dutch. He received the award. Unfortunately he is still in jail. Our work continues.
We also supported the foundation of the North Korean Writers in Exile Centre and the South-Korean president Lee Gil-won did a lot for them. And now some work of them also has been published in important Dutch papers and in a literary magazine.

David van Reybrouck, from PEN Flanders, once said: 'WiPC is the core business of PEN' and Larry Siems, from PEN America, summarized in Kyrgystan what should be the main subject in conferences like these: 'The key core issue is dynamic engagement on every case'.

Well, let's be engaged. I wish you a very pleasant and inspiring time here in Amsterdam.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Again an auction of Hopi Katsinam Friends in France

Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie on Wednesday called for the Justice Department and other federal agencies to take whatever actions they can to block planned auctions in France of ceremonial katsina faces, considered sacred to the tribe. Already twice I went to Paris to go and watch what happened during the sales of the Hopi Katsinam Friends. There was each time a lot of protest, but the French authorities don't seem to care.
The Arizona congressional delegation asked U.S. agencies to help block katsina auctions.
Two auctions in Paris of the sacred Hopi objects are planned during June.
Five auctions have taken place since 2013, despite efforts by the Hopi to stop them.
The point of view of the Hopi is clear: I quote here:
Hopi leaders, backed by Arizona's entire congressional delegation, on Wednesday called for the Justice Department and other federal agencies to take whatever actions they can to block planned auctions in France of ceremonial katsina faces, considered sacred to the tribe.
"We need to bring all our katsina friends home to their rightful place on the Hopi lands," declared tribal Chairman Herman Honanie. "Hopi is absolute in its stance that these auctions must cease. We call on all local, state and federal agencies to aid our efforts..."
During a news conference at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Honanie said auction houses in Paris have scheduled sales of the visages on June 1 and June 10, with a total of 13 ceremonial katsinas. At least five similar auctions have been conducted since April 2013, despite Hopi efforts to stop them through French courts and regulatory agencies.
All 11 of Arizona's U.S. Senate and House members signed a letter dated May 21 to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, asking the agencies to investigate "potential options the federal government could take to address the Hopi Tribe's concerns."
The Heard Museum and the Museum of Northern Arizona, meanwhile, released copies of a letter they addressed to French President Francois Hollande, requesting his "intervention." That correspondence says the auctions constitute "the sale of stolen property, which is obviously legally prohibited both in the United States and around the world."

Last time, at the second auction we all tried to have the sales forbidden: but the French courts decided differently. It was a sad day and the guards at the auction house were over bearing and intimidating. The auction master had no respect in handling and speaking about the katsinam.
The main point is, that the objects in the auction are sacred, ceremonial objects. They have power. They are not tourist pieces. My small shrine I have  does not hold ceremonial pieces. Just pieces that bring me joy and remind me of the beauty of Hopi ceremony and the way of life of the Hopi.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Praying for forbidden fruit by Bart Stouten

Bart forever kind and forever the professional organized a book presentation  unlike any other I have seen and especially heard. The Introduction by Luc Coorevits, was clear and to the point and he was right when he said it was a totally different approach to writing this real novel. In this picture Bart seems to be quietly relaxing, kind of knowing that everything would be fine. It was after all the master who was the master of ceremony. Publisher Friday (Vrijdag) brought another good book out. Once home I started reading and it is quite captivating. Working for Klara, the classical radio in Flanders Bart knows the field of music extremely well. He will find new young talent as Wout Goris and Wolfram Ghesquière, a truly intimate performance with Wofram's lyrics  brought to us in a fragile, husky voice by Wout. I preferred his English ballads over the Dutch ones although those  found a way to touch me.
 Here as a surprise for the evening Bart reading from the book and young Vlad Weverbergh on bas sax intoning, improvising along the reading. I had enjoyed Vlad's work a couple of times before, he seemed as playful yet even more mature as a musician. In other words. What a beautiful, rich evening.
Thanks to all  who made it happen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Translating The Sahara Testaments

As many things in life translating The Sahara Testaments by Tade Ipadeola happened by circumstance and coincidence. He was due to be the PEN-Flanders guest in spring. For an obscure reason he didn't get a visum from the Belgian embassy. Yet Sven Peeters who was to interview him was all prepared and asked me to translate two poems, which I did. I began thinking and thought our guest should be able to read more poems so I asked Sven if he had any more poems by Tade. I could not have foreseen that then Sven mailed be a pdf file called The Sahara Testaments, containing 200 poems, all quatrains (you remember: four lines) and a fixed rhyme scheme in the greatest majority of them. I looked at it, thumbed through it, fell for the rigorous work (although I am usually a free verse poet) and translate one more, and then an other one. I love the desert. My desert is the Mojave Desert in California and Arizona. A high desert mostly rocky, and here and there an area with sand dunes. Nothing like the vastness of the Sahara being a continent on its own. When Tade arrived  at the flat we met and talked poetry and translation and I translated a few more poems for the two performances we had in the framework of The day of the writer in prison. Too many, although they may count them lucky not to have been killed like happens all too often in South America. Working together was fun and my PEN colleagues suggested I translated the whole book.  Now it is essential to know that he was the recipient of the Delphic Laurel in Poetry. 200, two hundred poems... Delphic Laurel in Poetry is only the biggest, most important poetry prize in Africa. I am still a bit intimidated by the task, yet some poems give them easily in Dutch, others are recalcitrant and I have to be very careful with them, peeling of layer, after layer until the also become a poem in translation.
I am very grateful for the time Tade grants me when I have a question or can't find a reference. When words have several meanings, I don't try to guess what connotation he had in mind but just ask him. His response is always kind, to the point and very helpful. If I don't understand what is meant, I cannot translate it. And although Tade's poetry is highly formalized, it flows as if effortless. The grand gift with this translation is that I get to see the world and the African continent, through the eyes of a keen African observer, in a way rereading history from a different perspective. I am now over halfway through in a first draft. I'll be asking a mutual friend to go through the text with me to catch mistakes, stupid or inelegant constructions.