Stephen’s Way: An American Reads Proust

I like to read and I’m not put usually off by difficult books. I have read War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, much of Faulkner, most of Joyce. But there are a few books that I have never been able to finish, and so far as I can tell they have nothing in common.

The first is Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstader. It came out a few years after I graduated and was a combination of two things that for me (and possibly only for me) are inseparably linked: philosophy and comedy. I have never been able to read the entire book, mostly because at least once each page I have to stop and think, and once my brain is so activated it seldom circles back to the beginning point. I was lucky if I remembered to mark my place.

The second book is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I started this one based on the recommendation of Joseph Campbell, who ranked Mann with James Joyce as the great mytho-centric writers of the Twentieth century. With Mann, you have some choices. I picked The Magic Mountain because Death in Venice was too short, Buddenbrooks (reputedly his masterpiece) too long, so The Magic Mountain seemed just right. Plus it had magic in the title, though as I discovered there were no elves or wizards, at least not as far as I got. I was enjoying The Magic Mountain despite its fantasy-barren nature, but life intervened, the book was packed away, and to date it has not been found. Though I did get one nice poem out it. Still I hope to find my copy one day and begin again.

The third book is  Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, the initial volume in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, which is sometimes poetically translated as Remembrance of Things Past and oddly translated as In Search of Lost Time, which sounds like a story about someone who couldn't find their watch. Proust was a contemporary of both Joyce and Mann. Proust and Joyce met once in a famous encounter where each complained about his health and excused himself (true writerish behavior).

I had a copy of Remembrance of Things Past that somehow resurfaced, which I took as a sign that I should try again. Previously I had made it to the scene with the tea and madeleine, and then gave up, possibly because it made me hungry, though more likely because I felt I had done my duty. The translation I had was the original English translation by C. K. Scott Moncrief, which was regarded as the standard. But after a few pages of this, I decided to switch to a later translation by Lydia Davis. I don’t know which is more Proustean, but Ms. Davis work was slightly livelier and I stuck with it.

In theory I could read it in French. I took eight years of French and can speak but not really pronounce several words at least. I suspect the book is better in the original, and I have the same suspicion about Mann in German and Dante in Italian and Homer in Greek. But for now, and likely forever, I will have to rely on the wonderful work of translators, who so remarkably devote years of their lives to other people’s words.

At this reporting, I am 150 pages into Swann’s Way and I am pretty sure that other than tea and madeleines nothing has happened. But I must say it is not happening marvelously and I can’t wait to see what doesn’t happen next.

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"All That Was Needed I Saw Through The Window": Dahlia Ravikovitch Dahlia Ravikovitch

Last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch 1936 - 2005To celebrate her work I  post some of her poems in my translation. For my last installment I choose to present "The Window"  from True love (1986) since this is a poem about art and life. In her typical minimalistic way Ravikovitch shows what it means to live life as an observer and how this position is necessary to being an artist.

The Window

From True love

What have I ever done?


Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel

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"Standing In line For A Show": Dahlia Ravikovitch

Last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch 1936 - 2005To celebrate her work I  post some of her poems in my translation.

We are almost at the end of the summer vacation, so for today's installment I choose to present a poem, from True love (1986), which would be quite familiar to parents of young children.

Standing In Line For A Show

From True Love

Perhaps you and I will not remember,

how we stood together in line,

hand in hand.

And whenever you talked to me

I heard nothing

because of the mothers and children.

And as soon as I bent down to listen

You were already done.

So we couldn’t exchange a word.

Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel

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"Laughing in the clouds": Dahlia Ravikovitch

Last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch 1936--2005. To celebrate her work I  post some of her poems in my translation: This is the 3rd installment: one is from her second book Hard Winter- 1964, and the other from The Third Book -1969.

A Prayer for the Dead Seventeen Years Later

From Hard Winter

The cantor would read from the book of Psalms.

The trees whispered like an assembly of priests in black

We were not much taller than the tombstones

and we knew that resurrection of the dead would not come in our life time.

And from there yonder stood the ladder

to the steps of the holy and the saints whose essence is like sapphire

(most of them were resting at our feet),

and our life was like a locust on the border of sun and shadow.

But when the drowned girl passed through all the chambers of the sea,

We knew that it was the sea which gave birth to the rivers.


Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel



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