Under the umbrella of EFACIS, the Banville Project is the second in our Literature as Translation series, exercises in Irish verbal and cultural translation. Our translators started with the verbal translation of Banville’s texts, both Fiction and the Dream and the two fragments evoking epiphanies. For those who know a specific language well, it is a refreshing experience to find one’s familiar lexical and grammatical elements in new combinations, bringing new ideas, sparking off surprising associations. To translate a text is to rejuvenate it; it is like introducing two languages to each other, and seeing if they fall in love.
For the “Cultural translation” we sought input from writers on the continent interested in reacting to Banville’s Fiction and the Dream. We received absolutely wonderful contributions. It turned out, for example, that Corin Braga is a Romanian dream expert: thanks to the translation by Liljana Pop we can look into how he navigates the mixing of undercurrents at daybreak, when night- and daydreams meet and swirl into each other. In his uncartesian phrasing he traces “the still visible paths of sleep”, where “The weight of my dream images reconstructs my feeling of internal fullness. … I set off on my way into the world carrying the bastard baby of the dream I do not want to lose, swaddled in my fear or guilt”. Braga manages to physically register the workings of the preconscious when “Dreams have a vibration that keeps me in a continuous present”. This is echoed by Descartes’ own countryman Philippe Le Guillou, who focuses on the “profound dream” which it is “hard to extricate oneself from … due to its viscous, uncertain, unlikely matter, whose flow and circulation you can never control for sure. One always writes according to the rhythm or “magical pulse” of a “double assumption”, which makes the writer both dig in and detach himself from the “peat, muck and mire at night”, the matter to be made admirable. This writing process from mire to marble is, in Claudio Magris’ evocation, “a tourbillon of incessant transformations, dispersions, rearrangements, and therefore every time different”. His exploration of the dream goes into the nature of the uncanny as he finds it in a letter which describes a nightmare to him. The letter offers powerful descriptions which “mock[…] every usual process of perception”, as they are “exiting the modalities and categories by which our thought constructs the world” in “an exact delirium, a science fiction story mingled with a Greek myth, a hybrid literary genre set between a crime story and a tragedy, a cosmic conspiracy organised like a mafia murder”.
This is in stark contrast to Bel Olid who, first of all, tries to find an inner lining to routine life, a kind of undercurrent which keeps flowing. “When it simply wasn’t possible, writing was thinking about writing. In the shower, on the underground or in the supermarket”, the author was happy enough to feel inside the material “until it can be put into words”. But things get even better when, during a car drive, she finds out that she can write together with somebody else: “We were doing together what I had always done alone: thinking, exploring, getting to know the characters, finding out if they’re happy. Astonished because there’s a story that swells, rising like a loaf that four hands are kneading”. The imagery gets even better, as this shared exploration gets erotic overtones of sheer intensity.
Two Scandinavian writers look more at the techniques they develop to harvest material from their dream worlds. Jonas Ellerström is inspired by Swedenborg and David Bowie, and hopes that diligence and truth will be sufficient support for what can never be guaranteed: that the fictional works “will acquire a life of their own for the reader”. Matti Kangaskoski thinks about producing fiction in ten statements, referring to sciences and Wittgenstein, which makes this poet, scholar and performer come up with aphorisms such as “Poetry speaks words but performs silence” and “No thing is anything by itself”. Issues of truth are touched upon by Lucca Ricci, who elaborates the view that “Fiction and deception are opposites”. In this context, Ana Luis Amaral observes that “The truth of the text is … necessarily tangential to life”. Adam Berta’s reflection, surprisingly, does not use a mirror for its central metaphor but a shining porcelain surface, which reflects a certain opacity.
That dreams are rich textures is opulently illustrated by Carmen Boullosa whose dream gives a very interesting comment on “nectophobia (extreme fear of darkness)” and then goes on to highlight the parallels between dreamworld and writing: how they “are often about an irrecoverable loss, relating it, and repairing it”; both also share “an untranslatable quality”. August Bover specifies that literature’s recovery of dream works consists in the fact that it “enables memories to be placed”. To Georgi Gospodinov literature is connected to “Tripe soup, Scheherazade and Nightmares”, and thanks to Teodora Tzankova’s translation from Bulgarian we learn lots of things about what literature should not be, but also about the consolatory and performative power of literature. In its humorous approach Gospodinov’s contribution matches that of Paul Claes which is hilarious; also in its form, Claes is his usual original self, delivering a literary litany. Boullosa’s countrywoman Hernán Lara Zavala also uses an original form, as she writes a letter to John Banville, referring to the triple dream Borges conceives of when he thinks of that arch-reader Don Quixote. And finally, Aris Marangopoulos looks back to his times in Paris, when he met Jeanne Moreau who thought it as “terribly exhausting to escape” from one’s routine, one’s social self.
When we look at these writers’ testimonials, they tie in very nicely with what Irish fiction writers say about the production of fiction on the Kaleidoscope website. Content-wise they all belong together; while one group needed translation into English, the Irish may now need translation into the non-English languages . We hope that in the future both groups of writers will meet, in their imagination, in correspondence and, who knows, in the flesh, on some fine convivial evening.