Friday, 3 September 2010
The Forum, etc
Almost finished the redraft of Krasznahorkai's Satantango. Will finish either tonight or tomorrow morning. It does get better as the book moves on but I am still rewriting every page. I am amazed how easily I forget that I inevitably do this with every translation, so when I think I have finished I am really about to start on the second stage.
It has been a day of missed appointments. I was due to meet a gentleman who contacted me about some important papers concerning the late Reinhold Alfredo (or Alfredo Reinhold), of whom I hadn't heard, but who was, I learn, a Hungarian genius and hero who wrote, says my contact, outstanding poems. Google has nothing on him, so I wait to see what my contact has. Hungarians have been everywhere with hundreds of names, doing a million mysterious things, so Alfredo (or Reinhold) might well be a genius. My contact and I, however, are clearly no geniuses, because our arrangement to meet the hotel round the corner had one of us arriving at 10:30 and (leaving at 10:55) while the other was arriving at 11:03 and leaving at 11:20. In other word we missed each other and have rearranged for next week.
The Forum was great fun. I hadn't listened to the programme before and had only been told about it so I wasn't sure how it would go. Rana Mitter, who must be the youngest professor of history Oxford has ever produced is in the chair, bright, glasses glittering. On my right is Sheena Iyengar, Professor in Psychology and Business at Colombia University (about whose new book I have blogged before), and on my left, international patent lawyer, Professor Yvonne Cripps, who, I quote from the website, is involved in exploring the way gene patenting is distorting orthodox patent law and unduly stretching its limits.
Sheena is lovely, petite, superbly read and blind, Yvonne is soft spoken, lovely and sharp as a box of specially sharpened nails. Rana glitters. The conversation starts with Sheena and the subject of choice. Rana asks a few questions then opens it up to Yvonne and I. Having discussed this I do my 60-second solution to the problems of the world (more the word, in this case), then Rana moves on to me, asks a few questions, opens up to the other two, and lastly on to Yvonne, repeating the same process. Rana is, I imagine, Indian, Sheena is Indian but American, Yvonne was born in New Zealand but is partly Irish, and I am a kind of goulash.
It is fascinating how the three apparently disparate fields begin to address each other, partly on common points of reference, partly simply as human interest. I had imagined Sheena and Yvonne would have more of a professional nature to say to each other than either of them to me (a poet to a business professor specialising in choice, might be simply a subject who has made the wrong choice) and my genes are such as they are, nor is anybody likely to want to patent them. On the other hand Sheena quotes Lyn Hejinian in her book, and Yvonne reads poetry. Come to think of it I have chosen to be here, and have made some use of my genes. Son and daughter fully copyrighted, with a patent out on granddaughter and any subsequent second-level progeny.
Choice implies constraint - an interesting subject for a poet - and patenting is a form of copyright. So we get along. I read part of a poem and am chiefly responsible for any gloom or despair to be detected under the banter. I regret that and have always regretted it. I would have been a jolly sort of companion for James (BV) Thomson in his City of Dreadful Night, but I suspect we might have shared a cab now and then, and known some of the same streets. At least the poems know that. Me, personally? You can take me anywhere and polish me as bright as a button. And there is a kind of joy and gaiety in about this one and only world that offers as much brightness as dark.
At the end I have to re-read my sixty seconds, this time to camera. It is very tongue-in-cheek Stalinist and I should really look like Big Brother (not the TV show fake version) as I deliver it to the nation. No pain, no gain! it ends, which, come to think of it is more John Major than The Man of Steel. Perhaps Djugashvili is watching the cricket with John Major as I speak.