Wednesday, October 10, 2007


O you, will you not translate yourselves?
-- Victor Segalen,

Garrett Caples writes an absolutely sumptious engagement with STÈLES By Victor Segalen for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Click on the first paragraph below for the whole article:
"The short life of late symbolist and early modernist writer Victor Segalen (1878-1919) was at least as extraordinary as the works he bequeathed to posterity. A French naval doctor, he was sent to Tahiti in 1902 to join the Durance, a ship whose beat included the Marquesas Islands, where Gauguin had exiled himself. Segalen arrived three months after the painter's death, purchasing several now-priceless paintings for absurdly low sums at auction. When the Durance stopped at Djibouti in 1904 on its return trip to France, Segalen gathered some of the first anecdotal evidence of Rimbaud's experiences in Africa after renouncing poetry."

One of the many things I love about this article is its ability to do service to the complicated marvels in Segalen's life and work. Check out this excerpt, ye who would be a first-time reader of Segalen:
"...first-time readers have a solemn duty to skip straight to the poetry, beginning with Segalen's preface. The deliberate mysteriousness of Stèles must be experienced before it is explained. Annotations, moreover, do not a translation make, just as they cannot atone for a bad one. No atonement is necessary, though; Billings and Bush do an excellent job. If the prose sounds slightly formal, this is consistent with Segalen's desire to suggest the stele's highly specialized language.

"'Their style,' he writes in the preface, 'must belong to that which cannot be called a language because it has no echoes among other languages & could not be used for daily exchanges: Wén. A symbolic game, each element of which, capable of being anything, borrows its function only from the space it occupies, its value from the fact that it is here & not there.' Wisely, Segalen doesn't push this potentially stilted conceit too far, remembering he's writing French symbolist poetry, which tends toward elegance and music."

In fact, I'd posit that Garret's article should make you even more curious about Garret's own poetry aptly titled COMPLICATIONS!