Editor's note: Jane proposed this interview after reading Nathanaël’s book
Pasolini's Our (Nightboat Books, 2018).
is the author of over a dozen poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Poems: New and Selected (Isobar, 2018),
<<terrain grammar>> (theenk Books, 2019), and, as editor,
women : poetry : migration [an anthology], also with theenk, 2017, which includes the work of Nathanaël and forty nine other female poets currently living in a country other than that of their birth. She is particularly interested in poetry and essays by ex-pat writers, as well as feminist avant-garde poetries, disability poetics and ecopoetics. Email is welcome at janejoritznakagawa(at)gmail(dot)com.
Nathanaël is the author of more than a score of books written in English or in French, and published in the United States, Quebec, and France.
JJN: You write in Pasolini's Our that it is “a matter of saying, out loud, photography's exposure to translation” and that the book was written “despite
myself.” Could you talk a little more about how the idea for the book came to you and the process/processes of writing that went into it?
N: It is complicated to account for Pasolini’s Our. This book, in some senses, does not exist, in that it is a texture or torn overlay by which it dislocates. By which I mean that the book such as you have read it is a rewriting of a book cast first in French, under the title
Le cri du chrysanthème. Given the importance of doubling/dubbing in the text, it seemed important to acknowledge, or in a juridical sense, to evidence this duplication.
Pasolini’s Our is already, by virtue of its proximate remove from a first writing, another language, an account of a writing that anticipates and announces it, and so, like any translation, constitutionally belated.
This book is, to begin with, another book. And it did grow out of a conversation with Sylvie Glissant, who wished for me to speak at l’Institut du Tout-Monde (an institute at Paris VIII founded in 2006 by Édouard Glissant) in a cycle of conferences on translation. She was particularly interested in the relationship that interested
me between photography and translation, and by which time had versed itself in(to) the cinema to which I’d been convoked since
in 2014 and Feder, a scenario subsequently. It is near impossible for me to say with precision how I arrived at Pasolini and the Berlin
Wall, but these were the (preliminary) constitutive elements of the work, a kind of forensics that demanded to be carried out; or rather that were embedded in an architecture (the wall) and a corpse (the text of
Empirismo eretico). There was the observation, in the prefatory edition to the French translation of Pasolini’s text, published shortly after his assassination, that the translation was synchronistic with the murder of the poet. There was the misapprehension of the Berlin Wall as a singular limit, which, in keeping with Wittgenstein’s observations on the borders of language
(Grenzen), revealed a more complex conjugation, and the conjunction of the dislocated text (body) with the multiple wall (bodies) bore out a (photographic) process of exposure that was very telling as to translation’s faults (fault lines), all of which, of course, gently, and insistently, gestured toward a crime (crimes), histories of fascism, and threats of extinction. But the albatross, who appears later, and is entwined in the destructive history of photographic processes, had not yet appeared. The beginning of this work ended with the observation that the film strip had lexical affinities (but not only) with the death strip.
And these words were spoken, in French (and halting German), and perhaps by their having been spoken (too soon), impeded the pursuit of the work. If I say, then, that the book was written
despite myself, it is because over the course of the following two years of public talks, I continued, unwittingly, the task of this thinking, under the guise of work on Claude Cahun, or Ingeborg Bachmann, say. And it was only subsequently, once I’d exhausted the effort of
attempting to write, that I realised the writing had been done. And from there, much worse than the inability to write, was the agonising labour of montage—of building the text of the book from texts written (I had thought) to other ends. This is at the antipodes of the way in which I usually work, and it all seemed terribly fraudulent, to write, in a sense, beside oneself.
The English is simply the furtherance of that lost memory, and is inscribed in displaced titles, for example—Le cri du chrysanthème, the title of the French work, becomes a chapter title in English,
The Cry of the Chrysanthemum; Pasolini’s Our is a recasting of the French
Leur de Pasolini, a similar construction but one in which the pronominal emphasis is outward—leur=their, and is a homonym of l’heure, the hour. Perhaps one of the more disappointing transitions, for me, is from the title
Devers la mer to the English Days of Broken Lead, in which the English is incapable, in my rendering, of replicating the polysemic unfoldings of the French:
Devers la mer, in which devers translates as “in the presence of”, “before [someone]”, and the even more rare “in the possession of”, might be proffered as
before the sea, but the word “devers” sounds like “de verre”—of glass—preparing for the correspondences in the text between the sea, the stained glass, and the tombstone of the Italian
lastra in a line from one of Pasolini’s short stories.
JJN: I'd like you to comment a little on recurring images/motifs in Pasolini's Our such as rain/water, wings/birds, voices/silence, borders/walls, moving and still images, moving/dead bodies, language, war/politics…
N: Perhaps I can speak a bit about le doublage—il doppiaggio, as this term may be somehow imbricated in all of the pairs you name. Recourse to the Italian is because of Pasolini, of course, and more generally, the Italian cinema, which made extensive use of dubbing, in part for practical reasons but also as part of a national(ist) project initiated by Mussolini at the founding of Cinecittà. What French and Italian encompass in a single word, English splits along the distinction between dubbing and
doubling. This poses an initial problem for the English text, but even this act of doubling presents itself as a further piece of evidence in the criminal investigation undertaken in the work. It is Pasolini who raises the question of dubbing in
Empirismo Eretico, specifically in connection with Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu
Monogatari. And it is in the gap between languages, accents, voices, reels (lost or recovered) that the thinking is able to deploy itself. The singular (wall, for example) reveals itself to be multiple in its layering of murderous reinforcements; and this effort is redoubled in the language of the Austrian philosopher who insists on the plural limits of (my) language which reinforce the limits of (my) world, which articulate subjectivity’s fundamental exile (the subject is never
in the world). Without retracing the many consequences of this in the book, it may be helpful to read the first part of
Pasolini’s Our as a (coded) set of (historical, linguistic, cinematic, architectural, geological) circumstances that invite, or perhaps command, the thinking that follows. If considerable attention is given to stained glass, for example it is perhaps because it shares characteristics with the rain, conjuring in turn the edge of beach upon which a mutilated body may be found; if the eggs of the albatross become a barometer of human destructiveness, it is in its relationship to their pillage for photographic development; if the erasure of Orson Welles’s voice in
La ricotta provides an opportunity to think further about the consequences of dubbing, it also opens a space to think further about the work of a filmmaker whose project, like Pasolini’s, was anti-fascist. What becomes evident, in the account of these layerings, disappearances, assaults, effectively, on living, breathing worlds, is that the translations they reveal are each complicit in a crime that may be able to be named, but that may never be solved, or repaired. Temporally, the pairings you name, and others in the text, are themselves dislocations, breaches, and they are no more able to be aligned than can the body of the poet with a translation concurrent with his assassination.
JJN: There are references in Pasolini's Our to a great many other filmmakers, artists and thinkers (because I live in Japan I was particularly interested in the Japanese you mention: e.g., Shindo Kaneto, Kawabata Yasunari, Mizoguchi Kenji, Oshima Nagisa). Could you select a few of these and talk about their influence on the writing of your book?
N: Mizoguchi became important for this work through the importance granted by Pasolini to
Ugetsu, and his commentary on the gaping resulting from the dubbing. He writes specifically of the distance between the thunder and the lightning. The narratives of the writing of the screenplay for the film indicate the way to Ueda Akinari, Konparu Zenchiku, and Saigyō, and it is a misremembrance of Mizoguchi’s that invites the chrysanthemum into the (sub)text of the film (and the book).
Oshima’s work on capital punishment (Kōshikei) as well as his considerations on colour (in reference to another of his film’s) bear out a critique of fascism made explicit in
Death by Hanging, in which the petty functionaries cast as would-be rapists and
murderers themselves, are linked in the sound track to the Third Reich, as they
twice murder, in the name of the state, R., the Korean killer of the film (and of the contemporary news chronicles), articulating an anti-nationalist position from the perspective of a person (R.) who is not recognised as a full citizen but is fully punishable under Japanese law. Finally, Kuki Shūzō, who provides the impetus for a discussion of the distinction between (conjunction of) the
actual and the real through his poetic use of the term genjitsu, was a particularly compelling figure to me in relation to his near absolute erasure from accounts of occidental philosophy. In the late 1920’s he gave a talk at Pontigny on “the notion of time in the Orient,” arriving at the conclusion that from a Buddhist perspective (which he is careful to note that he does not share) Sisyphus, through the repetitive action of pushing the stone up the same incline, should be thought of as happy. There is almost no mention of the importance of this thinking for Albert Camus’s
Le mythe de Sisyphe, which concludes with nearly that exact phraseology, though several commentators make marginal, if often dismissive, acknowledgement of it, and certainly not engaging the eventual question of theft. Albert Camus, in a letter declining an invitation to Japan, expresses his proximity to eastern thought, though in his work, and in
Le mythe de Sisyphe in particular, this acknowledgement is never made explicit even as other correspondences are named—Dostoïevski and Nietzsche, for example. One could cite a much more grave treatment of Kuki Shūzō by Heidegger in his
Dialogue on Language Between a Japanese and an Inquirer. But this enumeration gives the impression of being terribly calculated, when all of the correspondences in
Pasolini’s Our arise much more unexpectedly, and intuitively, in the writing of the work—chance encounters of a kind that at the outset I could not have anticipated.
JJN: Pasolini's Our is quite international in scope in terms of its references. Why was that important?
N: I had not thought of it in those terms—it is an interesting formulation. Certainly, the work was intended to be polylingual, with the principal language of the work (whether French or English) destabilised by incursions from other languages—for the most part German or Italian. Since the work turns on translation’s double, which is itself several times removed, it could not abide a monolingual pretense, anymore than it could settle in a single set of (cultural) contexts (recognising, of course, the limitations that I bring to the work). The betrayal of limits, the transgression of certain frontiers, was necessary to the work—and this in many senses respects and follows directions laid out in Pasolini’s own perambulations. The associations of a language with a national identity are untenable, and most, if not all, of the figures convoked to the writing of
Pasolini’s Our, enact, in their own lives, the refusal of a certain kind of spacio-temporal concordance. That they are often held, by scholarly narratives, to fixed identities, furthers a lie of antecedence, coddling nationalist, identitarian agendas. It is against these forms of dictatorship, as well, that
Pasolini’s Our articulates itself, recognising that languages are littorals, unassignable as much as they are implacably complicit in the crimes committed at their vertiginous outskirts. The migratory patterns of birds, who are very present in the work, belie the usual geographical outlines, and the oceans, unfathomable even with the unscrupulous instruments wielded by humans hold the cinema to its fires. What motivates this work, at its outset, is the permanent threat of extinction, by causes that may be natural or contrived by humans, beginning with the rain.
JJN: I have two final questions. One is how do you view Pasolini's Our in relation to your other published works and the other is what are you doing currently or next?
N: Pasolini’s Our is perhaps of disproportionate importance to me in the context of my work; perhaps, superficially, because of the effort it required of me; but more consequently, there is a convergence (but not an outcome) in these pages of years of thinking, since at least Sotto l’immagine and
Asclepias: the milkweeds. I cannot account for outward impressions, and these are in many ways irrelevant, but the scope of this work exceeds anything I had done before; it also demanded an intricacy, precisely along some of the lines you mention in your questions—the exfoliation of various (historical, ontological) strains, the attention given to concurrent, and not always immediately legible, implications (dictatorship, extinction), the disastrous displacement of land masses, and interment of narratives, and the very real (ethical) problem of their exhumation: the public square confronted with its secret. These questions continue to provide torment (they are far from exhaustible), but in
Pasolini’s Our, something of a precipice of sorts was arrived at. What is not clear to me is where I am in relation to it—perhaps both at its perilous edge, and under the threat of its landslide.
As for my current work, in English, next year I will publish a collection of talks under the title
Hatred of Translation, and which, in among other texts addressing the work of Hervé Guibert, Claude Cahun, Ingeborg Bachmann, and others, are a series of talks on Kobayashi Masaki’s
Kabe atsuki heya (The Thick-Walled Room) and Marguerite Duras’s Son nom de Venise à Calcutta désert. This work follows perhaps most closely on the heels of
My current translation efforts are focussed on Frédérique Guétat-Liviani’s espèce.
In French, I have just published several books.
What presents itself then is a period of much consternation, questioning, and quiet.
© Nathanaël & Jane Joritz-Nakagawa