Tuesday, 4 November 2014

41 they would still lie plainly visible

October 2014
142mm x 208mm
sewn booklet with wrappers
24 pages

In A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry (1996), editor Czeslaw Milosz included a short poem entitled The Day We Die, which he calls a song from the ‘Southern Bushmen’. The only credit given in the ‘Permissions’ section at the back of the book goes to Arthur Markowitz, who is named erroneously as the ‘translator’. All of which does its author and its real translator, without whom these words and thoughts would be entirely lost to us, a great injustice. For this is not an anonymous song. (To give an idea how inaccurate this is as a description, imagine taking the words from one small part of a chorus as it appears in one Greek tragedy from a known dramatist and calling it a ‘song of the southern European’.) We know who told it to whom, on what day and where. There are even photographs of the storyteller and his translator. The story of which ‘The Day we Die’ is but one part and which was given the title ‘The Relations of Wind, Moon and Cloud to Human Beings after Death’ by Lucy Lloyd was told by the !nussa !e Bushman Dia!kwain, in a |xam dialect which was transcribed by Lucy Lloyd on 5th August, 1875 in Cape Town. It appears on pages 5147-5158 in her notebook, Bushman (D.H.) Pp.5079-5168 1875 V.—15 one of the 131 of her notebooks, containing transcriptions of stories in |xam and !kun languages, which can be seen online at the remarkable Digital Bleek and Lloyd collection. This booklet gives a brief history of the text and how it has changed since 1875, and looks at how the abridged version that appears in the anthology distorts the original and continues the history of marginalisation and worse that has been the Bushmen's lot. It also attempts to restore Dia!kwain and Lucy Lloyd’s names to their rightful place as originators of the text. The title and the writing on the booklet’s wrapper is taken from the third page of Lloyd’s original transcription of the story.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

writers on cylinders: Franz Kafka

This fourth entry in the phonograph series features Franz Kafka. The original top label featured the artist Fred Heltmann, who has here became 'Fred Haltmann' - the perfect person to sing 'I Waited at the Gate (A Lament)', which sounds just about right for the writer of Before the Law. The 186 words of licensing legalese written on the top of the original label - from 'No license whatever is granted to anyone to use this patented record for making duplicates nor for any other purpose except the reproduction of sound upon an Edison phonograph by means of an Edison reproducer' to 'any violation hereof or of the license agreements of our licensees is an infringement of our patent rights for which every person concerned therein is liable' - are astonishing in that they take up fully half of the label but are still printed so small that they are illegible without magnification. With a nod towards the travails of Kafka's various characters trapped in impossible bureaucratic neverlands, I've changed the wording around to make it both slightly less comprehensible and slightly more nonsensical than it is already. I have however made it a little more legible. The original phonograph type was ' Edison Blue Amberol Record,' whose title I have changed to 'The New "Paterfamilias" Record' which seems fitting. Kafka had one or two problems with his father in his lifetime, but he is the daddy now.

fables 9 : Ash & Ish

The latest tale from the 'fables' series. In this particular case, first the full stops went, then the commas, then the apostrophes, then all other punctuation, until nothing was left but the bare comic tale of Ash, who one day just stops in the street. As passers-by turn him into a fetish figure, draping him with the adornments of their predilections, and the authorities decide what to do with him, worrying that he constitutes a fire hazard, Ish, Ash's inside other, is left harried and frantic, rushing around trying to kick-start his engine, but to no avail. A pretty pass, all told.

writers on cylinders: Hans Henny Jahnn

The second in the series of writers on altered phonograph cylinders commemorates the German writer and organ-builder Hans Henny Jahnn, especially his dark, fantastical 1962 novella, The Night of Lead. The cylinder is lead lined and contains a snuffed-out stub of candle, whose wax has seeped through the packaging. Hidden on the cylinder are the words, 'we walk the streets until our love turns bad'. As you might imagine, the 'sacred' on the top label - left on from the original - is ironic.