Writers Passing Through Krakow: Zadie Smith and Gabriela Adamesteanu as Seen by Alina Alens

Today, on what is deemed to be the international Day of Poetry, I happened to have a meeting with one of my students, Mariusz Walczak, who translated to me from Polish an interview with Zadie Smith  taken after the Czeslaw Milosz Literature Festival, and published in the first issue of the book magazine “Ksiazki” in July, last year.

Zadie Smith and Alina Alens (Photo by Tomasz Wiech)

While discussing the questions, answers and several inevitable translation issues as we went through the interview, I was brought back to the meeting with Romanian writer Gabriela Adamesteanu in Krakow 7 days ago, on the occasion of the release of her novel, “Dimineata pierduta”, in Polish translation “Stracony Poranek”, albeit across three languages – Polish, English, and Romanian -, a linguistic reality I am by now familiar with, by force of circumstance. 

Both authors happened to be, in 2011 and last week, at their second visit to the city of Krakow. As a temporary city resident since late 2006, I was fortunate to meet them both, exchange a few words, and offer each of them a copy of my book of poems “The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love”.

To paraphrase Zadie Smith – via Mariusz’s translation that I am grateful for :), Thank you, Mariusz!, we live in a world that favours non-fiction/ the things that actually happen(ed), over fiction/ the things that occur(ed) in an author’s imagination, a world in which people have lost their patience for being guided into fictional worlds of sorts – all except, maybe, some educated elites within the contemporary reading public. Is it a stretch of the imagination to say that living in one’s head as a self-exploring writer nowadays is more than a risky business, verging on a kind of self-imposed social isolation?

Asked what type of literature she prefers to write, Zadie Smith gives a two-fold answer, saying that she writes articles, essays and reviews  requested by various publications for practical reasons and with  immediate results, whereas writing a novel is a much more unpredictable endeavour. That is because while writing a novel a writer can dive in and disappear for what can sometimes end up to be years. Gabriela Adamesteanu is, in her turn, well-known for her non-fictional review and article writing in the Romanian cultural press. When asked if her non-fiction writing sometimes blends into her fiction, she asserted that, even though the research for certain articles could work to the advantage of something she writes, the fictional worlds stand alone, uniquely anchored in the imagination, no palpable reality strings attached.

 The greater part of the interview with Zadie Smith, as well as the greater part of the meeting with Gabriela Adamesteanu, rested in a talk on different aspects and qualities of literary speech, in other words, on the mechanics of the dialogue that the literary characters engage in. According to Zadie Smith, there are three categories of writers when it comes to the art of dialogue, which she does not see as an outdated strategy for building characters: there are writers like J. D. Salinger, who write sparkling, natural dialogues with ease and perfect intuition, writers whose characters tend to sound like themselves (in terms of humour, tone, concepts, phrasing and the like), which lends them a certain artificial quality, like the School of Saul Bellow, and writers like John Updike, for whom dialogue is nothing complicated, and who tend to always preserve and observe a certain thesis behind their characters’  speech. Each category of characters created by these three types of writers is different, some being kept willingly diverse, others remaining homogenous. In the case of Gabriela Adamesteanu, the characters of her novel released  in Polish translation last week refuse to remain homogenous, and their language, the main topic of that and many other literary meetings, we were told, spanned the Romanian social hierarchy from its very  top to its very bottom, in a manner that has made it such a daring challenge for any translator, and so true to the reality of the Romania of the inter- and post-war period, that the author herself confessed that when she thought of her book being one day translated into another language, that possibility was as far from reality (as she saw it) as astronomically possible.

In writing the text of the five scenes of the play “Born A Foreigner” for the Talking About Borders international drama competition, over  two weeks before  December 21st, 2011 – coincidentally a year before the Mayans predicted end of the world, I myself  was confronted with the challenge of creating strong, independent characters with voices of their own, while prserving the intended meaning of their sentences. The most challenging character voice in the play was Wido’s, as he is a character whose English, the original language the play was written and meant to be acted in, is not very good, so that the risks involved in illustrating his linguistic limitations proved very high. “Is the character’s language that bad, or does this author have no clue about how to write?” became the question. As “Born a Foreigner” was written as a play, I decided to use correct language and, instead of  inserting pauses and mistakes, I (subsequently) added introductory notes in which I advise the actor playing Wido to improvise and reduce the language of the character as he sees fit:

 ACTORS’ NOTES: The language used by Wido, Alta, and Nomura in order to communicate is not their mother tongue. The original language of the play is English, which Alta and Nomura have a good knowledge of. Wido’s knowledge of this language (or the language the play is translated in), on the other hand, is more limited than the other two characters’. Therefore, the actor playing Wido’s part has to make use of pauses, hesitations, or mistakes and insert involuntary linguistic inaccuracies while communicating. The texts of the two scenes of Act 1 include the lines that Wido would have used if he had spoken English (or the language the play is translated in) well. Each of Wido’s lines is subject to alteration. As a result, Alta and Nomura’s lines may also undergo changes. Wido’s linguistic difficulties remain consistent throughout the play, throughout Act 1 and Act 4, respectively. In spite of language mistakes, the general impression conveyed by the two scenes of Act 1 is one of apparently successful communication.

Clever trick? Lazy writer who makes life hard for the actor who happens to play Wido and the director who happens to direct the play? May the audience decide. I am ready for any outcome, as I assume each of the writers passing through Krakow might be, should they decide to have their words performed on stage. When Gabriela Adamesteanu’s “Wasted Morning” was put on stage in 1987 by Catalina Buzoianu, it  became a cultural centre of interest at a time when the Ceaușescu regime had entered its more repressive phase. I promise to be back with impressions from the first performance of “Born A foreigner”, in Poland or elsewhere there are still skin colour lessons to be learnt. For now, I am just passing through, from winter into spring, from circles of silence into other circles of silence, in this border-line fictional world of the blogosphere.

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3 responses

  1. Have a beautiful spring! 🙂

    March 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

    • Danke schon, Ale!

      Numai bine si voua, sa cresteti mari si fericiti primavara asta!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

  2. Marlin Moisan

    Awesome Blog

    March 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm

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