Daniel Albright – Evasions (The Cahiers Series)

I sat down and read Daniel Albright’s beautiful Evasions yesterday, which is part of the ever-excellent Cahiers Series. Everything from the Cahiers Series is about translation in some way, but they take this notion and let it stretch extremely far. And I love this, I’m so interested in how the idea of translation applies to people and how we use language (and other mediums) for translation, and not just in terms of translating physical texts. In this particular piece, Albright collects together the fragments of writing, thinking, poems, dreams—all the ways in which our interior emotional lives fulfill/translate themselves into writing— that accompanied him for about a three year period after his father passed away. He notes in the introduction that he was dealing with other issues at the same time, and there is a feeling of different types of emotional convergence in his writing.

Some of the pieces are a little inscrutable, but this doesn’t actually detract from the pleasure of reading them. They become a kind of puzzle – a way to look inside a mind and wonder how it is coming up with what it’s producing. I like poetic expression that challenges a bit, and often I don’t want to know the reasons behind a particular poem. If I can find meaning in it for myself, this is enough.

There is a moment when Albright addresses this idea – in a small section called “The Vanita of a Literary Critic.”

The critic can respect the integrity of a work of art, but can he respect its self-concealedness? On a few occasions, as a critic, I have felt, not only that I had solved the technical problem of the means by which a poet had achieved a certain striking effect, but also that I had made the effect itself publicly overt, that I had forced an aperture in the poem through which the most casual schoolchild could behold its beauty – a feeling of desecration, as if I had permanently damaged some part of the poem, injured the lid by which the poem kept some of its secrets half-hidden, lovelier for its shadow.

I absolutely love this idea that a critic can “injure the lid by which the poem kept some of its secrets half-hidden.” I like the fine line here – because I love criticism and what it reveals, but I think critics must also accept the damage or the danger inherent in wanting to get below the surface of a piece of a writing.

Some other moments I stopped and had to re-read, to really think about what Albright was saying:

From a section called “A Character”

Whose strength lies entirely in the purity of her self-knowledge, who does not mind being wretched, frigid, hysterically blind, ideological, devious, as long as her honesty with herself is unimpaired.

Or this one, from “Capillaries”

Watching films of the inside of the body: human life consists of only two states, the excited, which is a spurt and a subsiding, and the calm, which is a trembling.

There is so much more – it isn’t a structured essay at all, but more like a collage of thought and feeling. It creates a complex whole, something to read and read again. It does very much feel like a translation of felt experience – through one simple medium (word), even if the form of that word changes from moment to moment. I think this is very true to how we do try to “translate” ourselves creatively. What Evasions does is give one possibility of what that might look like.