The translator, critic and writer, Patti Marxsen has written a thoughtful and incredibly detailed review of Beauty on Earth in this month’s Asymptote. She situates him, rightly, amidst the other great modernists of the era and shows how his fractured narrative style was his way of addressing modernism’s destabilizations. Marxsen translated Ramuz’s Riversong of the Rhone last year, and it’s stunning, published by Onesuch Press in a bilingual edition. Onesuch is slowly curating a fantastic list of Ramuz’s work, with two more coming this spring (Jean-Luc’s Persecution, tr. Olivia Lola Baes; What if the Sun…, tr. Michelle Bailat-Jones). It’s a honor to be among a group of translators working to bring his unusual work to an English-speaking audience.
Here is a taste of what Marxsen writes:
Ramuz was not born into modernity. Only in the wake of the First World War did he begin to grasp the human dilemmas that would turn him into a writer of stature: the shock of separation, the yearning for peace, and the deep desire for unity in a world inhabited by dark and mysterious forces. Even if Ramuz’s novels of the 1920s and 1930s can be read as romans paysans (“peasant novels”), the shock of modernity rips through his postwar work like shrapnel. The world itself is fragmented and torn as each subject stands alone with his or her unique perspective. Or, as Deleuze has said in another context, “Each subject expresses the world from a different point of view. But the point of view asserts difference itself, absolute internal difference. Each subject therefore expresses a world that is absolutely different.” In other words, many worlds exist simultaneously, which implies that everyone, sooner or later, becomes an other. By the age of forty, Ramuz was hard at work creating tales of destabilization told from multiple vantage points.
You can read the entire review here.
I have mentioned before how much I love the international journal Cerise Press—consistently excellent content and a lovely design as well. But I’m extra delighted about their latest, the Spring 2013 issue, as it includes my translation of a 1906 short story by Ramuz. This particular story was originally published in the Journal de Genève in 1906, and as far as I can find was never anthologized elsewhere or re-published.
Ramuz is especially good at writing about old women, old maids in fact, and this story, aptly named “The Two Old Maids” is one that showcases that skill. The story is really only a very brief portrait—a single evening in the night of two older seamstress sisters living in a small town when they get a glimpse of a life that was denied to them.
My favorite part of the entire story is when Ramuz steps back and sets the scene – just before the women sit down at the window to look out into the garden (which is an action that will devastate them – this looking out – best not to look out):
And so the daylight departed slowly from the back of the room up to where they were sitting. The furniture entered into the shadow; it appeared to be drowning. The shadow began at the base and then rose like water, until eventually each piece was submerged.
Looking outside, the light was a surprise because it was still so bright yet already dark inside. The sky was yellow, then it became green. A gust of wind bent the branches on the trees.
A large garden extended in front of the ladies’ house. The garden belonged to Mr. Loup, the surveyor. The trees were all black too, making great masses in the sky. In between them, a bit of lighter colored grass stuck out. Then there was a movement in the air. Up above, the green had gone, turned to blue, darkened and a star began to shine at that moment, opened like an eye.
Oh, what softness was on everything! The evening lies down, lets itself go. A renunciation. And then noises come from further away, weaken and disappear. So good to breathe in this silence! Even if it makes lonely souls sad.
You can read the entire translation – and the rest of this excellent issue here. Enjoy!