4 X 1 is as puzzling as it is compelling. Notededitor and translator Pierre Joris brings together four seeminglydisparate authors, Rainer Maria Rilke, Tristan Tzara, Jean-PierreDuprey and Habib Tengour, forming a book of poems, prose-poems,semi-autobiographical prose, and poetic narratives. It is not ananthology, it is not a collected translations, it has roots in noparticular literary movement or idea. The only obvious binding factoris presented in the title: that these four works share a singletranslator.
The out-of-the-ordinary seems to be the overridingtheme. Even readers familiar with the two well-known authors, Rilkeand Tzara, will not find what they expect. Rilke, perhaps Europe’smost famous modernist poet, noted for his Elegies and his posthumouslypublished Letters to a Young Poet, is here represented by along prose work, "Testament." Tzara, one of the core founders ofDadaism, who wrote the first Dada texts along with the famed SevenDada Manifestos, is shown through the lens of his completeethnopoetic work, poems that resonate with the sounds of Africa,Australia and the Pacific.
Duprey and Tengour are virtualunknowns to readers in English. Duprey, a late French Surrealist,gained repute early in his short life for his dark, foreboding imageryand recognition by such luminaries as André Breton, who wrote, "Youcertainly are a great poet, doubled by someone who intrigues me. Yourlight is extraordinary." Duprey’s prose-poems in 4 X 1 aredreamscapes of intricate language, filled with fantastic creatures ofshadowy nightmares. Tengour, the only of the four still alive, hasemerged over the years as one of Algeria’s most forceful and visionaryfrancophone poetic voices of the post-colonial era. The selection hereis a re-imagination "through contemporary Maghrebian characters intheir Occidental exile in Paris the story of that most famous Arabtriumvirate of Omar Khayyam, Hassan as-Sabbah and Nizamal-Mulk."
However, as the book proceeds from Tzara to Rilketo Duprey to Tengour, the works cast a strange light on the authors'respective literary movements. These works, which have never beforebeen translated into English, subtly alter our understanding ofDadaism, Modernism, Surrealism and Postmodernism. And even morestrangely, when the book is taken as a whole, common themes emerge anddemand to be recognized.
Each work is full of estrangement,dehiscence, mental and physical expulsion; each breaks with psychicand national boundaries, exploding and spilling into the others. Rilkebecomes Dadaist, Tzara almost Postmodern, and Duprey’s surrealismslides into Tengour’s Arabian consciousness. Through mutual exile anddisplacement, the book takes us on a geographic and spiritualexcursion through the extraordinary. As Joris remarks in hisintroduction, fitting the four authors together "was like tracing aweirdly exemplary, if abbreviated, poetic map of the 20th century. . . a psycho-topography that leads from matters involving late 19th century colonialism all the way through the long and torturous 20th century to leave us exactly there where we have to imagine a new cultural constellation."
4 X 1 invites the reader to discover a different sort of book, a collection of different writings in known and unknown spaces, that cannot help but move the reader toward an image of the twentieth century organized without boundaries.
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Customer Reviews (5)
Pierre Joris in his book, 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour has compiled four seemingly unconnected authors into a surrealistic joy-ride of sorts. Though the motley assembly of these authors can seem haphazard there is a real destination to this book: some sort of connection between the four authors. Joris fleshes out this connection with his translations and succinct notes following each chapter. The connection via strangeness, in 4x1, pushes toward a better understanding of these poets; an understanding that would be hard to obtain examining each author individually.
Four poets, one translator
In 4 x 1, Pierre Joris translates lesser known works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke,Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour, four twentieth century poets out of Europe and North Africa. Together, this collection leads us on an intimate, evocative journey through four major poetic and literary trends (Dadaism, Modernism, Surrealism, and Postmodernism) of the previous hundred years. One book, four poets.Four poets, one translator. Joris is an expert guide. Here are four passages, not at all representative of major themes or styles, but simply four among many passages that lured me through the text, like stars in a distant night sky.
From Tzara's Dadaist ethnopoetic output, his Poemes Negres, this excerpt of a Maori song from New Zealand:"sing a song/shove/ an oar in the water/ deeply/ a long stroke/ ai ai/ a pull on the oar/ an old man stands out by the pull on his oar/ further/ bend/ cape/ out to sea/ out to sea"
From Rilke's 1921 Testament (unpublished until 1976):"And suddenly I wished, wished, o wished with all the ardor my heart had ever been capable of, wished to be, not one of the two apples - in the painting -, not of these painted apples on the painted window sill - even that seemed too much of a fate . . . No: to become the soft, the small, unseeming shadow of one of these apples - that was the wish into which the whole of my being gathered itself."
From Jean Pierre Duprey's 1959 The End and the Manner:"The Moon of Salt:1.During the night, during that night white as teeth, there was no more shadow upon which to hang one's skin, no more lateness into which to drain time, and the heart had used up its beats.. . .We were saying: / "She is long, long like nobody . .. / -- It's the road changed by the winds./ --A floating eyelid? /-- A beautiful time, indeed, this time of sliding sceneries in one's life!"
From Habib Tengour's 1983 The Old Man of the Mountain: "The café of youth, which opened at the Call, was furnished with a long rickety bench set against the wall.In his tiny shop, between the mosque and the café, the Tunisian was enthroned in front of his dough in the ochre of a petrol lamp. A light fog chased the nocturnal blue thus re-establishing the appearance of the empty square.
Omar bought fritters and paid for two rounds of tea.They were alone.
. . . Then they separated."
Joris's introduction, in which at one point he riffs on the styles of each poet, and his notes on the texts are all excellent.
English Translations of Amaxing Writing
A remarkable group of translated writings comprises 4x1, meaning four poets, one translator.Poet and educator Pierre Joris translates works by old and new writers: Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour.The opening question is why this quartet of writers?Joris answers with the following reasons: he has chosen writers he considers his favorites, the works share a surrealist leaning, and, although he doesn't state it explicitly, the works must have been great fun to translate.They provide a recipe for success.
Opening the book are the Poèmes Nègres by Dada poet Tristan Tzara. These are the total output of Tzara's ethnopoetic works.They are sharp, surprising poems based upon tribal and oral tales from non-European cultures that Tzara assembled and composed from a variety of scholarly sources.The poems are astonishingly strange in that they are built upon a repetition and musicality quite different than what common today. The suite shares a pedestal in this regard perhaps only with the poems in Stephen Watson's Song of the Broke String (1991) in which he draws upon traditional /Xam stories. I would acquire 4x1 for the Poèmes Nègres alone.
Other excepted works include Rilke's diaristic The Testament and Duprey's The End and The Manner in which we find the brilliant lament, "I, for one, should never have gotten my feet caught in this galaxy!" The book wraps up with the first few chapters of Tengour's The Old Man of the Mountain. The story develops slowly as attentive description knocks against capricious musings.Representation becomes ethereal much like the scent of wood smoke tracing through a campground -- it's definitely there but impossible to physically grab.
When once I delved into Rilke, I spent a good deal of time flipping pages to compare the German with differing English translations. Through this process I could better understand the translators and their choices.For this reason I wish the book had also included original language texts. But we are forced to trust the decisions of Joris, who states at one point that he, "stayed on the whole as close to the main versions as possible, even if at times this means a certain loss in elegance or clarity."I appreciate this far more than translators who lose the original in wild poetic conceits.I'm about to head into unbridled praise but first must warn casual readers, a couple of sentences in the introduction are burdensome literary jargon.Don't be scared off, they are a tiny anomaly.4x1 is the rarest of treats, available, quite luckily, for instructors, students, and everyone whose world demands great poetry and contemporary fiction.Rhymingly put, four times one is four times the fun. -- Christopher Willard is also a reviewer for BookPleasures.
A Cross-Cultural Education
"4 X 1" gathers together four previously published translations by the distinguished poet Pierre Joris. It will prove a happy surprise for anyone attuned to 20th century poetics, art, and sociology. (Odd that we can now begin to think of the 20th century as a bygone era. Of Joris's subjects, Rilke and Tzara began it; Duprey was mid-century; Tengour, born in 1947, is still very much active.)
For those with an interest in Rilke, this book is self-recommending, containing as it does the first-ever English translation of his "Testament," which had remained unpublished until 1976. Beyond that, the little known corners of Dadaism, Surrealism, and Arab poetry that Joris explores are fascinating, and he helpfully ties all this together in his postludes, which are erudite and to the point. Graced with evocative artwork by Nicole Peyrafitte, "4 X 1" is handsomely presented by Inconundrum Press.
Tristan Tzara, best known as a Surrealist poet, devoted a deal of effort to creating "ethnopoetry," translations into French (and sometimes German) of what he termed Negro poetry. In reality, his source material (supplied by the researches of archeologists and ethnographers) was far-flung, coming from various parts of Africa, Mozambique, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. Tzara's pithy introduction to this work concludes with a perfect summation of its effect: "Poetry lives first of all for the functions of dance, religion, music and work." Every now and then a stunning line of English poetry emerges from Joris's thrice removed translations.
According to Joris's lively notes, Tzara's ethnopoems sometimes received Dadaist presentations at Zurich's Cafe Voltaire, with Hugo Ball accompanying them on drums(!). We who have experienced an intervening century of Jazz, world music and dance, and hip-hop must surely smile at this picture.
All who care for Rilke will need to read "Testament," a collection of prose fragments, journal entries, letters, and poetry which chronicles the crucial years of upheaval and rootlessness arising from the chaos of WW 1. Through the use of third person narrative, a calm objectivity pervades some of the longer prose sections. A hidden river here (revealed by Joris in his notes) is Rilke's love affair with Baladine Klossowska, self-abnegating on her part as she provided him a desperately needed refuge and space to write. Thanks to her he was able to finish the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus.
Jean-Pierre Duprey is certainly not a household name to those unfamiliar with the second tier cadre of Surrealists, but he bears investigation. His poetry and prose poems translated here are hallucinatory and febrile; snapshots of a mad world that reminded me a bit of both Maldoror and Michaux. Duprey - writer, artist, and sculptor - was, according to Joris's welcome biographical note, a tormented man who saw bitter truths. Brutalized by what we tend to call "the system," he eventually hanged himself.
The fourth member of Joris's quartet is Habib Tengour, a Maghrebian born in Algeria in 1947. Did you know what a Maghrebian is (and that Derrida was one, too), or that there is such a thing as "Maghrebian Surrealism"? Pierre Joris will open a new vista for you here, timely and apposite for our exploding world.
In the US, the less adventurous (meaning most) among us have had limited exposure to Arab and other Middle Eastern poetry and prose. Thankfully, that is starting to change as voices from Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran are increasingly heard. It is perhaps salutary to encounter a writer from a different post-colonial area whose work, though it undoubtedly has a political foundation, focuses in these selections on the felt life, visceral and sensual experiences and dreams. Reading Tengour, and relating him to Western writers, I was reminded of the verbal roller coaster rides of Burroughs, set in the bazaar or taking "...a brown taxi to Qom...the bus to Baghdad." And those who relish Paul Bowles might here savor the other side of the mirror.
Altogether, I found Pierre Joris's collection to be a stimulating course in cross-cultural poetics, handily bound between covers. For me, it has led to an ever-widening circle of discoveries.
I thought this book extraordinary! It takes you to another relm -- above the mundane and floats you gently. I can't wait to read it again and again.
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