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August 2010

 
Contributors
 

María Teresa Andruetto
William Bedford
Richard Berengarten
Jorge Luis Borges
Sampurna Chattarji
Rubén Dario
Rosalía de Castro
Siobhan Harvey
Carla Guelfenbein
Marion Jones
Andrea Labinger
Suzanne Jill Levine
Hernán Neira
Paschalis Nikolaou
Nicolás Poblete
Wena Poon
Richard Reeve
Polly Samson
Maree Scarlett
Ana María Shua
Katri Skala
Elizabeth Smither
Sridala Swami
Nasos Vayenas
Mauricio Wacquez
Peter Wells
Alison Wong

Issue 12 Guest Artist:
Catalina Chervin

President: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

 
Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. The Cloisters by Jorge Luis Borges, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine  

 

I spent my childhood in and around the Cloisters--at the summit of ample Fort Tryon Park, my playground in the 1950s--so imagine my pleasant surprise to discover this late poem of Jorge Luis Borges. It was translated by W. S. Merwin (recently chosen U.S. poet laureate as of 2010) for The Selected Poems (Penguin, 1999) but I didn’t see this translation until after I had worked through a version of my own. I incorporated some of Bill Merwin’s 'touches' and was pleased to see a few of my trouvaille were the same as his, such as "touch of vertigo"—but ultimately I left some of my own diverging choices, such as “hollow” for concave.

Borges must have visited the Cloisters on one of his several trips to New York in the 1970s, when he would often stay at the house of his then publisher Jack MacRae III, in the West Village. The poet was totally blind by then, but this did not keep him from traveling. On the contrary, as he was now world-famous and would receive constant invitations, travel was a pleasant way for him to escape the solitude of blindness. It was also a guarantee of companionship, which in the 1970s meant, aside from all the people he would meet, his fellow traveler and caretaker Maria Kodama, who would eventually become his wife.

In his blindness, Borges was paradoxically a very observant traveler who would take in essential qualities of whatever monument or city he was visiting, making use of the other senses, as well as whatever he knew or was told about the place and its history. When he came to Yale University in the early 1970s—his host was his friend and biographer Emir Rodriguez Monegal—I had the occasion to observe Borges as world traveler. We were all having lunch at a professor’s house in New Haven, and it had recently snowed. Borges asked to go outside in the snow. I offered to accompany him: the two of us stood in the bare white garden, and picked up snow with our hands, and made snowballs, and various comments; I remember my delight at seeing Borges’ almost childlike curiosity and joy when he felt the snow and held it in his hands.

Suzanne Jill Levine


The Cloisters

From a place in the kingdom of France
They brought the stained glass and the stones
to build on the island of Manhattan
these hollow Cloisters.
They are not apocryphal.
They are faithful monuments to a nostalgia.
An American voice tells us
to pay for what we want,
because this whole building is an invention
and the money as it leaves our hand
will become shekels or vanish like smoke.
This abbey strikes more terror
than the pyramid of Giza
or the labyrinth at Knossos,
because it too is a dream.
We hear the fountain’s murmur,
but that fountain’s in the Patio of the Orange Trees
or the epic of Der Asra.
We hear clear Latin voices
but those voices echoed in Aquitaine
when it was a stone’s throw from Islam.
We see in the tapestries
the resurrection and the death
of the white condemned unicorn,
because time in this place
does not obey an order.
The laurel trees I touch will flower
when Leif Ericsson sights the sands of America.
I feel a touch of vertigo.
I am not used to eternity.

 

From La Cifra (1981)