Ravished: An Interview with Chris Tysh


Chris Tysh recently contacted EIL to update us on one of her intertextual writing projects. I asked her a few questions, and this is what she said.

Kathleen Kirk (Poetry Editor, Escape Into Life): Back in 2009, when Escape Into Life was new, then poetry editor Mark Kerstetter published a segment from the first section of what you’ve called your “big book,” The Hotel des Archives. Can you tell us a little about the book project? And, specifically, part one, which interacts with Samuel Beckett.

Chris Tysh: Having recently completed a play in verse, Night Scales, a Fable for Klara K, which deals with memory and autobiography, as it dramatizes my mother’s life as a Holocaust survivor and exilic subject in post-war Paris, I sought to invest myself in a rather impersonal world. Hence my current zone of interest: translation.

However, I am not talking about a classical exercise of translating, say, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal into English, as Keith Waldrop recently has done, and sublimely I might add. Instead, I extend the concept of translation toward what we might call a transcreation, or a transcultural dialogue.

In Molloy, the Flip Side, I use the French language in which Samuel Beckett wrote his novel Molloy to guide me into finding a contemporary American vernacular through which the hapless narrator speaks. My three-line stanza formation compresses Beckett’s diegetic universe, sparse as it is, and allows me to link the two texts through the projection of a new, speaking subject — a funny, witty, old and disabled bum, going slowly nowhere.

KK: What is the second section of the book about?

Chris Tysh: In Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet’s 1943 disturbing elegy for social heterogeneity, I attempt to find a poetic equivalent with which to evoke Divine, Mignon-Dainty-Feet, and the young assassin, Our Lady, three saintly figures in a forbidden realm of the senses. The seven-line stanzas of my Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic are spacious enough to accommodate the narrative arc, while foregrounding their lyrical impact.

KK: The third section, Ravished, is an example of what you call a “transcreation.” Can you define that a little further and tell us what you’ve done with a Marguerite Duras novel, and why?

Chris Tysh: The third part of my project, Ravished, is devoted to the novel The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein by Marguerite Duras, the celebrated author of the Hiroshima Mon Amour screenplay and winner of the Goncourt Prize for her novel, The Lover. Having the greatest affinity with her fiction and style of writing, I am truly excited by the challenge of matching her intense prose to a poetic structure.

In this type of relational poetics, I try to maintain the narrative spaces and affects, while finding a new set of porous networks – lyrical trajectories that pass through various signposts of the text.

The result is a cross-cultural communication between continents, languages, and temporalities, which prolongs the life of the original like a standard translation does, but at the same time ushers in a gap and a movement away from the generating cell. In ghostly fashion, the new poem is haunted by its French progenitor, while allowing itself to cross over into a totally new temporality and formal structure. This kind of deterritorialized translation is undoubtedly embedded in postmodernity’s vexed stance toward the notion of what passes for originary and authentic. My migratory lyric echoes these contemporary currents of thought.

KK: So you’ve created contemporary speakers that continue to interact with the original texts, yes? Who is speaking here, in this excerpt from Ravished?:

Ravished*

And then suddenly
the white syllables

which compose her
new habit: to go out

without pretext or reason
vanish into the dust

Chris Tysh: In Ravished, we are dealing with the case of a most unreliable narrator, Jacques Hold, who narrates in 1st-person and at times switches to an impersonal POV. The oscillation only dramatizes the haunting and voyeuristic nature of desire in this text.

KK: Ah! Here’s a bit more from this “unreliable narrator”:

Given the utter penury
of facts I’d be better off

cracking open vaults
melting gold links

than deciphering the inconsistent
script Lola Stein’s life sketches

But like a hyphen between
knowing and unknowing

there and there
I continue my descent

with a fist of ifs
and maybes

The art you see here is by Eric Jacobson and can be found in the EIL Store.

*Source text: Marguerite Duras. Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1964.