In the wider design of the plot – a movement continuing and never let down, as a theme developed in pricksong – there is the terror of Charlie’s face being brushed by a mechanical wiper, and later the cumulative terror of Charlie lovingly wiping the face of a machinist caught in a machine. The spectator may refuse to be convinced that the director’s intention was terror, but by the time that shot in the film is reached laughter is somehow involved in the lachrimal. (Prepositions+: The Collected Critical Essays 61)
That same passage, rendered into French by Benoît Turquety in “Les Temps Modernes” in the latest issue of the poet Jean Daive’s magazine fin:
Dans les dessin plus large de l’intrigue – un mouvement se continuant et jamais abandonné, comme un thème développé en contrepoint – il y a terreur du visage de Charlot en train de se faire brosser par un essuie-bouche mécanique, et plus tard la terreur cumulative de Charlot essuyant affectueusement le visage d’un ouvrier pris dans une machine. Le spectateur peut refuser de se laisser convaincre que l’intention du réalisateur était la terreur, mais au moment du film où ce plan est atteint, le rire se trouve d’une certaine manière mêlé au lacrymal.
Turquety’s translation is the first time, so far as I know, that the essay “Modern Times” has appeared in French. But it’s certainly not Zukofsky’s first appearance in print in France. Back in juillet 2003, fin’s 13th issue was an LZ special, including an interview with Paul Zukofsky (conducted in French, but full of dandy anecdotes for those who parle the tongue), a reproduction of Celia Z’s little compilation of her husband’s poems “1939-1978,” and Jacques Roubaud’s version of LZ’s “Poème commençant ‘La.’” (For those interested in these documents, fin’s address is Gallerie Pierre Brullé, 25 rue de Tournon, 75006 Paris.) Serge Gavronsky and François Dominique have been beavering away at a translation of the complete “A” for over ten years now; at last count, they’ve filled three volumes and gotten through “A”-12. (Try amazon.fr or alapage.com.)
I think a good-sized essay could be written – perhaps has been written – about LZ’s influence on a generation of French poets that includes Roubaud, Daive, Claude Royet-Journoud, and the wonderful minimalist Anne-Marie Albiach. Albiach translated the first half of “A”-9 in 1969 (it was published in the journal Siècle a Mains in 1970), and during that translation LZ wrote her a wonderfully characteristic letter: his French was not idiomatic enough to allow him to make specific suggestions, he said (and then went on to list an entire page of possible emendations); any word she could cut would be good; and if she could make her French sound like LZ’s English (as LZ’s Catullus sounded like Catullus’s Latin) that would be very cool indeed.
My sense – though only a very vague one – is that LZ’s work has had a deep impact on a certain, probably very circumscribed, group of French poets: perhaps “priming” them for their reception of the language poets a few years later. And – since my first “Transatlantic Zukofsky” post could be read as somehow slighting the English – one shouldn’t pass over the fact that Albiach’s and Royet-Journoud’s reception of LZ seems to have been mediated in part by a Briton, the poet and jazz violin enthusiast Anthony Barnett.
[That first “Transatlantic Zukofsky,” which dealt rather roughly with a poem by Matthew Caley, procured me possibly the most stinging e-mail I’ve gotten in ages, from Mr Caley himself. If you’re reading, MC, maybe we should try and be friends; I still don’t like “L. Z.,” but I’m rather interested in your other projects. Want to swap books?]