DAY 22 (Adrift)

January 18th, 2013 § 0 comments

The title reflects the fact that, typically, I asked a Christmas cracker riddle (when is a boat like a pile of snow?) in, I think, post 17 and failed to answer it. For those of you who are still at sea, the answer is ‘When it’s adrift’. Well may you feel let down.

To go on for the moment on orientation, specifically latitude – I was amazed from an early age – were you? – that in 1912, Amundsen and Scott had both managed to know so precisely when they were at the South Pole, even arriving, it seems, at the same answer. (‘Damn! It’s got a Norwegian flag on it.’) Like Pooh and Christopher Robin, I thought that in the featureless semiotic wastes of the Antarctic, the Pole should be distinguished by some element of the symbolic order, a phallic signifier which would give rise to an element of jouissance, for Amundsen if not for Scott.

I think we’ll have to postpone the Lacanian significance of the GPS till I’ve done some more scratching of the head, and consulted those of the psychoanalytic community who will still speak to me.

 

NEWS YOU WON’T SEE ON SKY (OR BBC EITHER)

And now, back to E1, and a village called Bab Al Shams (message from local rights organization Addameer)

Israeli Occupation Forces Raid the Village of Bab Al-Shams and Detain 130

 Ramallah, 13 January 2013 - At 1 am on 13 January 2013, Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) raided and arrested 130 people at the newly erected village of Bab Al-Shams.

 Merely 48 hours after Bab Al-Shams was erected, over five hundred IOF soldiers stormed the area, and arrested the entire village, brutally attacking the activists with batons and the butts of their guns and ransacking the campground.

Those arrested were then taken en masse to Qalandia checkpoint, where they were subsequently released. During the raid 20 people were injured, five of whom required hospitalization due to IOF attacks.

Bab Al Shams is a village built on the land of Za’yem, intended to create “Palestinian facts on the ground” as a response to the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, specifically those planned for the area known as E1. Over the last two days Palestinian and international activists had erected 20 steel-frame tents and had been camped out until the IOF raid.

E1 has immense strategic importance, as it represents 12,000 square meters of undeveloped Palestinian land. Israel’s planned illegal settlement construction in E1 will completely sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, as well as cutting the West Bank in two. There are currently over 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands.

Addameer condemns the arrest and detention of Palestinian activists and human rights defenders whom are exercising their right to resist occupation and colonization and calls on the international community to pressure Israel until all settlements which are built on Palestinian lands are removed, including East Jerusalem, and Israel ends its occupation.

 

It’s snowing like anything; and ‘Les Mis’ is a great success in the local cinema. A happy coincidence to celebrate with Victor Hugo’s great poem about hard times in the snow, Moscow 1812. With a text of such length, it’s too much work to get it into columns – sorry; but the translation is good (won a prize, evidently).

L’EXPIATION – I MOSCOW
Victor Hugo trans. Timothy Adés
Il neigeait. On était vaincu par sa conquête.
Pour la première fois l’aigle baissait la tête.
Sombres jours! l’empereur revenait lentement,
Laissant derrière lui brûler Moscou fumant.
Il neigeait. L’âpre hiver fondait en avalanche.
Après la plaine blanche une autre plaine blanche.
On ne connaissait plus les chefs ni le drapeau.
Hier la grande armée, et maintenant troupeau.
On ne distinguait plus les ailes ni le centre.
Il neigeait. Les blessés s’abritaient dans le ventre
Des chevaux morts; au seuil des bivouacs désolés
On voyait des clairons à leur poste gelés,
Restés debout, en selle et muets, blancs de givre,
Collant leur bouche en pierre aux trompettes de cuivre.
Boulets, mitraille, obus, mêlés aux flocons blancs,
Pleuvaient; les grenadiers, surpris d’être tremblants,
Marchaient pensifs, la glace à leur moustache grise.
Il neigeait, il neigeait toujours! La froide bise
Sifflait; sur le verglas, dans des lieux inconnus,
On n’avait pas de pain et l’on allait pieds nus.
Ce n’étaient plus des coeurs vivants, des gens de guerre,
C’était un rêve errant dans la brume, un mystère,
Une procession d’ombres sur le ciel noir.
La solitude, vaste, épouvantable à voir,
Partout apparaissait, muette vengeresse.
Le ciel faisait sans bruit avec la neige épaisse
Pour cette immense armée un immense linceul;
Et, chacun se sentant mourir, on était seul.
- Sortira-t-on jamais de ce funeste empire?
Deux ennemis! le czar, le nord. Le nord est pire.
On jetait les canons pour brûler les affûts.
Qui se couchait, mourait. Groupe morne et confus,
Ils fuyaient; le désert dévorait le cortège.
On pouvait, à des plis qui soulevaient la neige,
Voir que des régiments s’étaient endormis là.
ô chutes d’Annibal! lendemains d’Attila!
Fuyards, blessés, mourants, caissons, brancards, civières,
On s’écrasait aux ponts pour passer les rivières,
On s’endormait dix mille, on se réveillait cent.
Ney, que suivait naguère une armée, à présent
S’évadait, disputant sa montre à trois cosaques.
Toutes les nuits, qui-vive! alerte! assauts! attaques!
Ces fantômes prenaient leur fusil, et sur eux
Es voyaient se ruer, effrayants, ténébreux,
Avec des cris pareils aux voix des vautours chauves,
D’horribles escadrons, tourbillons d’hommes fauves,
Toute une armée ainsi dans la nuit se perdait.
L’empereur était là, debout, qui regardait
Il était comme un arbre en proie à la cognée.
Sur ce géant, grandeur jusqu’alors épargnée,
Le malheur, bûcheron sinistre, était monté
Et lui, chêne vivant, par la hache insulté,
Tressaillant sous le spectre aux lugubres revanches,
Il regardait tomber autour de lui ses branches.
Chefs, soldats, tous mouraient. Chacun avait son tour.
Tandis qu’environnant sa tente avec amour,
Voyant son ombre aller et venir sur la toile,
Ceux qui restaient, croyant toujours à son étoile,
Accusaient le destin de lèse-majesté,
Lui se sentit soudain dans l’âme épouvanté.
Stupéfait du désastre et ne sachant que croire,
L’empereur se tourna vers Dieu; l’homme de gloire
Trembla; Napoléon comprit qu’il expiait
Quelque chose peut-être, et, livide, inquiet,
Devant ses légions sur la neige semées:
- Est-ce le châtiment, dit-il, Dieu des armées? -
Alors il s’entendit appeler par son nom
Et quelqu’un qui parlait dans l’ombre lui dit: Non.

 

ENGLISH VERSION
Snow fell. By his own conquest overpowered,
For the first time the eagle’s head was lowered.
In slow retreat the emperor (dark days!)
Left in his wake charred Moscow still ablaze.
Snow fell. Harsh winter loosed her avalanche,
And white expanse led on to white expanse.
Rank went unrecognised, the colours blurred,
The once Grand Armv had become a herd.
The flanks and centre could not be descried.
Snow fell. The wounded huddled up inside
Dead horses’ bellies; buglers, white with frost,
Stiff in the saddle, frozen at their post,
Manned windswept bivouacs, erect, alone,
The brass clamped silent to their lips of stone.
Shells, bullets, grapeshot rained, with every flake.
Guardsmen, surprised to learn their limbs could shake,
Trudged, pensive; ice on grey moustaches bristled.
Snow fell unceasingly; the cold wind whistled;
Onward across uncharted wastes they trod,
Starving and barefoot on the frozen mud,
No longer living hearts, nor soldiery,
A dream that strayed in fog, a mystery,
A string of shadows on funereal sky.
The fearsome wasteland stretched out endlessly,
A mute avenging presence all around.
The sky and thick-massed snow without a sound
Made a great shroud round the great army lying;
Each was alone; each knew that he was dying.
Could they escape this vast and sombre power?
Two foes! the Czar, the north: the north, more dour.
Who lay down, died. Confused, dejected, solemn,
They fled: the barren waste devoured the column.
Gun-carriages were burned, the guns were ditched.
The snow all puckered over drapes rough-pitched
Marked where his regiments in slumber lay.
Hannibal routed! Attila’s reckoning-day!
Barrows, kegs, stretchers, fugitives, wounded, slain,
Crammed bridges till they trod dry ground again.
Ten thousand slept, a hundred woke next day.
Late leader of an army, Marshal Ney
fought for his pocket-watch with three Cossacks.
Each night brought skirmishes, alerts, attacks!
Each night these phantoms grasped their guns; they heard
Yelps of the bald marauding carrion-bird:
Saw hurtling at them monstrous looming forms,
Horrible squadrons, men in bestial swarms.
Thus a whole army perished in the night.
The emperor stood at hand, took in the sight;
He was a tree to which the axe was laid:
Upon this giant there climbed with deadly blade
Misfortune, the grim woodman; long intact
And proud the tree had stood; now, rudely hacked,
The living oak shook at the vengeful blast
Of doom, and saw his branches fall at last.
All ranks were dying. Remnants round his tent,
Loving him as his shadow came and went
Across the canvas, trusting in his star,
Charged fate with treason! Now the emperor,
Suddenly, deeply stricken by the rout,
His spirit overcome and full of doubt,
Turned towards God: the man of glory quailed:
Such was his due for having somehow failed:
His expiation. This he seemed to know;
Before his legions scattered on the snow,
Thus said Napoleon, pale and wondering:
‘O Lord of hosts, is this the chastening?’
He listened; and his name was called, and lo,
One in the shadow spoke, who told him: No!

Winner of first prize in the John Dryden Translation Competition 2003

Trans. copyright © Timothy Adés 2003

Finally, privileged with a great crowd to be in the heavy snow at Mary McIntosh‘s funeral, I heard that old standard, Paul Robeson’s ‘Joe Hill‘. You could do worse than play it at mine.

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