Czech Lit in Progress

Translator Alex Zucker (alexjzucker.com) shares from his work in progress.

“Sometimes we don’t understand the ways of God’s providence.”
 “Wrong! We nearly never understand! Trying to reconcile Tertullian of Carthage with Origen the eunuch is filthy work, my friend.”
 “Credo quia absurdum, ‘I believe because it is absurd,’ was Tertullius, and Credo ut intelligam, ‘I believe so that I may understand,’ was Saint Anselm of Canterbury, not Origen,” Jiří replied.
 “Really? I can’t keep track anymore,” Antonín said. “Is that how it goes?” he asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. “And the son of God died; it is believable because it is foolish. And buried, he rose from the dead, it is certain because it is impossible?”
“Yes, it is certain because it is impossible: Credo quia absurdum.”

 “Literally, it actually means: I believe because it is absurd. That’s what I’m saying. I was stripped of faith by my God. Absurdly stripped of my absurd belief.”
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

“Sometimes we don’t understand the ways of God’s providence.”

“Wrong! We nearly never understand! Trying to reconcile Tertullian of Carthage with Origen the eunuch is filthy work, my friend.”

Credo quia absurdum, ‘I believe because it is absurd,’ was Tertullius, and Credo ut intelligam, ‘I believe so that I may understand,’ was Saint Anselm of Canterbury, not Origen,” Jiří replied.

“Really? I can’t keep track anymore,” Antonín said. “Is that how it goes?” he asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. “And the son of God died; it is believable because it is foolish. And buried, he rose from the dead, it is certain because it is impossible?”

“Yes, it is certain because it is impossible: Credo quia absurdum.”

“Literally, it actually means: I believe because it is absurd. That’s what I’m saying. I was stripped of faith by my God. Absurdly stripped of my absurd belief.”

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

Anyway, Mr. Verner told me that night in 1968 he was home alone and went to bed about ten o’clock but couldn’t get to sleep. He had a feeling there was somebody walking round the flat. So he woke up, put on the light, read something a while, then fell back asleep and the next thing he knew he had the feeling someone was shaking him politely. So he wakes up and sees a man standing over him in coveralls, shaking him and saying, “Sir, wake up and don’t be afraid.” And before it dawns on him, he hears the man, who’s a bit older, apologizing and pointing out the window. So Mr. Verner says, “What are you doing here, man?” and all of a sudden he hears tractors going down the street. A bunch of tractors at five in the morning, he says to himself, that can’t be. So he goes and looks out the window and sees a line of tanks driving down the street, and the windowpanes are rattling like crazy and everything’s shaking from all the noise. And the tanks are Russian and there are soldiers sitting on top of them in green uniforms holding machine guns. “What’s going on,” Mr. Verner says, “and what are you doing here, man?” And the man just keeps apologizing and says: “I’m a thief, Mr. Verner. I came to rob you and I’m really sorry I woke you up, but this is the third column of tanks now, so I decided I’d better wake you, since this looks like either war or the Russians are attacking us. I put back everything I took and left it on the table in the next room and I suggest you call your parents and your wife. I hope you aren’t angry, but you see I saw your lovely photographs of them, and I also saw you have a phone in the hall, so give them a call, because either way, whether it’s war or occupation … Well, anyway I’m off and once again I apologize, but I truly and honestly wasn’t expecting anything like this.” So Mr. Verner said he grabbed the man by the hand and said, “For Christ’s sake, man, don’t go anywhere. They might shoot you or something.” But the thief still wanted to go, since he was afraid Verner was going to call the police. But after the next column of tanks rolled by, they both realized the police weren’t working that morning anyway, and the thief took the liberty of asking if he could make a call. So he made the call and then when he came back into the living room he started crying and said, “My sister lives by the border with Poland and she says they’re up there too. We’re being attacked, Mr. Verner.” 
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

Anyway, Mr. Verner told me that night in 1968 he was home alone and went to bed about ten o’clock but couldn’t get to sleep. He had a feeling there was somebody walking round the flat. So he woke up, put on the light, read something a while, then fell back asleep and the next thing he knew he had the feeling someone was shaking him politely. So he wakes up and sees a man standing over him in coveralls, shaking him and saying, “Sir, wake up and don’t be afraid.” And before it dawns on him, he hears the man, who’s a bit older, apologizing and pointing out the window. So Mr. Verner says, “What are you doing here, man?” and all of a sudden he hears tractors going down the street. A bunch of tractors at five in the morning, he says to himself, that can’t be. So he goes and looks out the window and sees a line of tanks driving down the street, and the windowpanes are rattling like crazy and everything’s shaking from all the noise. And the tanks are Russian and there are soldiers sitting on top of them in green uniforms holding machine guns. “What’s going on,” Mr. Verner says, “and what are you doing here, man?” And the man just keeps apologizing and says: “I’m a thief, Mr. Verner. I came to rob you and I’m really sorry I woke you up, but this is the third column of tanks now, so I decided I’d better wake you, since this looks like either war or the Russians are attacking us. I put back everything I took and left it on the table in the next room and I suggest you call your parents and your wife. I hope you aren’t angry, but you see I saw your lovely photographs of them, and I also saw you have a phone in the hall, so give them a call, because either way, whether it’s war or occupation … Well, anyway I’m off and once again I apologize, but I truly and honestly wasn’t expecting anything like this.” So Mr. Verner said he grabbed the man by the hand and said, “For Christ’s sake, man, don’t go anywhere. They might shoot you or something.” But the thief still wanted to go, since he was afraid Verner was going to call the police. But after the next column of tanks rolled by, they both realized the police weren’t working that morning anyway, and the thief took the liberty of asking if he could make a call. So he made the call and then when he came back into the living room he started crying and said, “My sister lives by the border with Poland and she says they’re up there too. We’re being attacked, Mr. Verner.” 

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

 “Did you know there’s the skeleton of a whale in the National Museum on Wenceslas Square in Prague? I have no idea what a whale skeleton has to do with the Czech nation’s moral or intellectual values, but imagine you lived inside that skeleton. Every day you wake up and walk through the ornate halls filled with stuffed marmots, weasels and hedgehogs that have to be sprayed with naphthalene to keep them from getting moths. That’s what it’s like in that city. Dead and lifeless. Just a bunch of slicked-up carcasses for the tourists to sink their teeth into like hyenas tearing into dead meat. Just one great big putrefying tourist attraction. That’s it. The new bigwigs don’t give a second thought to the people that actually live there. They don’t even pretend to care about them anymore. Next thing you know they’ll be putting a glass roof over Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. It’s only a matter of time. Technically it’s no problem, you could anchor it anywhere, I could figure it out in three days. Then they’ll seal it off, make half of it for tourists and the other half into some goofy museum. If you lie down with a museum, you get up with a museum. What else do we expect? It’s not like we deserve any better.”
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

“Did you know there’s the skeleton of a whale in the National Museum on Wenceslas Square in Prague? I have no idea what a whale skeleton has to do with the Czech nation’s moral or intellectual values, but imagine you lived inside that skeleton. Every day you wake up and walk through the ornate halls filled with stuffed marmots, weasels and hedgehogs that have to be sprayed with naphthalene to keep them from getting moths. That’s what it’s like in that city. Dead and lifeless. Just a bunch of slicked-up carcasses for the tourists to sink their teeth into like hyenas tearing into dead meat. Just one great big putrefying tourist attraction. That’s it. The new bigwigs don’t give a second thought to the people that actually live there. They don’t even pretend to care about them anymore. Next thing you know they’ll be putting a glass roof over Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. It’s only a matter of time. Technically it’s no problem, you could anchor it anywhere, I could figure it out in three days. Then they’ll seal it off, make half of it for tourists and the other half into some goofy museum. If you lie down with a museum, you get up with a museum. What else do we expect? It’s not like we deserve any better.”

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

August 6, 2014 at 11:13pm
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Reblogged from uglyducklingpresse

uglyducklingpresse:

Alex Zucker passes the hat.

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It was the first time in more than a year her father and mother had seen each other, and her mother treated it like a military operation, preparing for weeks in advance. New clothes, new haircut, manicure, pedicure, new shoes but properly broken in, so they wouldn’t pinch her feet and make her unpleasant or nasty toward Josef. It only took her a whole week to choose a perfume, suitable both to her age and her objective. Friendly but not seductive. Friendly and therefore seductive, not like the rapid-acting scent of youth, but the relaxing scent of a late afternoon.
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

It was the first time in more than a year her father and mother had seen each other, and her mother treated it like a military operation, preparing for weeks in advance. New clothes, new haircut, manicure, pedicure, new shoes but properly broken in, so they wouldn’t pinch her feet and make her unpleasant or nasty toward Josef. It only took her a whole week to choose a perfume, suitable both to her age and her objective. Friendly but not seductive. Friendly and therefore seductive, not like the rapid-acting scent of youth, but the relaxing scent of a late afternoon.

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

     Jesus, how long did those spooks have to train to be able to make that stony face? Helena paid close attention to these things. Even the blankest face betrayed some emotion when it spoke. A normal human being just can’t talk without moving his face. Except for comedians in silent films, who make people laugh out loud, and secret police, who give people the creeps. What did they look like at night when they got off their shift? she wondered. You can’t just casually stroll into your neighborhood dive with a mask like that on and say, Waiter, please, a glass of red. Maybe they stashed their faces in their lockers before they went home from work, along with their service pistol, coffee mug, and bar of soap.
— from Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street, by Heda Margolius Kovály, a translation in progress for Soho Crime
[Photo: Officers of Czechoslovak secret police with KGB colleagues in Moscow. Source: Paměť národa]

     Jesus, how long did those spooks have to train to be able to make that stony face? Helena paid close attention to these things. Even the blankest face betrayed some emotion when it spoke. A normal human being just can’t talk without moving his face. Except for comedians in silent films, who make people laugh out loud, and secret police, who give people the creeps. What did they look like at night when they got off their shift? she wondered. You can’t just casually stroll into your neighborhood dive with a mask like that on and say, Waiter, please, a glass of red. Maybe they stashed their faces in their lockers before they went home from work, along with their service pistol, coffee mug, and bar of soap.

— from Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street, by Heda Margolius Kovály, a translation in progress for Soho Crime

[Photo: Officers of Czechoslovak secret police with KGB colleagues in Moscow. Source: Paměť národa]

In the space of two years, a chemical plant sprouted up on quaking bogs where once there had been millions of frogs, and a settlement for workers and engineers took shape in the fresh-cut clearing. Machines, roads, railroads, flats with bathrooms and central heating. The settlement was designed by a top German architect with a sense of urban planning and the horror of the era. In the process the POWs trampled all the vegetation down to bare rock and a decaying core of lignite. The factory began operating and ever since then its chimneys have been sprinkling the landscape for kilometers in every direction with a fine, almost imperceptible, layer of caustic ash.
     The birds have long since moved away, and children stand in mute amazement over the occasional dead moth blown in by the wind. Sunups here are gray, hazy and bleak, the only sound the roar and whistle of trains in the distance and the dull thud of the factory that runs three shifts around the clock. 
— from Midway on Our Life’s Journey, by Josef Jedlička, a translation in progress for Karolinum Press
Image: The Most basin, from Environmental Transitions: Transformation and Ecological Defense in Central and Eastern Europe, Petr Pavlínek and John Pickles (Routledge, 2000)

In the space of two years, a chemical plant sprouted up on quaking bogs where once there had been millions of frogs, and a settlement for workers and engineers took shape in the fresh-cut clearing. Machines, roads, railroads, flats with bathrooms and central heating. The settlement was designed by a top German architect with a sense of urban planning and the horror of the era. In the process the POWs trampled all the vegetation down to bare rock and a decaying core of lignite. The factory began operating and ever since then its chimneys have been sprinkling the landscape for kilometers in every direction with a fine, almost imperceptible, layer of caustic ash.

     The birds have long since moved away, and children stand in mute amazement over the occasional dead moth blown in by the wind. Sunups here are gray, hazy and bleak, the only sound the roar and whistle of trains in the distance and the dull thud of the factory that runs three shifts around the clock. 

— from Midway on Our Life’s Journey, by Josef Jedlička, a translation in progress for Karolinum Press

Image: The Most basin, from Environmental Transitions: Transformation and Ecological Defense in Central and Eastern Europe, Petr Pavlínek and John Pickles (Routledge, 2000)

As an instructor, Dr. Jánský’s subject matter was what was known as special techniques in non-police interrogation. His new institution in fact had nothing to do with the police. It seemed odd, but no one asked who or what oversaw the academy, nor was anyone told. Jánský threw himself into his new work with gusto. His lectures analyzed the various types of pain, with every part of the human body described, depicted and characterized in minute detail. He knew his way around nerve endings the way travelers know their way around train stations, airports and seaports. He knew every gateway, door and pathway of pain, every pressure point, inside and out. His students, or, as they called them, trainees, were mostly men. They hailed from vaguely named state institutions, situated on the city’s outskirts, in villas with no address on the door, so as not to attract unwanted attention from mailmen and overzealous gas and electric meter readers. Their employers, their institutions, and for that matter they themselves, more or less, didn’t exist.
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press
Image: Engraving from Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres, published in Paris between 1751 and 1772. 

As an instructor, Dr. Jánský’s subject matter was what was known as special techniques in non-police interrogation. His new institution in fact had nothing to do with the police. It seemed odd, but no one asked who or what oversaw the academy, nor was anyone told. Jánský threw himself into his new work with gusto. His lectures analyzed the various types of pain, with every part of the human body described, depicted and characterized in minute detail. He knew his way around nerve endings the way travelers know their way around train stations, airports and seaports. He knew every gateway, door and pathway of pain, every pressure point, inside and out. His students, or, as they called them, trainees, were mostly men. They hailed from vaguely named state institutions, situated on the city’s outskirts, in villas with no address on the door, so as not to attract unwanted attention from mailmen and overzealous gas and electric meter readers. Their employers, their institutions, and for that matter they themselves, more or less, didn’t exist.

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

Image: Engraving from Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres, published in Paris between 1751 and 1772. 

Graceful, confident and fierce, the monumental evolution of the East European mind culminated in the assembly line production of mass trials.
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

Photo: Still from A Trial in Prague

Graceful, confident and fierce, the monumental evolution of the East European mind culminated in the assembly line production of mass trials.

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press

Photo: Still from A Trial in Prague

Later, my wife told me that there had been nights when I cried out in my sleep, screaming words she had never heard me speak, such as guilt and shame, and begging for forgiveness. I still remember some of those dreams, as harsh as God’s justice, whose care crushes us as we crush olives in the press to make oil.
— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press
Photo: Olive Tree Horticulture

Later, my wife told me that there had been nights when I cried out in my sleep, screaming words she had never heard me speak, such as guilt and shame, and begging for forgiveness. I still remember some of those dreams, as harsh as God’s justice, whose care crushes us as we crush olives in the press to make oil.

— from Love Letter in Cuneiform, by Tomáš Zmeškal, a translation in progress for Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press


Photo: Olive Tree Horticulture