John Taylor (2011)
Like many literary translators who are also writers, I have been drawn to certain foreign authors because of what I could learn from them. My translations have thus always stemmed from personal initiatives, not commissioned assignments from publishers. Having long read and reread Georges Perros's three-volume Papiers collés and then learned, to my surprise, that this treasury trove of sardonic wit and wisdom had never been made available to English readers, I launched myself into the project in my spare time. The award from the NEA has given my spontaneous resolve and late-night toil an extraordinary encouragement. The grant will enable me to translate a fully representative selection of writing that has long been admired in France and that deserves to be read abroad. I am very grateful for this honor and this opportunity.
excerpts from Papiers collés (Paper Collage), volume 3, by Georges Perros
[translated from French]
I cannot imagine a man constantly occupied only by what he is doing, has done, will do. No matter what he is doing. It is unthinkable for me that a man does not experience every day, if only for a quarter of an instant, the sentiment of emptiness, the thought that living is impossible. It is this quarter of an instant that fascinates me. It has fashioned my life. A quarter of an instant without the slightest reference, the slightest memory, the slightest heredity; that is neither cruel nor pessimistic; and that is imperceptible to others. A fleeting pain that passes through you like an airplane flying through a cloud. It is better to be alone when this happens. Really. For whatever you are doing at that moment, you indeed have a single wish: to follow that pain and consent to it. I would experience this on the stage when I was given rather important roles. Between two lines of a dialogue, it would start hitting me, but not nastily, for it did not know what I was up to. Yet at that point, my presence on the stage would be over. I would immediately find myself in a world that was deadlocked, had come to a standstill, a sort of wax museum, and that had been cast off -- without actually being so -- beyond the more or less interesting part that I was acting. A state of absolute absurdity. If only the theater were at stake! All this continues in the remotest possible places. There, at least, I am able to travel, undisturbed, on the wings of this pain -- oh, call it a daily tingling that permeates every instant, one after another, without establishing a chronology, of what it thinks my life is.
I can only envy those artists who are so permeated by time that a construction site is established and opens out in front of them. Work becomes possible, thereafter enabling them to be occupied as a carpenter, a mason, a woodcutter, and the like know how to be.
What is enviable is this metamorphosis of artistry into craft.
Yet as to. . . inspiration? A word difficult to pronounce and impossible to translate because it covers no content. The very fact of working nullifies it.
You do not have to be a great scholar of writing to know how rare it is to be truly focused on what the words penned on a blank sheet of paper are trying. . . to drink down, to soak away as it were, with the goal of obtaining a broader, more open life. Word-prows testing ground that we know is mined -- and so what, then, if we explode with them? How very rare! We use words in order not to need them anymore. But nothing sprouts back faster than a word.
Sample in French
About Georges Perros's Papiers collés (Paper Collage)
The three volumes of Georges Perros's Papiers collés (1960, 1973, 1978) have long enjoyed a cult status among French readers (and especially writers). Literally, "papiers collés" refers to "glued bits or scraps of paper" forming a collage. Perros also puns on the word "papier," which alludes here to the reviews and personal essays that he wrote for literary magazines in the 1960s and 1970s. Paper Collage in fact gathers short prose writings of several kinds, including maxims, a genre in which Perros (1923-1978) excelled. With typical modesty, the author called himself a "journalier des pensées," a day laborer who tills thoughts.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506
John Taylor is the author of the two-volume Paths to Contemporary French Literature and Into the Heart of European Poetry -- all three books published by Transaction. He has also written five books of stories, short prose, and poetry, the latest of which is The Apocalypse Tapestries (Xenos Books). He writes the "Poetry Today" column in the Antioch Review and contributes regularly to the Times Literary Supplement. He has translated the prose of Pierre-Albert Jourdan and Philippe Jaccottet, as well as various writings by the Greek authors Elias Petropoulos and Elias Papadimitrakopoulos. Originally from Des Moines, Taylor has lived in France since 1977.
Photo by Michel Durigneux