Saturday, November 07, 2009

Another reason why it sucks to only speak one language: Stanisław Przybyszewski, and others.

Przybyszewski was a Polish writer who wrote mostly in German in the late 19th century but who was in many ways the Decadent's Decadent. Both his lifestyle and his work were some of the boldest moves that I think, to my knowledge at least, have been made on that score, rivaling the Decadence that was going on in Paris at the time. Unfortunately, his work has overwhelmingly not been translated into English. There's only one novel available--Homo Sapiens--that's long, long out of print and not even possessed by all university libraries, and two plays--plays that were printed in the '20s and in the 1910s that are held onto by some college and university libraries. While Homo Sapiens might be more available now that Google Books has transcribed a copy into PDF format, the total output that's been translated into English is a drop in the bucket compared to his total output of literature.

Similar musings about inaccessibility could be had about Zygmunt Krasiński and Juliusz Słowacki, two of the major 19th century poets of Poland whose work is nonetheless not really available in English, probably because as people who believed in an independent Poland they chose to write in their own language. Though less Decadent, they were high Romanticists.

Pier Paolo Pasolini is another one who's produced works that are of interest but are largely inaccessible, this time possibly more because absolutely no bookstore carries anything by him and it's difficult to even order translated works than anything else. Pasolini is known mostly as the great film director he was, directing works that universally pushed boundaries, but he also wrote poetry, some prose, and wrote a weekly column for the Communist newspaper "Il Manifesto". In Italy, my understanding is, Pasolini is recognized for his diverse talents in all areas of life.

But here in the U.S. we are of course mono-lingual, despite the fact that in our two continental sphere there are actually four main languages: English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, with a few very small enclaves speaking Dutch; all on top of the Native languages. But taking the New World to the side for a moment, you know the world didn't start with the phrase "And then God created the English". Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy, of course France, Holland, Scandinavia, Russia, on and on have their own literary traditions that in many cases go far back before England and Great Britain, as it prefers to be known now, got on the literary scene. But all of it is beyond our language barrier and so is conveniently ignored, unless something of value breaks through and people are amazed, amazed! that things like it existed in that 'heathen' country out there where all the Jerries live.

England is in many ways the heathen, not Continental Europe. Shakespeare, yes, of course, but beyond that...there seems to be a void, or at least a void as far as we dumb Americans are concerned until the early 19th century and the Romantics. There are no doubt unexploited resources there, particularly I think in the 17th century, but why not look to what the rest of Europe was doing during that time? We need a rediscovery of Europe here in the U.S., because currently our literary horizons are pretty damned circumscribed. And we need to read more in general too, instead of eating junk food and drinking soda. There, I've expressed the requisite Continental European stereotyping and disdain for fat and lazy Americans. Satisfied?

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