I: FORESTS

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Six Dialogues with Leuco

CESARE PAVESE

 

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I. The Cloud

II. The Chimera

III. The Blind

IV. The Werewolf

V. The Guest

VI. The Bonfires


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Through leaves that fluttered in darkness rose hills / where the things of the day — the slopes, the trees, / the vineyards — stood clearly defined and dead, / and life was another thing, made of wind, of sky, / of leaves, and of nothing. ––The Night, Cesare Pavese, trans. Geoffrey Brock.

If there is an actor in Trop tôt, trop tard, it’s the landscape. This actor has a text to recite: History (the peasants who resist, the land which remains), of which it is the living witness. The actor performs with a certain amount of talent: the cloud that passes, a breaking loose of birds, a bouquet of trees bent by the wind, a break in the clouds… ––Serge Daney, Cinemeteorology, 1982.

In Jacques Rancière’s words, ‘images, properly speaking, are the things of the world.’ This simple assertion––a belief that cinema might not be the name of an art but, in fact, ‘the name of the world’––is rarely more prominent than in the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. In the essay which this section is intended to accompany, Denis Lévy writes that their films are (history) lessons for visual and aural attention, encounters with ideas and things that force us to refocus our attention, revealing the dialectics of word and image, myth and reality. Straub-Huillet’s films always originate from existing texts or non-filmic sources (novels, plays, letters, interviews, poetry, theory, opera) and consistently foreground a tension between the performance of those texts and the places upon which they reflect. This ‘adaptation’ of the world and its history is their declaration of materiality, both visual and sonic, and the fullness of the resultant encounter can leave the spectator, in Lévy’s words, ‘as if struck partially blind by the text.’

With this in mind, we present here, with the permission of Jean-Marie Straub, the translation of six dialogues by Cesare Pavese for English and American subtitled prints of Dalla nube alla resistenza [1979]. Pavese’s original texts were published in 1947 as part of his final work, Dialogues with Leuco, twenty-seven dialogues between gods and mortals drawn from Greek mythology. There are two principle reasons for reproducing the dialogues in English here. The first is that the textual translation for Straub-Huillet’s film often differs radically from William Arrowsmith and D.S. Carne-Ross’s, published in 1965––the only other English translation, now out of print. The reproduction of Pavese’s prose in Dalla nube alla resistenza is simpler, more direct, respectful of the Italian order of words and phrases. It refuses to compromise language by “converting” the text or attempting, in essence, to render it anew: English “equivalents” for particular words are rejected, and only the most elemental materiality of words conveyed.

Danièle Huillet frequently, if not always, supervised foreign subtitles for Straub-Huillet’s films, and her guidance here is evident. Barton Byg, who worked on the English subtitles for Klassenverhältnisse [1984] and many subsequent films, recalls Danièle’s influence: ‘In keeping with the aesthetic of the films, Danièle’s key word for the subtitling was “simplicity”.’ With regard to translating Kafka’s novel Amerika for Klassenverhältnisse, Byg adds: ‘In English, more than in French, it is possible to find linguistic correspondences with the origin, sound and form of the German words, even if the meaning would be somewhat strained. She encouraged me to go in this direction, as long as it did not become too “Shakespearian”.’ “Literal” meaning in the subtitles of Straub-Huillet’s films is sacrificed for an altogether different mode of clarity, one that is appropriate not merely to minimising the textual element of the projected image, but the rendering of Pavese’s plain yet vivid prose itself. In order to reflect the contrast in method between both versions of the dialogues in Dalla nube alla resistenza, we have added footnotes referring to Arrowsmith & Carne-Ross’s translation, acknowledging the possibility of further interpretation.

Our second reason is, simply, that the visual plenitude of Straub-Huillet’s films, and the directness of their sound (of speech, of place), benefits from the fullness of unadorned presentation. Subtitles are an unfortunate imposition upon cinema’s images of the world, and a necessary evil best avoided here. In Dalla nube alla resistenza, the performers of Pavese’s text are both its landscapes and its people, fixed like rocks and trees, reaching out to the hills, valleys, and sky. Repeated viewings are necessary even to begin to perceive the film’s proximity to this material voice. So we offer the opportunity for viewers to observe, and hear, the film without subtitles, and to consult the text separately. Both are equally valuable.

––Matthew Flanagan.

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Dialogues: transcription by Casey Pegram. Formatting and footnotes by Matthew Flanagan. All quotations from William Arrowsmith & D.S. Carne-Ross’s translation refer to the edition published by Eridanos Press; Boston, Massachusetts; 1989.

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I: FORESTS