by Benjamin Fondane and Quimby Melton, trans.
Part of "Lesescenarios": a SCRIPTjr.nl special section.
over the shoulder of the laborer he reads :
Fondane originally published "horizontal bar" ("barre fixe," a reference to the gymnastics apparatus) in a Man Ray-illustrated collection titled trois scénarii: cinepoemes (Robert Baze, 1928). Yale's Beinecke Library maintains a readily-accessible, digital copy of the text here: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1215303 (17 March 2013). It includes Fondane's difficult-to-read, hand-written dedication to a "Monsieur Fourcade." As I can read it, the dedication reads "à Monseiur Fourcade, grand bibliophile, qui m'a montré beaucoup d'amité en un moment pénible, don donné, B. Fondane, Paris, X, 1928" ("to Monsieur Fourcade, a great booklover who showed me a good deal of friendship at a trying time, this gift is given. B. Fondane. 10th arrondissement of Paris, 1928").
Typical of early 20th-century "scenarios," Fondane presents his "trois scénarii," including "horizontal bar," as ordered lists.12 (All three cinépoems are included in SCRIPTjr.nl's "Lesescenarios" special section.) I've maintained this formatting as well as Fondane's term "cinépoem." Concerning the latter, there's no elegant, literal equivalent in English, of course, though Fondane's term does neatly presage Scott Fitzgerald's use of the phrase "screen poet" a decade later.13 Leaving it untranslated also adds an additional term to the already crowded field of terms that refer to "readerly filmscripts" -- "closet film," "closet screenplay," "Lesescenario," &c. -- and thereby further illustrates the genre's amorphous nature. When I felt they would create clumsy translations and wouldn't unduly alienate English speakers, I've left other French terms untranslated as well (e.g., "ennui").
Assuming it isn't a simple printing error, which I think we're safe in doing, one can interpret the absence of scenes 17 and 33-38, the repetition of scene 18, and the cinépoem's other ambiguities -- e.g., Fondane's refusal to describe the murder method in scene 30, provide actual dialogue for his "pontificating man" in scene 40, or describe the contents of the newspaper page in scene 69 -- a number of different ways: it helps create a highly subjective text that invites experimentation and individualized reading experiences; it adds another, formal layer of surrealism to the text; it allows Fondane to challenge the ways in which texts are ordinarily presented and read; and it allows Fondane to interrupt and manipulate the reading experience and, reminiscent of the metatheatricality of Brechtian epic theatre, emphasize the artificiality of the text, that is, remind the reader s/he is reading a text or, more specifically, a cinépoem. However, perhaps most importantly for Lesescenario studies, by sacrificing the script's directive objectivity and syuzhet clarity, which all production-oriented filmscripts are expected to have, Fondane's technique also weaves a strong anti-production sensibility into the text. (This is to say nothing of the various "special effect" challenges and technical impossibilities Fondane's script would have presented to early 20th century filmmakers.)
Concerning punctuation and layout, following Fondane's example, I don't begin sentences with capital letters or end them with periods, and I use commas only when absolutely necessary, that is, for reasons of clarity, in cases of apposition and zeugma, when separating coordinate adjectives, and, unlike Fondane, items in a list. Like Fondane, I never use them to offset introductory or subordinate clauses or to join independent clauses. In fact, Fondane avoids commas almost entirely, preferring instead the absence of punctuation or speed-oriented marks like semi-colons and dashes. I've privileged this feature of the text, even if it means periodically (and inconsequentially) torturing syntax and literal fidelity. Additionally, I assume Fondane's use of a space before colons -- " ... rappel du 15 : du jeune homme ... " vs. " ... rappel du 15: du jeune homme ... " -- is more than accidental, namely, that it indicates some sort of longer-than-usual pause or a film-like scene and/or "camera eye" transition. As such, I've maintained the Baze edition's unusual style. I've also broken lines in single list items according to the text's example. At times, it uses carriage returns to split two semi-autonomous phrases. In other cases, line breaks occur only as a result of the page's right margin. I've done my best to discern different instances, ignoring the latter and presenting the former as faithfully as possible.
I have departed from the text in a few minor ways.
I've corrected a handful of, what I consider, ambiguous (pro)noun references, translating the "il" in stanza 24, for example, as "the young man" rather than "he." And since Fondane's text is right justified, it's difficult to tell if the wider-than-usual word spacings that periodically appear in the text are intentional -- perhaps serving a purpose similar to Fondane's use of spaces before colons -- or merely the result of typesetting. Because they appear fairly randomly and, at times, in the middle of complete clauses, scenes, and thoughts, I've assumed the latter and haven't preserved instances of nonstandard word spacing in my translation.
Fondane's cinépoems, including "horizontal bar," have received some critical attention. See, for example, Nadja Cohen's French-language article: “‘Paupières mûres,’ un scénario intournable” (“‘Eyes wide open’: An Unproducible Screenplay”),14 which includes the full text of Fondane's cinépoem "eyes wide open"; Peter Christian, "Benjamin Fondane's 'Scenarii Intournables'";15 and Eric Freedman, "The Sounds of Silence: Benjamin Fondane and the Cinema."16 I've included all three in my "Lesescenario Bibliography": the most comprehensive resource available for closet screenplays and relevant secondary texts.17
Finally, my thanks are due Nicholas Roth both generally, for an engaging, ongoing Lesecenario conversation, and specifically, for bringing Fondane's cinépoems to my attention.
Idem velle et idem nolle ea demum firma amicitia est.
I dedicate this translation to him and my late grandfather: paterfamilias, patriote, francophone, homme de lettres.
- In 1928, the Prime Minister of France was Raymond Poincaré: a conservative politician, member of the center-right Parti Républicain Démocratique party, and wearer of a distinctive beard: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Poincar%C3%A9 (accessed 13 April 2013). ↩
- This is perhaps a reference to the Institut de Mathématiques de Bordeaux: a sort of French MIT founded, as the "école de radiotélégraphie de Bordeaux," in 1920, eight years before Fondane published "horizontal bar." This historical note also perhaps helps contextualize the imagery in scene 131. ↩
- A French Chemist, Marcellin Berthelot served as president of the scientific defense committee during the Prussian Siege of Paris (1870–1871) and, afterward, as chief of the Commission des Substances Explosives. He is perhaps best remembered for his investigations into the synthesis of organic compounds -- which led directly to the development of the hydrogen bomb (something Fondane couldn't have known about in 1928 but that informs the scene's violence retrospectively) -- and a now-disproved, eponymous principle of thermochemistry: the Thomsen–Berthelot principle, which argues all chemical changes are accompanied by the production of heat and that processes which occur will be the ones in which the most heat is produced. ↩
- Considering scene 94, Fondane's word "une pharmacie" doesn't translate well into 21st century English, for a variety of cultural and generational reasons. Historically, on both sides of the Atlantic, apothecary, druggist, and chemist shops served a variety of pharmaceutical, social, and gastronomic roles. And while this is still true in France, pharmacy snack counters haven't been a part of American life in decades. As such, rather than risking producing a clumsy translation, I've swapped in Fondane's compound term from "eyes wide open." ↩
- Presumably, this is a reference to the Haussmann-style Crédit Lyonnais headquarters -- now LCL S.A. headquarters -- at 19 Boulevard des Italiens in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cr%C3%A9dit_Lyonnais_headquarters (accessed 14 April 2013). ↩
- Fondane's italics. ↩
- Translating Fondane's term "des guiches" poses some difficulty. "Guiche" can refer to any of the following: the human perineum; a "kiss-curl" or "spit-curl" hairdo, which was popular in the early 20th century; a razor strop or other strip of leather (such as a rifle sling or shoulder strap) or a whip made from such strips. Considering what appears to be the woman's profession, many of these things would make sense. However, considering the act of violence that takes place in scene 129, the various body parts scattered around the room, and the rack-like rotating bed, I'm assuming the woman specializes in S&M and bondage, which would justify the presence of a cat o' nine tails. If the line read "la guiche" or "une guiche," indicating the presence of a single strip of leather, I might assume the young man was looking at a razor strop. Compounded with the elastic breast in scene 129, the false teeth in scene 126, and (glass) eye in scene 128, we might further assume the young man found himself sleeping with a one-eyed, toothless, (perhaps old) transvestite wearing some sort of prosthetic breast. Given the language of the text, though, I conclude the superior translation places the young man in an S&M den, looking at an array of Orphic kink, a rack-like bed, and a cat o' nine tails or, possibly, a series of live or photographed perinea by some early 20th century Robert Mapplethorpe. ↩
- Fondane's original suggests the mouth "sortent de petits zéros," that is, "ejects small zeros" (of increasing size and quantity). However, I'm assuming this scene and scene 75 work together to form a sort of leitmotif. In certain contexts, one can translate the French term "zéro" as "cypher," and I've essentially exercised this option. Moreover, Fondane was many things -- poet, critic, impresario, &c. -- but he was not a mathematician. And while the basic concept circulates rather widely today, in 1928, programming code, such as that practiced at the "école de radiotélégraphie de Bordeaux" (see supra n2), would have been relatively esoteric. Scene 75 suggests Fondane had a newspaper reader's familiarity with the types of research and technological developments taking place in engineering circles, and while I assume he meant to suggest the sort of rich image I offer in translation -- that is, one of a mouth spewing forth encoded language -- I also assume that, in 1928, like most of his contemporaries, Fondane simply didn't understand enough about the way programming code works to express himself properly. ↩
- Founded in 1907 by an American businessman, Cadum soap, as a brand, occupies roughly the same cultural position as P&G's Ivory in the United States. Following a series of purchases, sales, and consolidations, it's currently owned by L'Oréal. (See http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadum [accessed 14 April 2013].) ↩
- I assume Fondane's word "Gle" is an abbreviation of the word "règle" or "rule" and translate the business name accordingly, into one that will be familiar to most Americans. I've taken similar creative liberties with some of the other company names to make them meaningful to contemporary readers. Fondane's original list reads: "la Gle d'Assurances, Les Assurances Générales, The Insurence, L'Assiguratrice Italiana, Wintherthur, Yokrshire, Gresham." ↩
- Fondane may have intended this scene to have masturbatory or other sexual overtones. Rather than a hand-kiss, one could translate this line as "He fucks a hand for a long time." This would add a fairly transgressive sensibility to the scene that follows. ↩
- See, for example, Georges Méliès' scenario Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). Versions of this scenario can be found in various places, for example, online: Tim Dirks, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) (1902)" (filmsite, n.d. http://www.filmsite.org/voya.html [1 January 2010]), and, in print: Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film (Harcourt Brace, 1939), 27-28 and Kevin Alexander Boon, Script Culture and the American Screenplay (Wayne State UP, 2008), 5. The original French version of Méliès' scenario can be found reprinted in the November 1984 issue of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris). ↩
- The Pat Hobby Stories. Scribner, 1995. 93. ↩
- Ce que le cinéma fait à la littérature (et réciproquement) (The Effect of Film on Literature [and Vice Versa]). Spec. issue of Revue LHT 2 (December 2006). http://www.fabula.org/lht/2/Cohen.html (30 March 2013). I've taken certain liberties with Cohen's title, which perhaps deserve a brief comment. "Un scénario intournable" literally translates as "an unturnable screenplay," implying, in French, a rather elegant connection between film production and crafts such as woodturning and pottery. However, in English, the word "unturnable" is too vague to establish the same metaphor, and "cousin" words like "unmakable" and "uncraftable" are too clunky to comfortably read. As such, using I.A. Richards' terms, my translation of Cohen's title dispenses with the metaphorical "vehicle" (woodworking/pottery; a.k.a., the "figure" or "source") and, instead, for clarity's sake, uses the "tenor" (film production; a.k.a., the "ground" or "target"). (See I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric [Oxford UP, 1936], 96.) ↩
- In Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf Kuenzl. MIT Press, 1996. 72-85. ↩
- Screen 39:2 (1998): 164-74. ↩
- Quimby Melton, "Lesescenario Bibliography" (Google Docs, 30 March 2013. http://goo.gl/1v9is [accessed March 30, 2013]). ↩