eyes wide open
by Benjamin Fondane and Quimby Melton, trans.
Part of "Lesescenarios": a SCRIPTjr.nl special section.
a sign with a pointing white hand runs alongside it
the hand briefly points in the opposite direction
(the tempo of the scene increases rapidly)
(the tempo changes)
he pokes him with his cane, leans over, and takes the victim's wallet
Fondane originally published "eyes wide open" ("paupières mûres"; lit., "mature eyelids" or "ripe eyelids" or, most surrealistically, "blackberry eyelids") 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 "eyes wide open," as ordered lists.2 (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.3 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., "café" and "Bar-Tabac"). In the final scenes, needing to distinguish the stroller from the assailant, I introduce the French word "flâneur," which, whatever it may lack for many English speakers, possesses a good deal of elegance and succinctity. (In the Google age, such terms are also quite effortlessly defined.)
Unusual among Lesescenarios and, indeed, read drama of any time period, are Fondane's use of the terms "ter," which I've assumed is an abbreviation for "terminer" ("end"), and "bis" ("repeat"). Fondane appears to use these terms as equivalents to the kinds of repetition markers one finds in musical notation. The duplication of numbers in Fondane's ordered list plays a part in this system as well. When s/he encounters the word "bis", I assume Fondane intends his reader to return to the first entry with the same number and read the set again before proceeding. In this way, "bis" serves as a 𝄇 and/or 𝄉, the first number in a repeated set as a 𝄆 or 𝄋. For more extensive "scene phrases" that involve more than one repeated number, Fondane seems to use "ter" as a 𝄂 or "fine" marker.
Since these markings are highly idiosyncratic, it's unclear whether Fondane intends his reader to repeat a given scene phrase once, as musical notation implies, or multiple times. The relationship between the repeated intervals -- scenes thirty-three and thirty-four -- is similarly opaque. One can interpret this and the cinépoem's other ambiguities -- e.g., Fondane's repeated use of "etc." -- 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 helps Fondane emphasize the stanza-like poetics of his cinépoems' scenes. 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, save in the last stanza, per the text's example, 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 -- " ... des formes ternes : enseignes ... " vs. " ... des formes ternes: enseignes ... " -- 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.
First, I've silently emended certain inconstancies. For example, " ... , etc." appears in scene twenty-eight vs. " ... etc" in scene forty-six, and I've standardized instances per the first example. Second, following SCRIPTjr.nl house style, and assuming the difference creates a negligible variation, I've added a space before all ellipses -- "Paris Le ... " vs. "Paris Le... " -- and before and after all dashes: " ... -- de trois -- ballet mouvementé ... " vs. " ... -- de trois --ballet mouvementé ... " The latter also standardizes dash presentation across Fondane's three cinépoems. Neither "horizontal bar" nor "mtasipoj" collapse the space after dashes, which leads me to believe the "eyes wide open" instances are either typos or printing errors.
I've also corrected a handful of, what I consider, ambiguous (pro)noun references, translating the "elle" in stanza 122, for example, as "the woman" rather than "she." Finally, 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 "eyes wide open," 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”),4 which includes the full text of Fondane's "eyes wide open"; Peter Christian, "Benjamin Fondane's 'Scenarii Intournables'";5 and Eric Freedman, "The Sounds of Silence: Benjamin Fondane and the Cinema."6 I've included all three in my "Lesescenario Bibliography": the most comprehensive resource available for closet screenplays and relevant secondary texts.7
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 French, the latter half of this passage reads, "la tête fantastique de l'auteur par Man Ray." The French word "auteur" has many meanings, including "creator," "author," and "perpetrator [of a crime]." As such, Fondane seems imply that he himself is the robber-murderer from the early scenes of "eyes wide open": a deft linguistic gesture that, without comment, might find itself lost in translation. ↩
- 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]). ↩