Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Diversion: Brecht as Precedent for the "New Sentence"

Ron Silliman's essay, "The New Sentence," begins with the statement, "The sole precedent I can find for the new sentence is Kora in Hell: Improvisations and that one far-fetched." I think I've unearthed another, thanks to a San Diego friend given to translating odd literature by German radicals.

Bertolt Brecht's Refugee Conversations (trans. Charles Senger, unpublished), written in Finland in 1940-41 and probably also in Los Angeles over the next couple of years, is a series of dialogues around different themes between Ziffel, a former scientist, and Kalle, a former laborer. In one section, Ziffel begins reading his memoirs to Kalle in the train station bar where they always meet. The text, excerpted here, is striking in its resemblance to the new sentence. Though the variation in distance between sentences is less formalized, less of a careful method developed over a significant period of the author's life, it's still delightfully (pre-)reminiscent of Silliman's work from the early eighties:

"Vesper bells of Santa Anna. Getting beer. The coachman in the Klauckestrasse has hung himself. Little Marie sat on a stone. Knifing pains in the finger joints, in the elbow, in the chin, in the head, in the shoulder. The knife can also go off course into the ground. He wrote something with chalk on the stable door. The police are informed. Five pfennig pieces. The five pfennig piece was thrown at the house wall. How far it bounces off. He bounced off and left her. The murderers are in the dog house. With chalk, where he got her? Pimples. Short, pointed stakes are driven into the ground, are hewed out by other stakes. [...] Indians, Teutons, Russians, Japanese, knights, Napoleon, Bavarians, Romans. Tutor. You old yokel, you should have known. Dog. Dung-head. Shit-in-the-pants. Little ass. Fop, rotten. Dandy. Ox. Camel. Blockhead. Swine. Milksop. Clodhopper. Sozi. Dummy. Whore. Bastard. Chicken breast. Varicose vein. (Varicose peter). Hump. Begging forbidden. Caution: in the fourth house there lives a police agent. [...] The bad element cribs. By fours. Hands out of pockets, cuckold! The bicycle. Let the gum dry. A box on the ears, not yet. The hour of great contempt in the lending library. [...] Far away in the south. Even on the city wall. At the end boatman and boat. God's people. And have a nice day."

How do you put it all together? Do you simply write whatever comes into your head?

No problem. I arrange it. But with the material. Would you like to hear another page?


"It feels good, but the consequences. The periods. Little Marie sat on Rose Hill and picked blueberries. Cold farmers. [...] Look in my eyes! From behind! Or French. [...] But is there a God? Go in for sports like the others! Either he's good or he's omnipotent. [...] Faust. In every German's satchel. Dying singing. Is Shakespeare English? We Germans are the most cultured people. The German School Teacher won the War of Seventy. Gas-poisoning and mens sana. As a scientist in the mount of venus. Peace to his ashes, he perservered. Bismarck was musically inclined. God is with the righteous, they know not what they do. The stronger batallions help themselves. Artificial honey is more nourishing, since bee honey is too expensive for mass nourishment. Science has discovered. Conquered three antagonistic discoveries. The final victory is the best. Offerings will be received after the performance."

I found it nice how it moves toward the war.

Do you think I should put it into chapters?


It looks too modern. Modern is outdated.

You can't worry about that. Humankind as such is outdated too. Thinking is outdated, life is outdated, eating is outdated. I think you can write what you want because printing is also outdated.


  • At August 31, 2009 at 5:49 PM, Blogger shir said…

    Hi Andy,

    I have a question regarding this translation. I could not find a contact info here, so could you please contact me at shiralon@gmail.com?

    Thank you,
    Shir Alon


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