Friday, June 8, 2012

Voyage by Dugout, The Play of the Film of the War

PAJ, the Performing Arts Journal, just published my translation of Peter Handke's play about the disintegration of the multicultural federal state of Yugoslavia under intense and falsifying media pressures.

The translation began in Vienna on the night before the premiere of the play in the Burgtheater:

5 June 1999, Vienna
I have checked into the Pension Falstaff, just around the corner from Sigmund Freud's rooms in the Berggaße.
From the train into town I saw a hawk hanging over a hops field lined with brilliant red poppies and blue flax. Like a sleek NATO jet over a fruitful Yugoslav landscape.
While waiting for you and Anne to arrive, I’ll work on my translation of Peter’s Voyage by Dugout, The Play of the Film of the War, whose premiere in the Burgtheater we are gathering to witness.

6 June 1999, Vienna

This afternoon I walked down to the Danube. The bridges here have not been bombed. The Danube still flows toward Belgrade. And the Serbs I meet in Vienna are dealing with their stress the same way I do: by telling jokes.

Madeline Albright gives the Serbs an ultimatum: love or war! They take one look at her and decide on war.

        Later, in the city center, I stumble onto a Sunday-evening demonstration against NATO and for Yugoslavia. "NATO – fascistik, NATO – fascistik!” the crowd of maybe 3000 chants. I donate 200 Schillings to a humanitarian group and they give me a blue, white, and red Serbian flag in return. A Vienna policeman, pistol in his belt, leans against a post studying a book with the title: Learn Greek.

Back in my room, unable to sleep, I turn to my translation. I wish you were here Žarko, to compare notes. Peter’s prose is not easy to reproduce, nor are the word-images. How, for instance, did you translate “Fertigsatzpisse”? Pissing your finished, your modular sentences? Sentential piss?

At 10:30 I watch a pre-premiere report on Peter done for Austrian TV (ÖRF2). Peter’s crime, the reporter and his commentators agree, is that he is a “Serbenfreund,” a friend of the Serbs. Not good to be a friend of the enemy. Peter should have known better. It’s an old story: Jap lover, Kraut lover, Jew lover, Nigger lover, Serb lover.

I turn off the sentential piss and turn back to Peter’s play. Before midnight I’m out of paper. I write across the face of my travel itinerary. I fill margins. By one a.m., having exhausted all possibilities, I look through the cupboards and drawers in my room. The drawer of the night table opens to a Gideon Bible, in the back of which are ten blank pages. I decide the hand of God has provided and rip them out and continue translating till first light.

9 June 1999, before midnight, Žarko’s birthday

I ought to go to bed, but I'm still reeling from the events of the day. Several hours ago NATO and the Yugoslav Parliament came to some kind of agreement ending the bombing after 78 days.

And, I'm just back from the world premiere of Peter's "The Play of the Film of the War," directed by Claus Peymann. I’ve never attended the world premiere of a play of this magnitude; and I’ve seldom been this moved, this challenged, by a work of art.

Peter has filmmakers John Ford and Luis Buñuel in a Serbian town ten years after the war trying to decide how to make a film of the war. Characters who appear before the directors tell conflicting and complex stories as the play feels its way to questions about war and its aftermath. The really bad guys of the play, three "Internationals" who know all the answers, who dictate all the terms, who can think only in absolutes, appear on the stage as follows: "Three mountainbike riders, preceded by the sound of squealing brakes, burst through the swinging door, covered with mud clear up to their helmets. They race through the hall, between tables and chairs, perilously close to the people sitting there. 'Where are we?' the First International asks. 'Don't know,' the second answers. 'Not a clue,' the third says." 

American and European moralists, functionaries with no hint of self-irony or humor, absolutists who run the world because of their economic power – these sorry excuses for human beings were depicted this evening as mountainbike riders.

            Žarko, I said, Don’t you ever tell Peter I ride a mountain bike.

            No, he whispered, I’d never do that.

            The play drew on several incidents from our trip, including when Peter put his coat around the shoulders of the OSCE woman in Višegrad. After the performance, flushed with enthusiasm and insight, I told Peter how well he had integrated that real event into an imaginative play.

            “Dr. Scott,” he chided. “Always the professor.”

............. for a very interesting set of thoughts about the play, by early Handke translator Michael Roloff (Kaspar, The Goalie's Anxiety, etc.), click HERE


* said...

congrats mr abbott.that is good to see. recently i sat to listen to anthea bell which put me in an awe of the achievement and difficulty of translating from which i still havent recovered, then i come here and see you writing about this... one should just make all the literature as accessible as possible.

Scott Abbott said...

Anthea Bell. Wish I had heard her as well.

Asterix AND Sebald!

I love Tomcat Murr, about time to re-read it.

What an incredible range she has.


I WILL leave a long comment once i have recovered from the two month Grass marathon, and will also get to some other things of yours, Scott. x m.r


i JUST left a link to this blog entry on both f.b. and twitter, where i have a lovely avatar as a sparrow.

i have been trying to get this play performed in the u.s. ever since scott told me he had completed the translation. and even thought of translating it myself at one point when it appeared briefly, that ret white at cornish here in seattle was interested. no such luck ... he got too busy giving away money from the art fund! what dreadful theater people here in seattle, or they leave quickly... since i have written extensively about the piece, let me only add that it isnt just the womans coat that appears of handke's immediate acquaintance in the play, but the figures who appears variously as the "forest madman or just as "madman" are based on soneone for whom Handke interceded who had been arrested as a war crimnal for failing to intercede when he alleagedly saw a war crime being committed, that is he was arrested as a serb by german authorities after he moved to Germnay and judged by the law that now governs the behavior of German soldiers. i believe handke also attended the fellows wedding.



an excerpt, the opening of VOYAGE BY DUGOUT: THE PLAY ABOUT THE FILM ABOUT THE WAR translated by Scott Abbott

2] A number of German reviews:

My expository note on the play

4] An excerpt, the one dealing with Einbaum/ Dugout from J.S. Marcus' notorious NYRB piece.
and probably a few more reviews...

you will also find further material about the play, plus photos at these three sites devoted to Handke plays


and sub-sites