Sunday, March 31, 2013

and that language is 'poes'

A couple of lines from different periods come together in this picture

"you are sweet, papa, you have to stay alive."

The first is one of the unique things my father did: he kept a diary on the things my sister and i said as we grew up and learned to speak. The keeping of such a diary itself might not be unique, but as far as i know, it is the only one that has ever been published. It was a source of endless joy for me as a kid, since the first 3 print runs of the book, between 1976 and 1981, i wasn't in it, and as soon as i discovered that i teased my dad about preferring my sister over me. Plus my sister had to deal with all those embarrassing adults who'd swoon over the adorable things she'd said -none of which she remembered.

But all good things must end, and in 2000 the book got another edition, this time with an additional chapter: The language of Daniel. I had some fun teasing my dad again, thanking him for finally acknowledging me and rectifying this grave injustice, but then it backfired as it turns out my sister was indeed much funnier and smarter than i was. Pretty much all i said till i was about 5 was 'poes', which means cat. My poor father even had to devise a list of things i meant with 'poes', just to prove to himself i wasn't entirely retarded.

and that language is poes

The translation of that whole piece is this:


For the second time i'm witnessing from up close that a child learns how to talk. And despite all my efforts and focused attention I haven't been able to catch the phenomenon on a decisive phase that I would like to call 'origin'. Daniel's language too seems to have been brought from a secretive, prenatal existence. Only the slowness of its development forces me to assume that he's learning it from us, gradually and in a way that's not dictated by us.
He started later than his sister, Neeltje. That's apparently normal for boys: hard wood grows slowly. How he started, I don't know. I suspect in the same way as all babies and I think that is: by listening to the rhythm and sound of our sentences. Even before he could say one word, he would talk in a tone that he knew from us, but without filling in the rhythm with words.
He now says three or four words: poes (cat), papa, da, sometimes mama. But he knows a lot more of them. What he says is only a fraction of his passive vocabulary. I know that, because I experiment with it. This morning I said: 'Daantje, give the doll a kiss.' He crawled through his stall, took the doll and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Other assignments too he appears to understand well.
I'm not sure he uses his limited vocabulary in a truly targeted fashion. He says 'papa' too when the word doesn't refer to me. Neeltje did the same thing for a long time. At this moment 'poes' is his favorite word, and has been for two weeks. He has practiced it for months. First it was pf... followed by lots of blowing, then 'poe' and only recently 'poes'. He uses the word very targeted, that is when he sees a cat, also on television. I really should say that in those moments, he doesn't use another word or squeak, but immediately says 'poes'. But he calls a lot of other animals that too. When a dog was here two weeks ago, he kept saying 'poes' and would not be corrected. He seemed to make it into a game to keep saying 'poes' and did so with a malicious and triumphant laugh. 'This is a dog, dog.' 'Poes.' 'No, dog.' 'Poes, poes, haha.'
I think something is going on here that I notticed too late with Neeltje. I thought of it when I went to get him from his bed yesterday afternoon and this morning. He was already standing upright, looked around his room and pointed imperatively -his little index finger not straight ahead, but in an angle of 145 degrees to his hand- to all sorts of objects, and with it said 'poes' every time. I can't assume that he saw all that stuff and those plants as cats. Apparently he wants to greet me into his world and to do so, he wielded the only word he has the hang of. He greeted me in his language and that language is 'poes'. The word doesn't only refer to the cat, but more than that it means that he wants to start communicating. With 'poes' he informs us: 'I can talk'. Corrections such as 'no, dog' he resolutely rejects because they literally threaten to dumbfound him.
With Neeltje I used to initially think, as the faithful reader of treatises in which the beginning is always represented as very simple, that such words for concrete things could only relate to those things themselves. Now I notice that 'poes' includes all sorts of meanings, amongst which also something like a reflection on language. The latter happens mostly when a word is repeated over and over: there occurs something like a greenhouse process in which that one word becomes a whole language and metalanguage. 'Poes' coming from Daniel's mouth means:
  1. that cat there,
  2. that animal there,
  3. look over there,
  4. I want to talk
  5. I have already learned to talk
  6. I want to keep talking,
  7. I talk like I want to.
'Da' is sometimes 'daag' (bye), sometimes also 'dank je' (thank you). Often he says 'da da' when he wants to have something. Thanking then becomes an order."

That was from the first entry in his diary on my language, written 37 years ago this week. The picture that started this blog was from an entry written 34 years ago to the day -yesterday. He never published that entry, deciding to restrict the publication, like he did with my sister, to the end of a year. In my case that was the end of 1978. 

This book has always been the most dear to me of all my dad's books, not just because it is about my sister (and later on about me as well), but also because it was the first book of my dad i could actually read. I'd tried his philosophical work when i was a kid and had to give up before i'd ended the page. It had scarred me a little: i thought i was too dumb to be his son. But reading his words about my sister i understood him quite well, and enjoyed it. It was my first step on the long road of my dad's oeuvre. 

So when my dad sent me the new edition, i was in college in New York and as a thank you, i did my final thesis on this book, translating large chunks of it. He had helped me get to this college abroad, had supported me in so many ways that  figured it was the least i could do, plus there was poetry in ending it with where it began -after all, i was studying communication.

Back to the present: a few days ago i feel the need to translate dad and i have a couple of days off for Easter. I'm in the middle (or actually at about two thirds) of translating one of his books, but it is heavy going -i never really got quite smart enough to dive to the depths of my father's thinking and translating his work on violence i find myself at the edge of my capacities, often out of my depth. So i want to do something lighter, and i have the perfect book for it. My father had another couple of unique books, and one of them is a book about words that are dear to him. 508 words, each word has a page, each page three paragraphs. For a son who's not quite as bright as his dad, they're perfect, as my attention span can keep up for one page. For a translator, they are like little bonbons: you spent a couple of hours on a pearl of the dutch language. It's very difficult because each piece really is about language and very specifically the dutch language, but with the right word it is a great challenge.

So it is almost Easter, and i open the book randomly, and the word i see is 'resurrection'. Click. I read the first paragraph, and i know i'm in trouble, because he relates the word for resurrection to the word rising -in dutch resurrection is 'opstanding' and rising 'opstaan'. This pearl won't be quite as smooth in English. But then i read the second paragraph and now i can't refuse this translation. It says:

"Why do we for the length of history deny death or compare it to the sleep from which we rise again every morning? We apparently have a compelling motif for it that doesn't exactly coincide with the attachment to our own existence. Shall we call it love? When we love someone, do we do anything else than to confirm the existence of that person so absolutely that we can't think of our own existence without them? 'To love someone', said Gabriel Marcel, 'is to say: you shall not die.' And when the impossible happens still and we see that person laying there, cold and powerless, we can't just revoke that absolute statement. When we love someone, they have to stay. When it has all appearances that they have left, they will have to return sooner or later and death can at most be a provisional state. The thought of the resurrection and the return seems to have been prompted by hopelessness or hope against all odds. But what do we know of death and what reasons do we have not to rise against it?"

Back to 2002: after my father died in 2001 we found this collection of dear words on his desk, and we publish it. After that we've also published a translation and interpretation of Heidegger that we found and then we started cataloguing all his handwritings and his collected works. When all of that was done, the handwritings went to the Dutch museum for literature. All handwritings, except for those about my sister's and my language: those we keep for ourselves. I have those little books and when i really miss my dad, i look through them. That's how i found what i'd said 34 years ago -it instantly made me cry. First time i saw it i immediately wanted to take a picture of it, publish it: it fits with everything i'm trying to do for my dad. But there was no context.

And three days ago i randomly open a book and there's the context. 1979 gets connected to 2001 and linked with 2013 and with all we've been working for since my father died. You can find the complete translation of 'resurrection' on his blog:

Oh, and as another random Easter occurrence, i found out yesterday that should you ever find yourself in a Dutch town called Waalwijk, you can go to the Cornelis Verhoevenstraat. But if you name a street after a philosopher, does it really exist? 

"for the same Daniel, 2-2-2000, from the same father", signed on his birthday

Saturday, March 30, 2013

back in 60 seconds

William Trubridge diving to 60 meters and back in 60 seconds

and the interview