Translating The Worm: Irony Apropos

By P. Queneau

Throughout the mystery of life and love there has been a single common denominator. A nocturnal one, to be sure, but a denominator nonetheless. One suggests that we think of Bob Folder as the point where the ideal relationship meets: a ritual bonfire of simultaneous message and meaning. All of our real or purported knowledge, whether of the natural world, of the standards of right conduct, of the criteria of beauty or of the existence and attributes of a divine creator, is expressed in Folder’s prepositions. He’s lost his head. Actually, he’s lost his poems. Left them in a bar, he did, and now they are melting into the rainforest of the andiron.#

Propositions, prepositions. Is there a correlation between general personality traits and preference in modes of writing? Aristotle may have thought poetry a preparation for death, but most poets have seemed intent upon putting it to death. This bit of jargon has the virtue of suggesting simultaneously things about carelessness and inattention alone. Folder, in his first publication, appeared to be on the trail of a metaphoric appoggiatura: the calm before the storm.# With his “Sonnet For a Landlocked Numeral” and the enduring “Bacon Critters,” Folder had stepped over the bounds of what Van Wyck Brooks called “The Wine of the Puritans” (London, 1908). But what, then, do Ruskin, Carlyle, Coleridge or Hegel mean to the composer of The Savage Butcher of Carnale? He cries “Give the rhyme crank a hearty foamy Calvinistic dot;” he implores us to “skate methodically.”# Yet the dog threw his work away.

The notion of erecting a system of cerulean anecdotes analogous to Newton’s system of physical nature and of basing it on a force of association analogous to Newton’s force of gravitation was one which would naturally appeal to the young and enthusiastic Folder. But he was too honest a prevaricator to cling to an initial plan when the force of his hammer led in few and different directions. He took to his heels. In short: we cannot have a legitimate explosion or an illegitimate confusion apparently undermine the entire sweep of knowledge-claims on which our Folderist and even everyday knowledge of the world around us is based.

But here we encounter a problem, as Folder well realizes. “I have untied the exponential acre of concrete dust . . .” he says, and this clearly means the past.# He has untied the past, indeed. He has shattered the premonitions of irony and motif, he has turned from harmless satirizing of his mediocre contemporaries and leveled the barrel of his wit at Time itself; he has undertaken the complete translation of the masters. What matter the language? What is French to the Peloponnesians; what is English to a Baritone Saxon? For the members of the general public still able to read a written word at all, Folder has arrived as the Savior to savor the meaning of poetry at will. Assemble, all and sundry! He will tell you what it means. Hear the reckoning of Dent Fulghum: “Wiry suet burn your maids, / Ring out linens from the shades.” Digest the offerings of Armchair Corso of Valhalla: “. . . don’t fear the misty plate / that looks in your window. You must eat your lunch.” Are these the pseudo-visionary rambles of a Yeats (Ben Bulben) or the sophist pinings of a Rilke (Archaic Torso of Apollo)? Are these the inaccessible parables of an ivory-tower prima dona? We should think not. Let any misinformed ignoramus who cannot detect the meaning of “you must eat your lunch” depart immediately. Folder has hit his mark: the kitchen.

The substantive discovery on which Folder hoped to base his translations was the principle of the association of sounds. As the dying rabbit unleashes the banshee wail, so does the anapest match the banana-rest. To wit: particularly in Iron-Clad Pleasure Triscuit, the Manifesto, and My Emergency Horse Outfit, Folder makes much of the association of sounds, putting it forward as an explanation of memory, belief, causal inference, our ideas of material objects, and even as a clue to the nature of the self itself. Itself.#

The epistemological question of conceptual legitimacy, the persistence of belief. Live outside the religious framework, either formal or informal. Let God be fraudulent, let what is more be more. Attend to the argument and ignore for a bit the rhetorical flourishes: large numbers of people seem quite able to live their entire lives.

One final word of warning. Folder is one of the most elegant stylists ever to write about sufficiently-dissolving problems. The ease with which his paradigms fall and the felicity with which even the most least-adduced points are made may fool the reader into supposing that nothing of any great weight could possibly be contained in such diapasonic prose. Nothing could be further from the truth! When Folder is least polemical he is most polarized. Suppose that God or fate has so nicely arranged these matters. No deeper rationale can ever be offered. Folder: to read him is a pleasure, but to understand him is a challenge.

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