In June 2015 – thanks to a workshop organized by Judy Farquhar, Volker Scheid, and me, and funded by the Wellcome Trust and the University of Chicago and the Canada Research Chair program – a phenomenal group of doctors and anthropologists and artists and historians and others gathered to create work together around the theme of “Translating Vitalities: Touch.” This became a kind of pop-up laboratory, a space to experiment and to make. As part of that workshop, for a week in a house on the Istrian coast four people came together and read. What might it look like to read together – a medical doctor, an anthropologist, an artist, a historian – in a way that honored the medium natural to each reader, but also pushing each one to locate and extend their own limits? What might it be to read a difficult text together not in a way where we tried to convince each other that we were right, or to try to find a correct interpretation of the text, but instead to craft together a common language – a new language, for each of these people – made of ideas and images, PowerPoint slides and memories, conjurings of loved ones, sound recordings and video, fiction and theoretical reflection, music and bouquets of local wildflowers? What would it be to use that language to open up the text and also open up the very notions of reading and of writing?
The reading in common was an excerpt from Merleau-Ponty, “The Intertwining – The Chiasm.” These are some reading notes offered by just one of those people, born of conversations about it. Begun in Croatia, they will continue until they reach something that feels like a conclusion. True, in a way, to the spirit (of a sort) of the text – as the seer and the seen form part of the same fabric and create worlds together, the reader and that which is read also create one another and are made of the same stuff – these are my own field notes meant to open and translate Merleau-Ponty’s text. They form a community along with the other kinds and media of intervention created by that community of four people who are still reading together, and still creating a language with which to do so. And so some of these may eventually take on a different life in other collaborative products of that ongoing collaborative making-together. In the meantime, they will live together here.
Each of the reading notes opens up a little world. You will find reading experiments here: what would it look like to translate a text that seems so obsessed with parenthetical asides so all that remains is what’s buried inside of parentheses? You’ll also find translations of a different sort, attempts to linger over phrases and notions that stay with me, to dwell in them for a while, and to use them to open up little worlds. You can find them by clicking on the highlighted bits of fragments of the Merleau-Ponty that I’ve offered below. (I’ll add more text as necessary when we need more soil from which the little worlds can grow.) Feel free to read them as you wish: in conversation with Merleau-Ponty’s chiasm, in conversation just with each other, or as part of whatever you’d like to put them in conversation with.
Carla (for Alexa, for Barry, for Jens, and for you)
[For more on the Translating Vitalities project that this is part of, click on a link that is coming soon and will be right here!]