Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 23, November 2012)

Danielle Vogel
Letters for Renee Gladman’s The Ravickians1
an ekphrastic companion

Dear Luswage Amini2, I am in air somewhere between Denver and San Diego. Opening The Ravickians for the first time, I realize that I am already reading someone else’s text. You begin with a warning that doubles as a confession, “That is why this story must not be translated. If, for example, you are reading these lines in French or German, Basharac or English, these are not the lines you are reading. Rather, these are not the lines I wrote.” To read a translation of Ravic, you say, is to be wanting, it is to be reading a thing’s concavity. What does it mean to be “born hungry” within a language, translated? I read and I am immediately removed because I realize this, too, may be mistranslated. And a fourth language appears (one: your translator’s English meeting mine; two: your Ravic; three: the one that is made as these thresh; four: everything that is below the line, unable to be carried across in sense—the untranslatable crisis of this). You say, “the things I am trying to say are internal.” To be able to understand the book, body, and city not only through language, but through a kind of ingestion. Translation—even mis- —as a kind of hunger: to be met and fed. Because you’ve told me, through your narrative, that what you want to tell is internal and that this interior is “twofold,” I step through your sentences trying to listen, but more importantly, trying to experience them viscerally, through the belly.

Dear Luswage, I have read you in translation. And if you are meeting me here, then I, too, have been translated. Or, you have performed a slow raveling of my sentences into a shape that you can occupy in your language. Where will I be by the time you are able to meet me here? Who will I become for you when translated?

I imagine your body patterned with sound. And mine, too. And somehow, we meet, or fail to meet, at an undulating middle-space. This space, in the case of The Ravickians, is the sentence. It is also the city-state of Ravicka, slowly transposed through the groove of your sentences meeting my understanding of them. It is also my own current city, Denver. Through reading, and now writing you, we create a kind of communal city. Some place that is not Ravicka or Denver. I imagine a nexus, mouth-to-mouth, a bridge of light and syllables that sisters itself, flanking cities, hybridizing them into a place of gloss. The architectures built and collapsed, slipped between, are made with languages that may not parallel. Your body’s language. Mine. Ravic. English. Ravic contracting through translation and translator into English — being made echoic and maybe hollowed. We meet here among the lingual debris.

Luswage, I think about the problem of the solitary body—all of the ways in which we try to annex our bodies through proximity: sound, skin, the sentence. You write,

We are surrounded and we are alone. This state goes on until something breaks, until we are so full and extended with emptiness that there is no place to go with it. And then out of the dark, someone shows up and gets through.

Luswage, I write because I miss you. Though, I’ve never met you. I write you here not to understand the nature of this anti-connection — or even the desire — but to, hopefully, somehow, meet. What is a book for? I want to talk about the body, but it so often eludes me. A book lets us lean toward an other through the throat. I am sometimes afraid of all intimacies, but I’m hungry for them. The body and its voice seem impossibly unreliable. I know this is a translation yet I want to be touched. A body leans against another. We put a language between us. A hallway. A skyway between buildings. Through The Ravickians, you tell of a book’s arrival, “I unwrapped it and burrowed in, all the while hoping that what I am waiting for will not destroy me.” What is the difference between a book and a body? We try to make sense. I put your sentences in my body and I try to imagine I’ve been to Ravicka. I try to imagine I’ve been close to your body. But I wonder how close we can get to one another through sound. Sometimes I think we couldn’t possibly get any closer. I’d like to believe that this is true. I dedicate myself to making shape through sound. I say, I write. I say, I architecture. I say, See me; I see you. We hold one another close or we want to. So often these intimacies seem impossible, but it’s the only thing that keeps me anchored to the ground.

I keep returning to this paragraph. Luswage, I’ve already written all that follows, but I’m dissatisfied with how I’ve told you, with how I’ve arrived. So I keep returning. I can’t get naked enough. I wish I could show you. I’ve foraged my body into place. But these sentences might never reflect that. To what architecture are you most aligned? Your child-body aligned itself with buildings, with a building’s seeming-reliability, but what of your adult form? Is it now an entire city’s block? The whole undulating grid?

I wish we could come together and talk of architecture, a city and sentence’s space. A body’s. Like our languages, we inhabit divergent but maybe complimentary spaces. Since a child you have exchanged bodies with buildings, “There is the proximity of the adult human body and then there is the closeness of buildings. The buildings, I have always loved.” The architecture to which I most closely relate is the nest: its helixical nature, often suspended in-tension. The nest is sometimes edible, organic, able to be re-ingested by its environment. A nest is an accumulation of debris, foraged for and pressed into function. A bird leaves to return, leaves, returns again. Weaves a thing. Presses its breast against the circle. Inverts itself against the weave. No, the weave becomes its inversion. A nest is a dwelling-shape that harbors. This paragraph, can you rest here? A nest’s form exposes the logic of its construction as well as the past, present, and future lives of its fragments. At first, the nest against the city made me think our logics must be divergent, but our architectures might not be so contrary after all. I mean that a building’s logic — like a sentence’s and nest’s — is an accumulation of parts whose function and meaning simultaneously reflect, a past, present, and future tense. Only in its most obvious appearance is a sentence dissimilar to a nest. I think of your body slowed. I try to think of its thinking. Its shape before it arrives in language. I think of what is carried across. I think of the breathing grid of a city. I think of the breathing grid of a paragraph. I think of a living nest. I think of your buildings in place of bodies — the seeming verticality of this. The lines, constructed, appear to be reliably linear, but, in actuality, are interrupted both by its constructor and inhabitant. The orderly grid of the city or paragraph, close-up, is brambled, breathing, disturbed. But none of this is right. I’ve moved through this paragraph for the tenth or thirtieth time. I can’t get close enough.

Dear Luswage, I begin a second time. A third. A fourth. I read you over. This time in my city as the sun, rising, pulls with it a pink so unlike the yellow — which I now know to be a mistranslation — of your city. This pink un-ghosts the night into a sharp stenciling. I am presenced suddenly and wake with the words Dear Luswage in my mouth — this makes me think I must have been writing you through sleep — another city I soften with travel. Since I last wrote, I’ve moved into an attic apartment, which holds me high above my city. You say, “People will never believe you are ‘without events.’ And that is why decay is slow, and why it is not devastation.” Luswage, I’d like it if you could come over. I can watch it, my city, from every direction. This makes it difficult to leave. Sometimes the stairway to the street is the loneliest place.

I am trying to talk with you about desire and architecture. I think of the architecture of the page. I say architecture because to meet you in the space of your pages is to meet you in a city hybridized by the sentence — and even further, the two separate architectural logics of our languages and bodies. What does this city look like—the one in which we meet through the sentence? If I wanted to meet you — which I do — upon the bridge between Bleetsgat and The Molhaly district, it would be my bridge and not yours. Or a mongrel bridge belonging to neither of us. I try to build one here in syllable so that we might walk together.

Between people — what is a building? A bridge? A book? What is it to lose one’s architecture? A body architectures, is architectured through its shifting-relation within the world. “The bus is so familiar it is a person to me, and these streets we travel, our conversations.” “[W]hen I needed to be something other than myself, I became trains […] you can set your breathing to them. The sound of the wheels pulling through track can be your sound.” My body sometimes loses its edges. I pull myself across the page. “And then out of the dark, someone shows up and gets through.” Between people, what is it that keeps us?

Dear Luswage, a week ago, I woke to this sentence sprawled across an envelope. I had written it, but I didn’t remember writing. My penmanship, breathing, lets me know that I must have written with my eyes closed. The drawer still open in the morning. The pencil in bed with me. I wrote, the page as ceremonial place for transformation. I wonder what the etymologies for page are in your Ravic. In my English, I followed them through: settle, compose, to make solid. And then into a congealing, curdling. This is beautifully contradictory. What is solidity? The wet membrane of the page, syllable, sound. I come to the page for a you. Page also brings us to pageant (at one time these words were believed to be interchangeable). I read: in a cycle of mystery. A place of mysterious exchange. I think here of the page as a threshing-stage, contracting. Scene displayed. I shutter this: scene dis-played. Scene splayed. I come to the word: slab. Then to: a fixing together, fastened. A movable stage or scaffold. A whole compromising both sides. I come to the words pact, covenant, to unite. I think of the ‘both sides’ of the body and the sentence in relation to itself, but also to others and to histories. You say, “Against decay, a new building goes up […] Against decay, I’ve written […] Could this building ever serve you?” To fetter fast. To catch, seize. Compact. To enter into with another person. Pact as noun as verb. Come to the word: fang, verb it. To take in a snare. To get into one’s power. Where is the grasping tooth before the sentence that brings us to the page? Page as a pact: a threshing ground that unites, that fastens a me to a you. I wonder how your word for page holds Ravickian histories within its sounds. Will you write to me of this? I think of this in terms of the grid. A blueprint — architecturally, what is the book? A scaffolding? A corner to meet upon that constantly uncorners itself with each additional syllable? How do I come together for you?

What is the etymology of recover? How does one recover a culture through a city as it rubbles itself without really rubbling itself? This is a city that flexes through the sentence. I mean, that my tongue is maybe what holds these buildings in place, but also destroys them. That the word is there to travel because I say it. I want to learn Ravic and meet you in your city for a drink. I draw: 0. You write, “If you are engaged in translation and discover that a quality you need to convey does not exist in your language, the language into which you are moving, do not pick up the next best thing. Sometimes you have to put a ‘0’ there; this will indicate a hole […] you need nothing to see something, which is the theory behind white space.” I want to meet you in the hollow of 0’s shape. I want to meet you in that breathing, translationless space. I want, through the sentence, to create intimacies out of absence. A line or body or city, or train in tension, between two names. To read your book, translated, is to move through the shadow cast by this line. What is the etymology of shadow? What is it to fall in love with a city to which you’ve never been?

Dear Luswage, will you teach me Ravic? For instance, I want to learn to pronounce cit. To travel the word in sound. Is it cheet or maybe seet or even chit? Is there a slight a-sound at the end? I read this on the plane and since no one is next to me, I try them all out, but feel they may all be wrong. So I say, neighborhood neighborhood neighborhood, but am dissatisfied.

Dear Luswage, sometimes hours and days, even cities, are folded behind me between these sentences. When I first began, I was in air. Now, I am in my bed. The sun rose over an hour ago. I wonder about shadows cast. This word: elongation, passed between you and your Ana Patova upon a bridge between Ravickian districts, “the elongated later.” I write it on a small slip of paper to carry with me as I move into my city. To slow a present (or past) into a kind of trembling elasticity. What is gathered there? In the time between sentences. In the time between your (maybe) eventual arrival here? And now, here? Perhaps whole Ravickian blocks have disappeared. Perhaps I’ve read your city in reverse to unrubble a building for you in the sentence.

The architecture of relation: you ask, “who are you with?” and then “who are you ever with?” Who am I meeting in the space of your sentences? In the space of these sentences? Luswage, can you even hear me? How will this letter arrive? You say, “there is mostly static when I reach for them [others].” I am lonely sometimes. I build a language with which I might meet myself.

You tell me, “you have been lost in this city for as long as you can remember. Could these buildings ever serve you?” I remember here, through the ache of the sentence, that I am hungry for some meeting. I remember that I am learning you in translation — I am learning everyone in translation — and that you’ve told me (maybe) that this is a form of insatiability. Luswage, who is the you of your sentences? I sit inside the word — you — but want it in Ravic.

I carry this letter to a museum. It is the last day of an exhibit of which I’ve wanted to talk with you. Hours have folded and I have traveled many city blocks.

I sit at the Fred Sandback exhibit near the suggestion of a wall — in outline only — created by a maroon yarn. Taut and doubled, secured, invisibly, from the gallery’s floor to ceiling. A large “wall” that meets another smaller “wall.” They are strung in linear conversation, these separate walls, but never meet. The tension between their not meeting creates a threshold, a doorway composed of blank space, gathered only in yarn. When I cross between these walls, through the doorway of blank space they architecture, my skin shivers and I can feel the crown of my head petal open. Something happens in the space of suggestion. This something does not always happen in “actual” space. These quotation marks are a problem of proximity and solidity. The word: actual. What am I experiencing? The suggestion of matter gathered into shape — through sound or even string — has quite a physical effect. I can, if I choose, walk through Sandback’s “walls.” I can do the same with the sentence. What is the shadow cast by the sentence? The blur of the yarn in relation to the shadow to the sentence is an echoic presencing. While I sit in this museum, the light arches over the hours. The shadows cast from Sandback’s strings form a kind of echo upon the wall. My body holds this echo into memory; I still experience the ones that are no longer visible. Luswage, your sentences cast. A city and its shadow arching over the hours. Yourself and your shifting lonelinesses in relation. I build a body. I build Ravicka through your voice latticed with my own. Watch how your sentences debris, “You cannot enter a place without proving to its occupants that you have a body.” The sentence debris. The city debris through the sentence, “it is an internal disabling.”

I sit in this museum with your shadow. People sift the rooms. I am a scrawling upon the floor. It is astonishing to see these people. Most are more interested in how the string is secured to the floor and ceiling. They get down on their knees. Take off their glasses. Squint. I want to ask them about experience — what is happening to their skin? Mine shivers and blurs. Being with his installations feels like writing and reading to me — more than any other physical act has ever. These people who squat on the floor, looking desperate to pull the strings from their moorings, remind me of vulnerability — how scary this place can be and what we lay down at the threshold between presences and people. What we lay down at the lip of the sentence. Sandback’s gathering of spaces are permeable, membranous and out of time and experience almost entirely, yet I experience a something-space in relation. Luswage, somehow, through the sentence, we make a shape to meet within. A trajectory, even an anti- one, is a movement towards. What happens when no one is there to meet you in the sentence? When “the problem is I think I have been repeating these words for a while and the place has not responded.”? Or what happens if you cannot see that you are, in actuality, being met?

You write that the rubble of Ravicka may be a foreign rubble, that it is dropped off in the city from somewhere else — decay and debris left so that its inhabitants only think their city erodes. What does this mean about the body, disassociated in relation, unmoored, who waits for something (or someone) to unrubble them? You have written, “to think of architecture in its rawest rubble-state, is to do what, Ana Patova? I am rooted here waiting to know. Is it possible that someone will be sent to find me?” What is it that helps an impossible body become possible — what is it that helps moving through the world become bearable during the times we feel in a state of dissolve? Sometimes the floor disappears below the page. Sometimes my own hands begin to go. Sometimes my voice swallows into an impossible unpursing. You have written, “the edges that define this city are curling up and inward but also the air with which to speak is lessening.” I wonder so much about the echo of relation — the reverberations (im)possible within the sentence. Does the maybe eventual arrival of the reader help or soothe the writer? I want to say sometimes, but I do not know. I’m sometimes afraid to finish the books I’m writing. I want to hold your city in place with my mouth. I read, “you don’t have to go.” We always have to leave the sentence for the next one. And here, it shadows again — somehow the inflection of having met at all, here, the miracle of this. Sound I. Say I. In the sentence’s relation to a you. And a city is built and unbuilt between, and maybe, if we’re lucky, our bodies, which so often feel impossible, are met through the sounding. You wrote, “but if I love the same city you love, our maps should be interchangeable.” A map or mouth. A sentence that one might lean into. How do sentences yield and harbor? Do they? Or like Sandback’s concentrated energetic sites, are they specter-spaces, hungry and unquenchable. Sometimes I touch the sentence and expect a warm yielding in return.


1 Gladman, Renee. The Ravickians. Dorothy, a publishing project: 2011.
Return to Reference.

2 Luswage Amini is the Great Ravickian Novelist who narrates the first section of Renee Gladman’s novel, The Ravickians.
Return to Reference.