01 April 2011

Notebook Friday: Brandon Brown

It's been way too long since I've posted a proper "Notebook Friday," so I thought to call in one of the Bay Area's heavy-hitters: Mr. Brandon Brown. I asked Brown to share something from his notebook, something in situ, and he sent the following translations of Charles Baudelaire's "Obsession." He also sent the following composition notes: "Essentially I'm doing an experiment in repetition and duration, inspired by David Brazil's practice especially and also T. J. Clark's The Sight of Death, in which I return to the French text of "Obsession" every day and do some sort of "translation" or, you know, writing that derives directly from a reading of the text. As usual, the eco-ambience of wherever I write these pieces has so far mattered a lot, from my office to BART to the bar. Um, "Obsession" starts January 1 2011 and ends December 31 2011 n'sha Allah." If the intimations I've been hearing are correct, Brandon has a few things on the horizon: Krupskaya's publishing his Catullus translations, and his work on The Persians is forthcoming from Displaced Press. AND it's going to be BEAUTIFUL in the Bay Area this weekend (it was, like, in the 70's on Thursday!!), so I hope reading this new work by B.B. will help set the weekend off proper!

Seven Translations of “Obsession,” a poem by Charles Baudelaire (by Brandon Brown)


Make the translation by a weekend of extreme pot smoking and excessive journaling. Do this on the Mendocino coast, right in the woods but overlooking the ocean. Get so high you think you understand the language of the stars. Or 19th century French.

For Andrew Kenower


That the translation is done “under siege” is not simply representative of the architecture in which it’s often performed—but at all times it’s done besieged by the imporous “ocean” of Satanic commerce (My Heart Laid Bare). I know it’s problematic to say so, but they are literally slave songs.

If the stars do present a “picture puzzle” of the commodity in Baudelaire, that is the very language, the exactly “familiar” language which mediates the void, the blank, the bare.

Thinking too of David Larsen’s Troy benshi, the “armies are like oceans”—or wait, forests? The oceanic agent of our vanquishing is one of absolute force, is maintained only by violence and the threat of bodily pain and death. A whip like a forest. And it is terrifying.


Translation is always done in retrospect, but it doesn’t involve time travel. That is, every translation involves the co-representation of at least two times, by the technology of writing in durable material. Translation can only ever be nostalgia, that is, not retroactively ontogenetic. This is not its sentence however (nostalgia)—it can be performed according to different intensities of pain.

This writing for instance is making up for a deranged day in which I did no writing. And as it “makes up for” it doesn’t equal.


The “grands bois” are terrifying in part by their utter impersonality, unrelatability—heralded by the “vous”—the ocean is an object of intimate hatred, and thus the “tu.” You cannot “hate” in the formal, you have to be familiar to hate.

Remembering that so often for Baudelaire the ocean is inside a person. In “Obsession” it’s there too, but like a translation of what the ocean in part effects: vanquishment, mutability, madness.

Alli and I were talking about the intimate nature of hatred—in a truly Catullan conversation I guess—but with respect to my operatically changed feelings for ***** on one hand and ***** on the other. All those relations taking place in the unstable realm of the tu.


“Except” everything is ruined particularly for Baudelaire. I never thought until last night that the real reason for his devotion to Jeanne, far past the probable time of their consort, is that he had given her syphilis. That he was literally responsible for the ruination of her beauty and health, her death. So for a reading of “Obsession” in which the “noir” touches Jeanne, the “familiar” language indeed sounds as a result of connu, of knowledge (unforgettable knowledge effected by the “biblical” knowledge of Jeanne”).

What is disparus?


Disparus is “the dead”—is the mob, is the memory or “mob of memories” also “dead”

“And so, the visible lord of visible nature (I am speaking of man) has sought to create Paradise through pharmacy and through fermented beverages, like some maniac who would replace solid furniture and real gardens with scenery painted on canvas and mounted in a frame.” (The Poem of Hashish)

But “Obsession” is a drug poem, not a booze poem. Booze “provokes a man [sic] to a very unspiritual frenzy” just like perfume will enervate one’s strength. In hashish and opium, the encounter is spiritual. But in esprit there are frenzies too—of the insane, vanquished, oceanic, cackling sort.

Make the translation in a sensory deprivation chamber, charting after emerging whatever memories seemed most “familiar.” Note whatever phonemes prevail in the record and arrange those as an amulet against vanquishment-induced madness.

For Robert Kocik


Night is pleasant because it belongs to the world of duration. The forests, the organ in the cathedral and the God it howls in praise of, the ocean, commerce…all these things aspire to immortality, or represent themselves as immortal.

David’s marvelous insistence that the “FOREVER” on the US postage stamp is a commonplace, daily exchangeable, tremendous LIE.

Night unlike the ocean has an end—enlightenment. And yet day is not night’s fulfillment—which like the harvest Baudelaire could not tolerate—qua fulfillment; also madness must appear as an emblem to syphilitic Baudelaire as the mark of a kind of “end.”

When I am brutally hungover or sick, the sobbing-in-the-shower variety of either, I often conceptualize the epoch of its duration as necessitating the rapid assumption of nightfall—a night with no stars. That is, no memories.

I dreamt last night that I lived next to a tsunami.

“Water became the obsessing element. Already, in our work on hashish, we have observed the brain’s amazing predilection for this element…our author had loved humanity too dearly, and had bathed too delightedly in the seas of the multitude to expect that the human face could not play some despotic part in his dreams.” (The Poem of Hashish)

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