Away! Away! by Jana Beňová: Woman-in-Motion

AWAY! AWAY!  by Jana Beňová, Tr. Janet Livingstone. December 2018. Two Dollar Radio. $14.99. 99 pp.

AWAY! AWAY! by Jana Beňová, Tr. Janet Livingstone. December 2018. Two Dollar Radio. $14.99. 99 pp.

And just like that, one morning, you wake up and you are in motion and you can’t stop moving. As if you just realized that you’ve been waiting for something (an event, a person) in the wrong place, you silently gather your things, and set off into the hazy dawn, but then you can’t stop moving. Suddenly, you are aware of how quickly the earth revolves. Your very point in space has been moving so fast. It hits you that the ground you have been standing on has never been stable so you set off, if not for stabler ground then because you are always in motion anyway, so you might as well act like it. Memories of that illusion of solid ground quickly dissipate; it seems you have always been moving and, of course, it simply follows that you will always be moving. Moving towards what?

Nora--she did something like this too, but it wasn’t quite the same. How old was I when I first saw Hanoi Jane in A Doll’s House? 14? 15? But this isn’t some grand gesture to assert or re-claim your humanity. It’s not even a gesture at all--toward what or whom would such gestures even be made? Yourself? You are as groundless as the world. You’re not moving in rejection of your obligations. You have ceased to be conscious of even the illusion of obligation, and knowing this saddens you. When I get away from all this, and am on my own, I’m going to have to look into that as well. Look, there is no birdcage that you’re escaping, and so this motion cannot be considered “escape”. It is just motion. Must be nice to be so deluded as to think that there is some birdcage to flee. Perhaps there has been one once, for some woman, but not in this lifetime, not for this one.

Bratislava train station in the Winter

Bratislava train station in the Winter

You, Jana Beňová, are, of course, fated to the lineage of Lispector, Lefebvre, and Cixous, women who do not bother to pin their words down to the ground but let them swirl up above, overhead. How typical of us to swirl and watch ourselves from up above or down below, to watch ourselves swirling! So true to form, we experience the past, the present, and the future all at once--they are all the same, indeed--what is time to a woman who swirls? Stomping ever forward, you begin to think that perhaps a vacation to Italy is the solution--a Mediterranean spring, a fling with some impassioned and detached italiano could be the eightfold path to surrendering to inevitable motion. Just like that, the affair has already occurred, and the past is right in front of you, ripe for the reliving.

There is, Jana Beňová, a bullshit note in the forward to your book Away! Away! (December 2018, Two Dollar Radio): any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, with the exception of Gerda, Kai, and the reindeer from the fairytale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. Alright, okay, it’s only half-bullshit, I’ll give you that. Even if, Jana Beňová, there is no reference to specific individuals or events within Away! Away!, can we not admit that our characters, symbols, and archetypes bind us to reality? How would we make sense of our imagination if not for reference points in reality? How can we explain reality if not through the symbols and archetypes we create? Your Rosa, your protagonist who suddenly decides to leave her husband, is an archetype of the woman-in-motion. She may not be you, Jana Beňová, or even someone you know, but she is also accessible within you and also within me. To be a woman-in-motion like Rosa, simply requires a change in perspective. (And you do change perspectives so rapidly! You fink on objectivity! To the dickens with consistent indicators of dialogue! What a trick you set forth for translator Janet Livingstone!)

Still from Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of  The Snow Queen

Still from Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of The Snow Queen

Rosa is an archetype among archetypes, torn between the binary identities of prose and poetry, Kai and Gerda. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, with the exception of Gerda, Kai, and the reindeer, with the exception of prose and poetry. And what may be said of what prose is and what poetry is? You presumably quote someone (who?) when you write, “Prose talks about something; poetry makes it happen with the help of words.” Surely that can’t be right. It’s as if to say, the distinction between prose and poetry is that between reaction and action. But Jana, (the illusion of) root causality has ceased to exist, haven’t you heard? My apologies if clarity here is occluded. You must know how it is to lose the ground! I might, in fact, propose that prose is occlusion disguised as clarity and poetry is clarity disguised as occlusion. Occluded occlusion is unfiltered chaos from which clear clarity is yet to be discovered. It may be the role of the critic to parse clarity from occlusion, and if that is so, I fear I must fail you. Another archetype that I (you) cannot fully inhabit, another place of ambiguity.

Chamois goat in the High Tatras, Slovakia

Chamois goat in the High Tatras, Slovakia

Funny how those of us who perceive ourselves to be the most sharply analytical are often the most occluded in our judgment, that in lacking love and distancing ourselves from irrationality we become prone to fatal fallacies. What splinters from narcissan mirrors distort our vision, Rosa? Who will release us from such a goblin’s curse, Jana? What a fate! To march ever northward, hearts growing cold, encountering each new soul as a puzzle to be solved. What would poor Immanuel Kant think of such devils as us? I should like to have such puzzles dissolved by warm tears, or at the very least, be detained against my knowledge by some warm creature, to be secreted away among naps and cherries (siestas and olives!) Is it possible that we find comfort in our metropolitan malaise, and does it matter whether we do or not? If there is such an archetype for warmth and ground, perhaps one day we women-in-motion may find some respite. For now, there is only onward, northward, away.

Katherine Beaman