Thursday, September 11, 2014

James Riordan: From Obsession to Book


Earlier this week I launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund a series of readings. In talking to people about the project and Le Roman du Lièvre, the book that has necessitated it, I have found myself stumbling over my history with the text and the many converging paths that have lead me to this point and to its printing. I would like to take this opportunity to articulate the framework from which this project hangs, touching on a few key moments, from which everything else can be extrapolated.  

A little over 10 years ago I stole a book from my college’s library. Motivated solely by its appearance, I acted spontaneously, unaware of the way in which this deed would effect my life.

I was pleasantly surprised by the story it contained. Romance of the Rabbit was a 1920’s translation of a turn of the century French novel. Set in the world of Jean de la Fountain’s fables. It was the story of a rabbit falling in love with Saint Francis of Assisi.

Or was it a Hare? Five years after stealing the book I translated Francis Jammes’ original text for myself. On a whim I started with the title and immediately discovered that the story was about a hare not a rabbit. As absurd as it sounds, this inconsistency was enough to prompt my own translation.  

Did I mention that I do not know French?

Another five years have passed and the book is as much a part of my life as it ever has been. Over the years it has empowered me, played excuse, lifeline and instigator. When I speak of it I often forget I am speaking of a book. And in many ways it has become much more. A series of group shows, music, food, travel, even the foundation of a comic book. 

This summer I finally got around to printing my translation.  I did not put this off on purpose. I had just not found an opportunity to print the text in a fashion suitably laborious, or absurd enough to do my translation process justice. An e-book would not work for obvious reasons. In fact, most forms of printing that I had had at my disposal were not right for the task.

As part of the Rasmuson Foundation residency program I spent 2 months at Zygote Press in Cleveland. There I hand-printed my translation of Le Roman du Lièvre using monotype on a Vandercook press. With the help of the community at Zygote, printing was approached through a participatory process modeled after the educational philosophy of Jacques Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster. The cover was printed on paper hand made at the Morgan Conservatory specifically for the project. And the resulting books were beautiful.

For those that are unfamiliar, monotype is a form of letterpress printing in which every letter is a separate piece of lead. Every character, every space, even the space between lines is separate. This seemed the perfect way to re-engage with a text I had had to fuss over so intensely during the original translation process. Monotype was suitably intimate, requiring repeated proofing and a great deal of handling.

And that brings us back to the present. To my kickstarter campaign and the eventual series of readings that will result. Readings that will hopefully flesh out the ten year chronology presented here, re –centered this time around, again focused on the story that began it all.   

For more about the book and my work with Le Roman du Lievre please visit http://www.riordanjimmy.com/le-roman-du-livre/and my kickstarter page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1206766764/the-le-roman-du-lievre-translation-and-comic. 



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