Twelve Great TranslationsTranslation requires a fine dexterity --- and delicacy ---
balancing the needs and music of one language
against the constraints and snares of the original.
Here are a dozen or so we've run across
in our years of editing this magazine
that we've treasured enough to recall for this list.
Hai Zi (Zha Haisheng)
Dan Murphy, Translator
(Host Publications)Hai Zi clinched his name as a poet mauve by writing endless amazing verse when he was still quite young and, just before fame could hit, killing himself near his home in Shanhaiguan, China. He was twenty-five-years-old.
This would automatically put him right up there with Keats, Byron, Plath, Wilfred Owen and perhaps Dylan Thomas in the poetic martyr sweepstakes. The picture of his passing is not without a certain drama: the train screaming down the tracks, the noise and the steam and thrumming of the pistons, the shriek of brakes on metal, and this not unhandsome, brilliant young man throwing himself to his death.
Obviously he suffered from too little regard for himself. Was he zonked? Was he suffering from a broken heart? Was he anguished by the politics of China? Was he, like Keats, embittered by a bad review of his writings? According to Murphy, in his last years, Hai Zi suffered from hallucinations. It's believable: the poetry is hallucinatory, reminding one of Baudelaire's Le Spleen de Paris, the Tamarit Poems of García-Lorca, Edith Sitwell's startling imagery ("the allegro Negro cocktail shaker") ... or, perhaps, Paul Celan:
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents
The most obvious clue to Hai Zi's final main --- every day we must choose to live; we can choose but once to part --- turns up in his poem "On Death," dedicated to Van Gogh. It contains all the elements of a suicide note: the dark sleep; the holy hands of doves (clumsy in the field); the flowers blooming over him; his body being taken by "the empress of death." Only a schizophrenic could join what most would think as dissonant (flowers, cows, sleep), tie them to "I think I am beautiful" and ultimately spirit us up and away with,
on a rainy night a cow thief
climbs in my window
and on my dreaming body
I remain deeply asleep
and on my dreaming body
colorful sunflowers bloom
those picking hands
like beautiful and clumsy doves
in a field of sunflowers
on a rainy night a cow thief
from my human body
I am still deeply sleeping
I am taken beyond my body
beyond the sunflowers. I am the world's
first cow (the empress of death)
I feel that I am beautiful
I am still deeply sleeping
(Aliform)This is no simple doughty tale of a fisherman surviving in the cays and rocks and islands and loves and fantasies of Northern Brazil. And author José Sarney is no simple doughty writer who suddenly makes the world of dreams, fish, and madness live. For he is somewhat of a fantasy himself. O Dono do Mar was published in 1978; seven years later, Sarney was elected President of Brazil.
Eh? A great writer ending up as head of the sixth largest country in the world? (His was the transition government from a military dictatorship.)
Can you imagine the President of the United States being revealed to have written a lusty funny tale of fishermen and monsters and passion, the story of a man with a wife who at the end of the forty years with him can say,
Let's forget about time Cristório. It doesn't exist here and still we count it. Let's get rid of days and nights, months and years and leave everything as though it was only Sun and Moon. Time's something people get into their heads. They invent it.
Could you and I dream of having a president who could write like that, tell us that time is something people have just made up? Or that "He'd never thought that a woman would be able to have that taste and sweet smell, something that wasn't just possession but a feeling of vastness?"
Wouldn't having the leader of our ship of state write like that make us deliriously happy?Go to the complete
After the Quake
The story here that won this reviewer's heart was "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo." I've always been quite fond of frogs, especially ones that can talk, one that, when we address him as "Mr. Frog" says "Please --- just call me Frog."
It's a sweet Kafka parable, without the Kafkaesque morbidity. Like Kafka, our writer allows us to visualize the creature, but imperfectly. We see him through a frog I mean a fog of brevity:
Katagiri found a giant frog waiting for him in his apartment. It was powerfully built, standing over six feet tall on its hind legs.
That's it for frog description, except that it has no teeth and can and does say, "ri-vit" (so Katagiri will believe it's a frog and not a man in frog disguise).
Mr. Frog --- that is, Frog --- tells him that there is a creature named Worm who lives below Tokyo, right under where Katagiri works in the bank. Frog has found out that Worm is going to wake from a long sleep and start moving which will cause an earthquake that will kill 150,000 people. He and Katagiri have to stop it.
The tale put me in mind of Mrs. Caliban, another tender monster story from twenty years ago. Mrs. Caliban's monster was also large and green and loving and somewhat wet. He came from the ocean into her life (and her bed) and then one night, sadly for him, and her, and the reader --- disappears back into the cold, dark sea.
Katagiri, like Mrs. Caliban, may well have invented his riveting Frog, but there is just enough mystery to it all that when we are done, we think we may have been gulled --- in a pleasant literary way, of course --- and that maybe our character has a vision that the rest of the world should emulate.
The ending of "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" is classic: Katagiri wakes up in the hospital, a nurse in attendance, Frog nowhere to be seen. She says,
"Another bad dream, eh? Poor dear." With quick efficient movements the nurse readied an injection and stabbed the needle into his arm...
"What were you dreaming about?"
Katagiri was having trouble differentiating dream from reality. "What you see with your eyes is not necessarily real," he told himself aloud.
"That's so true," said the nurse with a smile. "Especially when dreams are concerned."
"Frog," he murmured.
"Did something happen to Frog?" she asked.
""He saved Tokyo from being destroyed by an earthquake. All by himself."
"That's nice," the nurse said, replacing his near-empty intravenous feeding bottle with a new one. "We don't need any more awful things happening in Tokyo. We have plenty already."History: A Novel
(Steerforth Italia)Elsa Morante somewhere, somehow, picked up a magic style, one that comes so naturally and so effortlessly and so sweetly that we are swept along on the wings of her story --- immersed in it as if Ida and Nino and Useppe and Davide were our own family: you and I magically transported into 1942 or 1944 Italy to participate in the wonders and horrors of the lives of four people merely trying to survive in a world of no shelter, little food, and constant danger.
It's a cosmic writing --- a writing that causes the reader to be awash with the day-to-day of a people that we would never otherwise have a chance to meet. These are characters that, over the course of a few pages, begin to move and act so naturally that we think that a camera has been set up for us in San Lorenzo, a camera with a special sensing device so we can hear the conversations, feel their doubts, get into their minds, participate in their ecstasies and their terrors.
Most of all, it's a story of forgotten peasants, told by one who's language is straight, direct, simple --- one could even say peasant-like. For a touch of verisimilitude, every now and again, the author introduces herself into the narrative:
How that little runaway Jewish student [Davide] then managed, when hired, to produce suitable documents, I couldn't say. However, I have been assured that (thanks to some clandestine intrigue) in the factory his real identity was unknown...For myself, the scant and fragmentary information I have been able to gather came, to a large extent, from Ninnuzzu [Nino] and he, for that matter, gave it a comic interpretation...And so my present memoir of the event remains rather patchy and approximate.
How did you know all this? Oh, says Morante: I asked. I asked one of the characters in the novel. It was the best I could do, so my memory of it must remain "patchy and approximate."
David Colmer, Translator
(Archipelago Books)The boy asks Helmer --- cheekily, I might add --- about what it was like being one of two. "It must be weird," he says, "Having a twin brother. Someone who's exactly like you."
He lights his cigarette.
I get up off the chair and open the window a little wider.
"Exactly the same body..."
The duvet has slipped down a little, baring his chest. A smooth young chest with a timorous heart. He blows out a cloud of smoke. Not at the window, but straight in my face.
He talks about his fear (of, for instance, summer). "With a twin brother that's not a problem. You're always together."
Helmer recalls his brother: "We did not have any difficulty at all in merging like a pair of Siamese twins."
I no longer had a sense of my own skin, my own muscles, my own bones.
Henk II ends up climbing in Helmer's bed. "Am I a kind of Henk now." "Maybe," Helmer thinks, "This is what you have to do in return for someone saving your life." (Henk II has just saved Helmer from drowning). He recalls a poem,
I sometimes see myself
in mirror or in windowpane
just after I've seen you
my own half body.
Then: "I wasn't entirely relaxed in the first place, but now I feel even more tension entering my body. I know what he's getting at but I don't answer."
"Well?" he says. "Am I a kind of Henk?"
"What do you mean?" I ask cagily.
"Your brother. Am I like your brother now?"
And Helmer thinks, after he had spent a night in the sack with this new Henk, "Something is going badly wrong here. When did this start? 'No,' I say."
The assumption. That twin boys will, at some time or another, love each other ... in a way that is, well, well under the covers. "My shoulder blades are itching with annoyance," thinks Helmer.
"If you ask me I am," the boy says, half asleep, "A kind of Henk." "Kind" is a potent word. Kind, kindred. Kinder. Helmer loved his twin. And now there is this other Henk. Making suggestions.
"How does he do it?" Helmer wonders. "Asking Father how the dying is going, as if he's asking him if he'd like some more gravy on his potatoes." One doesn't talk thus to a man who forty years ago lost his one great love, a love that may not speak its name.
Within a short time, Henk II is gone from the lonely farm in Waterland.
Helmer van Wonderen is a Dutch farmer. He lives with his dying father, twenty-three sheep, twenty cows, and two donkeys ... not far from Amsterdam. At fifty-five, you do not ask him about his beloved brother, dead these many years. And you certainly do not ask, "Am I a kind of Henk?"
Even if you are a kind of Henk, you do not ask that.
Monologue of a Dog
(Harcourt)The title poem might have some readers on edge especially the past generation, so idiotically called "boomers" when as far as we can see they are booming only when stoned or drunk. These nitwits are perfervid in their ignorance of anything in history that happened before the advent of the Lemonheads, Rancid, or the Arctic Monkeys. Szymborska's poem tells of a dog, a very special dog, owned by a special, awful 20th Century figure. When judging art, we are faced with the question of whether a poem works if you and I do (or do not) know the referent. Who is she writing about here? Probably no one under forty will be able to say. Out of simple affection for the writer, let's ruff the question of whether or not it is a piece of high art.
Meanwhile, know that the volume Monologues of a Dog is an impeccable face à face edition: Polish to the left, English to the right. Szymborska's one albatross bears the name of "Billy Collins." They say he's a poet; he should stick to poetry ... his 1500 word Forward to the edition could have been reduced to a dozen or so lines, preferably of verse. Szymborska herself doesn't care to cloud each poem with more than a page or so of writing; why should he?
Collins comes up with the dumb idea that American poetry is taken up solely with time, where other poems of other nations are of history. Tell that to Emily and Walt and Ezra, Billy.
And he, too, is so bewitched by the phrase carpe diem that he uses it twice in two pages. Dumb me. I had to look it up. It means "seize --- or 'pluck' --- the day."
Forget the poetasters and dogsbodies; pluck the strings lightly, and daily, for Wisława Szymborska ... the dreamsmith of versifiers.
A Heart so White
Margaret Jull Costa, Translator
(New Directions)Juan works as a translator. Luisa works in the same field --- in fact, that is how they met and, ultimately, married. It was at a high-level meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Juan Carlos of Spain where they were alone with the two leaders.
But in the world of Marías, nothing is simple. We say "translating," and we see these two heads of state with two other people who have the requisite facility in languages they don't know. What happens if the translators fudge, or change a few ideas? What happens if the words that go back and forth is fantasy, made up by the translators? Who is there to guard the guardians of words --- another translator? And who will watch that second operative --- another?
Perhaps it comes down to the whole question of listening,
Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what's going on, our ears don't have lids that can instinctively close against words uttered, they can't hide from what they sense they are about to hear, it's always too late.
If I was doing an essay, for a class in English, I could here say that A Heart So White is about listening, and talking, and words, and translating those words; how words get translated by all of us, into something else, something else that, perhaps, we didn't mean. But that would be like saying that Ulysses is about living in Dublin in the early part of the century, or that Remembrance of Things Past is about memory, or that Henry James writes about money and position and power and sexual restraint. These sophomore essay statements are true, but when we write them, we are forced to abandon the richness of what they represent. So it is for your present translator...this reviewer. A Heart So White is too rich, rich like a madeline; so rich that we wanted, after the first few pages, as reviewer, and as reader --- just to give up on it. So much sophistry, so many words, to describe what may (or may not be) going on, for Marías is a Proust, a Joyce, a Henry James of the late 20th Century. Writing so rich that it damn near drowns one.
Word-lies. How one uses words in order to lie. That's one of ten or twelve themes that swamp A Heart So White.An Episode in the Life
Of a Landscape Painter
(New Directions)As I am reading this supposed history of Rugendas, carefully taking notes on the inside back cover, I get to the point where I know there is something strange going on here, certainly something too much for me to be able to convey in words.
It may be the screwiness in the setting --- setting being a key element in the paintings and drawings that Rugendas and Krause are doing --- coupled with a pliancy of words that turns the reader (and the characters) upside-down (one even being dragged through the plains upside-down).
Is it the symbols? There are symbols, good ones too: "the enormous grilles shut behind them with a clang to which the birds replied;" salmon "as big as sheep;" gusts of wind rearranging the "stars and mountains."
Is it the rare flash of the comic? Rugendas, face hidden in a mantilla, (since he can't see his face he isn't worried about hiding it; but light, the bright light of the Argentine highlands, hurts his eyes). Thus half-blind, mounting his horse backwards,
when he came to look for the reins of course he could not find them. The horse was headless!
The faceless man on the headless horse, charging off (backwards) to find an Indian raid, so he can get it down on paper, always at the edge of the action, finally stumbling, late at night, into the encampment of the rebels, where Rugendas continues to draw faces as peculiar as his own,
big mouths with lips like squashed sausages, Chinese eyes, figure-eight noses, locks matted with grease, bull necks ... His face expressed things he did not mean to express, but no one realized, not even Rugendas, because he could not see himself. He could only see the faces of the Indians, which to him were horrible too, but all in the same way.
A Woman's Journal of Struggle and
Defiance in Occupied France
Barbara Mellor, Translator
(Bloomsbury)There's prison literature and prison literature. Much of it can be as boring as prison itself. But Résistance is different: Humbert is hardy, foolhardy, smart ... and such a sterling character you want to call her up on the telephone just to tell her to cool it.
She is breath-takingly brave. In her trial, when the prosecutor asks if she knows who wrote the anti-Nazi newspaper, "'Why yes, of course,' I reply, 'I know exactly who wrote it.'"
"So?" he asks, with an expression of triumph in his evil little eyes like lottery balls. "So...?"
"So, what would you do in my position?"
He wants her to rat on her soul-mates, that's what he wants, and as he waits for her to do so, he smiles.
"You're smiling, so I'll do the same. I'll smile too."
"You do not want to change your mind in any respect?"
"Well, bringing you here was a complete waste of time, then!"
For almost a year, she's been in a dirty little cell with no vista of trees or streets or greenery of any kind, so she replies that it was not a waste of time at all: "By no means. I saw the place de la Concorde, and I am grateful to you for giving me this pleasure before I leave France." And so she gets shipped off to Germany.
§ § §
Not only is the writing in Résistance good, we grow quickly to care about Humbert. Fear and curiosity are her constant companions, and they become ours too. She's such a spark that we fear that she's going to get whacked just for being so defiant. We are curious to see just exactly how she survives.
Every book of survival comes with a Moment of Truth. It is the moment one learns what it will entail to survive. In this case, it's that moment when Humbert realizes that despite her good-humor and wit, she is faced with something truly grotesque: jailers that are capable of great and appalling cruelty. It's the moment when she realizes that she is without recourse, that she's in a place of no escape, and those running the show are dyed-in-the-wool, no-kidding, without-a-doubt beasts --- capable of any and all violence, to the body; to the soul.
She (and the reader) get transported to a nightmare world where there is no escape, a world manned by brutes --- the women jailers are equally brutish --- who will deprive you of food and water; who will beat you and kick you if you do not follow their exact (and often insane) orders; who will work you hard for eight or ten or twelve or twenty-four hours. Worst of all, no matter how sweet, intelligent or gentle their charges, the enforcers don't give a toot if they live or die.Go to the complete
Barbara Bray, Translator
(Johns Hopkins)In Kaltenborn, the Youth Camp, during the disintegration of the Third Reich, we find Tiffauges, this unlikely Frenchman who is exactly contrary to the Nazi ideal of beauty --- thin, pale, ugly, thick glasses, "microgenitomorphus" (his girl-friend said he made love like a "canary") --- left in charge of 400 boys. He is sent out, paradoxically, to capture more boys for the camp. He finds Haro and Hajo,
mirror twins who can be superimposed on one another face to face, not one on top of the other....It is no longer a matter of a contradictory tumult in which souls neutralize one another. The two bodies really have only one concept between them with which to clothe themselves in intelligence and fill themselves with spirit, So they develop with calm indecency, exhibiting their creamy complexion, their pink down, their muscular or adipose tissue in an animal nudity that is unsurpassable. For nudity is not a state but a quantity and as such infinite in theory, limited in fact.
The Ogre is of complex structure. As with the novels of Thomas Mann, or Umberto Ecco, it takes a while to crank up, the machinery is finely tuned but it takes a bit before it gets going. Part I --- all in the first person --- is filled with some sputterings and wheezes --- but by page 130 or so, the machinery is running along as a humming artistic whole. In the process, it gives us some rich thoughts to stay with us after we have finished:
Every man must throughout his life have an "essential age" that he aspires to till he reaches it and clings to after he's passed it.This is all strange, distorted, rich, cruel writing. They compare it to The Tin Drum but that book of monsters was flat and myopic compared to the rich symphony of The Ogre.
The absolute power of a tyrant always ends by driving him mad...Nothing is harder to endure than the imbalance between infinite power and limited knowledge.
There's probably nothing more moving in a man's life than the accidental discovery of his own perversion.
Peter Sedgwick, Translator
(University of Iowa)
I began to feel... this sense of a danger from inside, a danger within ourselves, in the very tempers and character of victorious Bolshevism. I was continually wracked by the contrast between the stated theory and the reality, by the growth of intolerance and servility among many officials and their drive towards privilege.
This is Serge's first hint that he and the thousands of loyal radicals who participated in the early days of the Russian revolution were witnessing an unexpected change:
The maddening atmosphere of persecution in which they lived --- as I did --- inclined them to persecution mania and the exercise of persecution.
Only a few of the "old Bolsheviks" saw the drift that the country was taking: a new and stifling bureaucracy, repression, their fellows murdered or sent to labor camps or expelled from the country. And when Stalinism took hold, there was always the question (one that was to emerge again and again, most of all with the trials of 1936-37): how could Serge and the true believers stay loyal to the dream that was being so elegantly poisoned?
The answer is strange to us now, but was not so strange in 1927 or 1931 or even 1935. With all its malfeasances --- "the Terror," a revolutionary experiment hijacked by the bureaucrats and thugs (the Cheka, the G. P. U.) --- still, after all this, it was the only Revolution going.
The old Bolsheviks and anarchists staked their hopes on the export of revolution to France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, China. Once the people's government took hold in those countries, the pressure would be off; then, it was thought, Russia could resume its course towards being the true revolution --- democracy of the workers, freedom of speech, the ownership, by the people, of the very means of production.
Unfortunately, with the help of the United States (most diligently Herbert Hoover), England, France, and those who had manufactured the time bomb called the Versailles Treaty, the baby was murdered in the crib. Russia was forced to go it alone.
And despite the horrors Serge saw around him --- friends being exiled, murdered, sent to the concentration camps, hounded to death, suicides (the number of suicides among the old radicals was astonishing) --- despite the secret police, the disavowal of Trotsky, "the sordid taint of money," and what he calls "The Soviet Thermidor" --- it was still, still, the only game in town.Popular Music
(Seven Stories Press)It is the story of Matti and Niila growing up in Pajala --- a tiny town in Sweden, close to where it touches Finland. It is cold and dark, but the people in Stockholm are bringing in electricity and paving the roads and somehow the two boys come across a record of roskn roll musis with four young men from England singing Ollyu nidis lav and Owatter shayd ovpail. The Beatles --- and later Elvis --- come to northern Sweden.
If this is beginning to sound like an ice-clogged Our Town of the 60s, don't you believe it. There are drinking parties where young men speak only in vowels and wet themselves. There are funerals where several hundred heirs fight viciously over the spoils. There is a ghost of grandmother who haunts young Niila until they face her one night and, oh, cut off her penis and bury it.
There is fumbling love with a black-haired beauty in a hot-wired Volvo, a sauna that gets so hot that only Matti survives ... to fall to the floor, puking (which set me off again). This is Lake Woebegone with nuts, a Jean Shepard never-ending story set in the icy tundra of the northlands instead of Jersey City.
Anthea Bell, Translator
(Pushkin Press)It was such a balmy world back then, back before they came along and started their wars.
From the end of the Napoleonic era until the assassination at Sarajevo, the world according to Zweig was blissful, innocent, glorious. He and his friends would argue poetry and music and art in the pre-WWI coffee houses of Vienna. They would skip classes to read Rilke, listen to Schubert, memorize Goethe, declaim Shakespeare, study the newest "feuilletons." Then came the General Mobilization of 1914 ... which many of them cheered.
During the hostilities, Zweig worked at the Austrian War Archives, and his journeys of research into Galicia and points east led him to travel on troop trains filled with the wounded and dying. It made him a life-long pacifist.
Afterwards, he wrote novels --- Amok, Because of Pity, Fantastic Night were some of the most famous --- and he tells us that his works "were translated into French, Bulgarian, Armenian, Portuguese, Spanish, Norwegian, Latvian, Finnish and Chinese." Through this period, until the end of his life, he longed for the lost Edwardian times ... where a Viennese coffee house was "the best cultural source for all novelty."
Then there are his friends. Rilke, Rodin, Yeats, Gorky, Toscanini, Anatole France, Paul Valéry, Romain Rolland, James Joyce, who, he writes, personally loaned him a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man..
And then there is Freud:
The friendly hours I spent with Sigmund Freud in those last months before the catastrophe showed me ... how even in the darkest days a conversation with an intellectual man of the highest moral standards can bring immeasurable comfort and strength to the mind.
The art of Zweig is such that we don't blame him much at all for dropping their names ... only feel a piercing envy that he could know such characters, can call up the memories so easily: "I once met G. B. Shaw at Hellerau ... [H. G.] Wells had visited my house in Salzburg."
Then there was his close friend and collaborator Richard Strauss: "He sits down at his desk at nine in the morning and goes on composing exactly where he left off the day before, regularly writing the first sketch in pencil, the piano score in ink, and going on without a break until twelve or one o'clock." The composer, he reports, may then play Skat --- a card-game --- in the afternoon, and after dinner, go off to conduct at the Opera House in Salzburg. One of the reasons we can't stand Strauss' works --- spare us "Thus Spake Zarathustra" --- has to do with his metronome-like ability to pour out such heavy scores without passion: "He is never nervous in any way" reveals Zweig ... and it shows.Television
(Dalkey Archive)Our hero tells us he is going to give up television. At least once the Tour de France ends. Presumably this will help him on his research in Berlin, for which he has been given a hefty grant. The subject? Hold onto your hats:
It's 1550 in Augsburg. The painter Titian has been assigned to paint a portrait of the Emperor, Charles V. In his studio, one day,
Titian changed his mind, deciding to switch to another brush and add a golden highlight rather than a touch of white, and let his brush slip from his grasp. It fell through his fingers and landed at the emperor's feet. Dispensing with the customary greetings and reverences, the two men exchanged a glance of tremendous intensity. The brush lay on the floor at their feet, a tiny gold dot at the tip of its fine, contained flame of hairs. Inclined, its colored point glistening with oil, the brush lay on the marble, and no one in the room made a move. Already the muscles in Titian's back, shoulders, and arms were readying the gesture with which he would bend down and pick up the brush, but Charles V acted first, stooping down to retrieve the brush and return it, thereby implicitly recognizing the precedence of art over political power.Television is positively bustling with strange-
serious- ridiculous stuff like this. First off, there is this bizarre picayune study project of a single moment plucked from the 16th Century, narrated so meticulously, so minutely, that it reminds us of 16th Century portraits, with all their picayune details.
Then, there is the day-to-day in the Berlin summer of this Titian dropped-paintbrush student. For example, our hero tells everyone that he has given up television, only to find everyone else saying "I hardly watch it either." Then he promises to care for the upstairs neighbor's plants while they are on vacation, but he forgets, lets them all die (helped along by his stuffing a rare fern into the refrigerator).
He gets lost in the Dahlem Museum, but ends up in a deserted guards' watch station, in front of dozens of closed circuit television screens, watching (on tv!) other museum-goers viewing paintings. He gets lost in Berlin, in the Rilkestrasse (where else?) looking for a lady who is to take him for an airplane ride; he ends up in an apartment where one can look out the window and see countless apartments with countless televisions blaring away, all mostly on the same channel.
And it was then, still distractedly watching those glowing televisions in the windows of the building across the way, that I was struck by the presence of a television glowing all alone in a deserted living room, with no human presence visible before it, a phantom television in a sense, disseminating images in the emptiness of a sordid living room on the fourth floor of the building across the way, with an old gray couch half visible in the dimness.