A Critical Exclusive: A Sexy, Fun, Beautiful Trio of Books from Denis Donikian

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For close to 50 years, Denis Donikian has been a voice for the voiceless, a great littérateur and artist, an outspoken critic of corruption and dictatorship wherever he has found them—briefly said, a rare voice among Armenian writers. Born outside of Paris in the city of Vienne to parents who were both survivors of the Genocide, Donikian is the author of more than 40 volumes of poetry, non-fiction and prose. He most recently published La Petite Encyclopédie du Genocide Arménien, a four hundred page book which breaks down the Aghet by topic and theme. The author writes mainly in French and sometimes in Armenian, having attended the Collège de Sèvres as a child and later at Yerevan State University. He studied in Armenia then travelled to and fro, between Armenia, the Ukraine, and Georgia where he met luminaries such as filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov. Everywhere he has gone he has written, taught, created, shared generously of himself.

In typically profuse fashion, Donikian has released three more books this year, beginning with the bilingual L’Esprit du Corps Féminin”/”The Spirit of the Feminine Body, followed by his book of aphorisms Idiots and Idiocy and finally the Eastern Armenian bilingual edition of his stunning poem “Paradjanov’s Horses.”

Donikian, Lover of Women: Celebrating the Female Erotic

Donikian–the poet and the man–has always been an unabashed lover of all things feminine. In a way that comes off as perhaps typically French to some, he simply loves women: their charm, their wit, their style and perhaps especially their bodies. His current ode to all things feminine L’Esprit du Corps Féminin/The Spirit of the Female Body continues in this unique, inimitable vein. In an age of Me Too political correctness and where everyone now seems afraid to write what they really think about the opposite sex, Donikian instead throws caution to the wind.

The poems included in this tantalizing book of poems each sparkle with their own grace and should be read as a corrective to the current hesitancy to celebrate what is feminine and what is masculine in our world — never forgetting those that are both and neither and everything in between! His introductory poem in turn serves as a perfect introduction to readers:

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Tes seins sont du raisin dans mes paumes

Ta peau est un velours vibrant de confusion

Ton front un tabernacle de grâce

Ton rire une délivrance

Et tes silences le manteau immaculé des choses

J’ouvre tes cuisses comme un livre du cantique

Où vit sous son Buisson ardent

L’eau qui a soif d’être bue

Ma langue y quête

Le suc qui doit ressusciter

L’homme en son agonie

 

Your breasts are grapes within my palms

Your skin velvet vibrating with confusion

Your forehead a graceful tabernacle

Your laughter a deliverance

And your silences the immaculate coat of all things

I part your legs like a canticle

Where beneath its burning bush lies

The water that thirsts to be quaffed

My tongue searches out

The sap that will resuscitate

Man in his agony

(English translation, Christopher Atamian)

 

Aphorisms to Deconstruct Stupidity: Donikian’s Idiots and Idiocy

(n.b.: Originally derived from the French word for the female reproductive organ, the words “con” and “connerie” have long since entered mainstream gallic vocabulary as mild insults—the equivalent of both “jerk” or “p—k” in English, depending on the exact context. As in: “He is such a p—,” and “Her boss often does and says jerky things. A class bully, for example, or a politician who turns his back on his campaign promise are a “con” and “Quelqu’un qui fait des conneries.”

Pretty much anyone who takes pleasure in annoying or belittling others simply for the sake of it can be termed a “con” without fear.)

Donikian has always been a lover of aphorisms — along with Ara Baliozian he is one of two important contemporary diasporan writers to have published entire books of them. Many are justifiably self-critical towards Armenian culture and politics, as well as human society as a whole. The two hundred and one mostly clever, sometimes ironic, and at others truly critical aphorisms presented here should bring a more than a few smiles to readers’ faces. Some of Donikian’s main themes include Armenian history and culture in general; the lack of foresight or honesty of some governmental institutions and leaders and, sigh, the continuing rule of idiots and idiocy, far and wide. A few of my favorites follow (translations mine):

4 – De nos jours, les cons accèdent aux plus hautes marches du pouvoir : Trump, Poutine,Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Bachar el-Assad, Kim Jong Un… Il y a même des royalement cons qui exhibent leur connerie d’apparat au balcon de leur palais.

These days, jerks accede even the top echelons of business, law and medicine: Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Bashar-el Assad, Kim Jong Un. There are even some royal assholes who exhibit their ceremonial b.s. on the balcony of their palaces.

5– Le plus grand con de l’histoire reste quand même Hitler, porté aux nues par un peuple qui s’enconnait de ses conneries idéologiques.

The biggest jerk in history remains Hitler, who was lifted to the heavens by a nation of people

increasingly encumbered by his ideological imbecilities.

 

14 – La connerie est mimétique. Plus je te ressemble, plus je suis con.

Stupidity is mimetic. The more I resemble you, the stupider I become.

 

26 – Ces spectateurs d’un match de football, que font-ils sinon qu’ils sont pris dans le délire d’une connerie collective chaque fois que le pauvre ballon se fait frapper par un con dans une direction ou dans une autre ?

And what of spectators at a soccer match? What are they all doing, caught up in collective stupidity every time a poor old soccer ball gets kicked by some idiot in one direction or another?

 

59 – Il n’y a pas plus con qu’un con heureux.

Nothing is more idiotic than the village idiot.

 

65 – Quand un con rentre à l’hôpital, il n’en sort pas guéri.

When a jerk goes to the hospital, he still comes out a jerk.

 

81 – Ma grande peur: aller au paradis avec les cons.

My biggest fear in life: to go to heaven and find it populated with more jerks.

 

90 – Le con sait tout sauf qu’il ne sait rien.

The idiot knows everything except the fact that he actually knows nothing.

 

148 – Un peuple monoethnique est forcément fertile en conneries tellement les cons cherchent à

se ressembler en se rassemblant.

Any monoethnic nation is obviously rife with stupidity, given how much idiots all try to look and act the same by sticking together.

 

Paradjanov Horses, Horses of Fire

Written over forty years ago in 1979, Paradjanov’s Horses—a title that plays with Soviet Armenian Sergei Paradjanov’s film title Horses of Fire–has just received a masterful translation into Eastern Armenian by Lilit Mnatsakanian. Some background. From 1975 to 1977 Paradjanov was jailed by the Soviets for being homosexual. His real crime? Being a poet, a free spirit,someone who refused to bow down to authorities, who was so remarkably creative that his wholly original interpretations and stylistics went against meaningless communist diktats such as “socialist in content, nationalist in form.” In what became known as “L’Affaire Paradjanov” thanks to a series of articles and pressure brought about by both famous and mainstream writers — among them Donikian, but especially people like Louis Aragon, Fellini and Goddard — Paradjanov was finally released from Siberian labor camp. But authorities continued to track him for the rest of his life, until his death in 1990 at 66 years old. Donikian, in typical fashion,visited Paradjanov in his native Tbilisi where he shot some footage of the director, ambled down the roads of that fabled city and eventually wrote the searing and indescribable book of  poetry in question. Donikian claims to have been influenced by Saint-John Perse and Solzhenitsyn, but some remarkable creative fury must also have been at work when he composed it. It may seem odd to begin with a conclusion but Donikian’s powerful love poem to all things equine and Paradjanov ends thus:

Horses! Feverish and glowing. Give your eyes back their initial purpose: to dream. And their dancing spear carves and breaks through your blindness. Everything was heavy before. And mimed the saddening metrics. Then came the opening of the eyelids, and the bolt of lightning surged in your jaws. And your lips! — here they are — sing the naked horses — he swarms the sands — the message.

…because the poet is the danger inherent in angles, in measures, and the quiet masters. Because the steppe and the men said to be “wild,” mime this mixture of sexes, when the wind burrows into the eye of the sands and fleece.

(translation by Christopher Atamian)

Donikian is a writer yet to be discovered in English. All three books above, all three as different in tone and content as if three different writers had penned them. All three available through the author at:  donikian.d@gmail.com

Denis Donikian’s Must-Read blogs: ECRITTERATURES (Scribblings) (http://denisdonikian.wordpress.com) Marcher en Arménie (Hiking in Armenia) (http://ddonikian.wordpress.com) Petite Encylopédie du génocide arménien  (Small Encyclopedia of the Armenian Genocide) (http://denisdonikian.blog.lemonde.fr)

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