Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jacob Bronowski and "This Quarter"...translator and poet

I am sure you remember Jacob Bronowski...

Jacob Bronowski was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1908. Fleeing World War I, his family moved to London, where Bronowski eventually won a math scholarship to Cambridge, working in a specialized area of algebraic geometry. Between 1929 and 1942 he published his papers, bearing titles like "The Figure of Six Points in Space of Four Dimensions" (1942), in the Cambridge Philosophical Society Proceedings and other learned journals. During World War II, due to his mathematical training, he led the development of the Operational Research units for both the British Ministry of Home Security and the Joint Target Group in Washington. As head of the Chiefs of Staff Mission, he was among the first to be sent to Nagasaki to survey the damage of the atomic bomb. According to his wife, Rita Bronowski, "this was the great turning point in Bruno's [as she refers to her late husband] life." His three lectures given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953 called for a responsible combination of humanistic values and scientific endeavors. After World War II he did not return to his university job but started a research laboratory for the British National Coal Board. "An early environmentalist and ecologist, he invented and developed a new kind of smokeless fuel from coal," his wife noted. In 1963 Bronowski returned to teaching, at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in California. His lifetime interest in cultural and anthropological evolution culminated in a highly popular 13-hour television series called The Ascent of Man.

Bronowski died in 1974, leaving behind numerous popular books like Science and Human Values (1956) and a groundbreaking study of William Blake (William Blake: A Man Without a Mask, 1944). Jacob Bronowski had a lifelong interest in literature. While still an undergraduate he started a small avant-garde magazine called Experiment. There one can find the earliest writings of William Empson, Paul Éluard, W.H. Auden and many more. Rita Bronowski remembers that "after receiving his Ph.D. and conducting three years of research, it became clear that being a Jew, Bruno would not be made a Fellow at his college (Jesus College, Cambridge). He decided to ‘drop out.' Like so many young students (hippies, thirty years later), bearded and down-at-heel, he went to Paris to write. There he met, among others, Samuel Beckett, and they jointly edited an anthology called European Caravan (1931)." It was in Paris that Bronowski bumped into the Surrealists and together with Beckett, he helped translate the Surrealist Number of This Quarter. According to Rita Bronowski, her husband was picked to translate Duchamp's notes since he was not only a poet but, most of all, a trained scientist.

A poet all his life, Bronowski once wrote: "The great poem and the deep theorem are new to every reader and yet are his own experience because he recreates them. They are the marks of unity in variety and in the instant when the mind seizes this for itself in art or science, the heart misses a beat.". In 1939, Jacob Bronowski wrote the following and previously unpublished poem on the death of the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus:

The Death of Karl Kraus


Jacob Bronowski

Kraus died in time: before the God
he honored as his equal, who shot
Lorca, and brutally smashed
Mühsam's delicate ears, washed
Vienna with his cleaning squads.

Now becomes God the anger which
Kraus spilled upon the dunged and rich
ferment Vienna. God also saw
the Danube spawn this medlar culture,
and plunged to drain it like a ditch.

Would Kraus to-night think it given
him as a grace, if he were driven
by boors to clean latrines? Or would
that bitter Jew pray for his God's
forgiveness, but would not forgive?

O yes, the age which he disowned
was easy, ageing, overblown.
Kraus prayed an age sharp as day
might etch his eyes: who, had he stayed,
would see an age like night come down,

and sharp and savagely blind
the poet's eyes, and splash his mind
bloody from a knacker's wall.
Hate and terror walk the malls.
Below the city, torture mines

the cellars. O Mühsam, Lorca,
I call to you across the dark
age, ere my voice too is dumb.
Give courage when the headsmen come.
Give to the desecrated God
who Kraus unleashed, once more his manhood.
Give light where only ghosts, your ghosts are.

Jacob Bronowski and "The Ascent of Man"

This Quarter [volume V, number 1] of September 1932 where he translated Marcel Duchamp .

Side note...

Jacob and Rita Bronowski

Jacob Bronowski's wife, Rita, passed away this month.

Rita Bronowski
September 15th, 1917 to September 2nd, 2010

The Los Angeles Times...

Rita Bronowski, 92, a San Diego arts patron who since the mid-1970s had dedicated herself to preserving the legacy of her late husband, Jacob Bronowski, a scientist, philosopher and poet perhaps best known for creating the public television series "Ascent of Man," died Sept. 2 at the Pacific Palisades home of her daughter Judith Bronowski. The cause was not given.

Born Rita Coblentz in London on Sept. 15, 1917, she studied at St. Martin's College of Art and became a sculptor. The couple were married in 1941 and came to the United States in 1964 when her husband was invited to become a fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla.

The couple had four children: Lisa Jardine, who became a noted British historian; Judith Bronowski, a filmmaker; Nicole Bronowski Plett, an arts writer, critic and editor; and Clare Bronowski, a Los Angeles attorney.

While living in La Jolla, Rita Bronowski supported the La Jolla Playhouse, where she served on the board of trustees, the Old Globe Theatre and other area arts groups.

After her husband died in 1974, she helped edit and shepherd into publication books he had begun: "A Sense of the Future," "The Visionary Eye," ""Magic, Science and Civilization" and "The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination." She also narrated new epilogues to accompany a rebroadcast of the BBC "Ascent of Man" series on PBS in 1984.

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