with grandfather (2017), 10mins 17secs, single screen HD video

In this short documentary I asked my grandfather to translate into his native Tatar, and to read it out loud, an excerpt from The Love of the Wolf, an essay originally written by Hélène Cixous in 1994. He translates it from Russian, which is already my adaptation of the text from English. The essay discusses the poem Le Gars (The Kid) by Marina Tsvetaeva. In it, a young girl falls in love with a were-wolf and sacrifices her life for keeping his secret. Cixous talks of the self-destructive and the sacrificial properties of love [between species]:

'What ties this wolf to this lamb, she figures, is the fact that it hasn’t eaten it. Painful mystery of the gift that returns through reflection: what the wolf loves in the lamb is its own goodness. It’s thanks to the lamb that the wolf accedes to the plane of love—the love that gives of itself without hope, without calculation, without response, but that nevertheless gives of itself, seeing itself give of itself. The wolf given to a lamb of the Griniov type who doesn’t even notice the enormity of the gift—that’s really love. There remains the infinite solitude of the wolf, invisible and unrecognized except by itself. What interest does Pougatchov have in not eating the lamb? The ascetic and dangerous interest of self-love. The lover loves the beloved, which is the occasion for generous love. But thereafter—thereafter there is the aftermath. Now the wolf can no longer break away from the lamb, for the lamb retains, for better or worse, traces of the gift. That which is given in love can never be taken back. It is me my entire self that I give with the gift of love. This is why the wolf can’t stop loving the lamb, the chosen one. Repository of the wolf. All of the wolf. That’s how love can ruin the lover.

And this is not the end of it. What else? One more riddle: ‘The black thing that loves the frail whiteness.’ Me loves non-me. Othello loves Desdemona. But Desdemona loves the black thing as well. The round goes on. The lamb loves its wolf. The wolf turns all white and starts quivering out of love of the lamb. The lamb loves the wolf’s fragility, and the wolf loves the frail one’s force. The wolf is now the lamb’s lamb and the lamb has tamed the wolf. Love blackens the lamb.

Wolf, whom do you love?'

My grandfather's early childhood was spent in an all-Tatar speaking school at the insistence of his Muslim father, and although Russian is his second language, this is now his primary and more fluent one.

In the course of the several days of filming the text becomes secondary giving way to the process of translation and an unfolding on a grandfather-granddaughter relationship as we search for the missing words online. The parts of the film where no subtitles are given are spoken in Tatar, only some of which I can understand. The text is given in full, original version above.

Supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, new work commission for The Political Animal event at The Showroom, London.