Ernesto Livon Grosman, Kenneth Sherwood, and Loss Pequeño Glazier

Editorial Dialogue: Translation and Transpoesis

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ACT One: A Dialogue on translation between Ernesto Livon Grosman, Loss Pequeño Glazier, and Kenneth Sherwood

ELG: I propose to start talking/writing about translation. One of the topics that seems to me is understood in many discussions on translations is that the practice of translation implied some idea of community, if so what kind of polis would that be?

If the issue of community is of no interest for the community (not a very novel idea) lets say then that it is a matter of authority, of authority because of the rehearsing, in so many texts dedicated to the theory, of some sort of morals of literature that nobody seems to try with other genres. The superior original and the subordinate version . . .

It looks to me that there is a tendency toward insularity [in contemporary U.S. poetry,] with the possible exception of French, which in itself could be read as a selective preference.

More as soon as I get a word from you. Abrazos,


KS: (11:09PM 2/1/95)

So poetry seems to you comprised of or composed in Balkanized communities, a hermetic poetics that conserves its own authority over a space. Perhaps instead the broad domain (language) that poetry has (re)availed itself of makes this linguistic isolationism possible? Imagine that an impoverished climate drove Pound and Eliot (or Rothenberg and Antin) to Europe or its sources. This does not of course account for the more communal attitude toward the novel (is this what you're referring to, ie. that Boom fiction but not Latin American poetry is attended to?)

The separatist dynamics you shadow are (in my mind) energized by the vectors and fault lines of the literary economy. It is the very structure of 'authority' (one which translation relies on in a different sense of the term) that translation might reorganize with a poetics of reckless translation; only a proliferation of poems (Mao's thousand flowers) can bolster the life of community without giving a can(n)onic mandate to the standard bearers of authority.

If translation implies Polis--this would have to be a community of free exchange--not to be confused with an alliance of free trade. Does the "transnational" quality of this medium complicate your sense of "community" and authority?

(The recombinant anarchy of rampant translation, a banner name.)

ELG: (NOTE 4/1/95) Cultural Balkanizationw is not an exclusive of poetry but of all communities, a tendency that comes together with the turn of the century and that could be questioned.

I don't see Rothenberg and Antin's interest on translation as a product of impoverishment but, on the contrary, as the product of a multilingual background.

KS: Our translation joust collaboration fluxes the muscles in query (queasy) dialogic distress of 'where are you going?' 'where are you?' This bit jumps out of Emerson tonight--you can feel free to drop in the wastebasket or not as you like:

"I know not how it is that we need an interpreter; but the great majority of men seem to be minors, who have not yet come into possession of their own, or mutes, who cannot report the conversation they have had with nature. . . . For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air is music, we hear those primal warblings, and attempt to write them down, but we lose ever and anon a word, or a verse, and substitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem." --Emerson, "The Poet"

I find this sense of reception and error interesting, not so much for the spiritual qualities of muse dictation, but in the way it makes the 'POEM' (writ large) unapproachable; particular poem would be always distortions and thus inauthentic.

ELG: (4/1/95) I agree with you there is no translation, maybe there is no written project that would not imply a certain degree of distortion and, hopefully, also welcome the impossibility of representation. Should I say that, for a reason that escapes me, I have found more readiness to accept the impossibility of representation in other genres?

ELG: There is, no doubt, an imperial relation in the order in which texts flow from one language to another. There is also a matter of affection. Over diner Clark Coolidge asked me, a couple of years ago, what was I doing.

When I said that I was working on the translation of Bernstein's poems he wanted to know how did I get to choose Charles' work, why not other work? I saw his question as a revealing comment on translation practice Do we translate from/in relation to a particular translation theory?; Or, if you would like to make it into a more inclusive question: How do you/we choose your/our texts?

LPG: We cannot help but translate from a given theoretical position. However, it is possible to recognize that such a position exists within a range of positions. The preferred mode of action is to allow flux / flexibility within the range of positions, given the work "under translation." I think of "nonsense" rhymes I heard in Spanish as a child--which I hear again from time to time when at home--and think, to translate that would mean translating the nonsense sounds more than the sense. On the other hand, despite the nonsense sounds that might exist in a song from Chiapas, perhaps the sense might be more urgent at this point?

This is not off the mark at all, I would continue, since the primary theoretical (read political) decision lies in the text chosen to be translated. Despite the "situation," the choice of any text is an act of proselytizing, i.e., you are transferring some sense of the text to another language and thus beating the drum to say: this must be recognized! or this must be abhorred!

The position is fraught with "theoretical" positions from the moment one even "thinks" to translate.

I am thinking we do not hesitate to assume that the text is changed through translation and assumes the partial identity of the translator.

This is a fact all too apparent to the original writer (if that
writer can read the language translated into) but
to most readers who are reading in the language translated into to.

Thus, more even then an act of proselytizing, the translator has the power of an adult reading to a child in being able to manipulate the story for a conscious/unconscious end. Highlight the "moral" / foreground the "success" of a theory?

Or am I underestimating the possibilities of degrees of exactitude in translation?

ELG: (4/1/95) Why necessarily assume that the readers are children incapable of seeing that manipulation? Is interpretation=manipulation? and interpretation=proselytizing? I am getting the impression that you propose a move against (translation) theory in search of a more honest, straight--forward construction, is this right? More honest because it would proclaim itself in an explicit way ("proselytizing"), there where a (translation) theory would seem to hide its apriori?

ACT Two: Dialogue between Ernesto Livon Grosman and Kenneth Sherwood,
(and Walter Benjamin's "Task of the Translator" in Theories of Translation, edited by Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet, University of Chicago Press, 1992.)

WB: Translation is a mode. To comprehend it as a mode one must go back to the original, for that contains the law governing the translation: its translatability. (p. 72)

ELG: The problem seems to be that "the original" we are trying to find is already a translation of another text, or depends on our interpretation of it. So in order to comply with Benjamin's demand we will be in search of an infinite number of translations, some of which we will call "originals".

KS: For some the search will seem a blissful wandering in the forest, for others torture in a labyrinthine hall of mirrors where the original keeps deceptively announcing itself. Perhaps I say "this evening, I am content enough to wander"; Benjamin, in leaning on "law", would seem to be seeking more orientation; and you?

ELG: The law, governing the translation, it seems to present itself as the result of the intersection of 2 or more texts through the eyes of at least one reader/translator which is to say that we are at the doors every time we translate?

WB: Translations that are more than transmissions of subject matter come into being when in the course of its survival a work has reached the age of its fame. Contrary, therefore, to the claims of bad translators, such translations do not so much serve the work as owe their existence to it. (p. 73)

ELG: That is to say that they, the translations, become originals complicating the very notion of what it means to translate or transfer from one place to another (Lat. trans, across, and Latus, the participle of ferre, to carry).

KS: The complication could be called transpoesis: translations become originals, not to supersede but to exist alongside that from which they are born. Cutting loose in this way cannot allow either the conceptions of a work come-of-age. What owes the translation to the "original" if it is now "original?" Nothing more than the first poem owed to its ancestors, no? who were?

Despite the attraction of this proposal for the supplanting of the original, its de-AURA-tization, Benjamin's (contradictory) sense that the authority for this rests on the work's reaching "the age of fame" reminds me, in its mystical echoes, of Emerson's "poetry was all written before time was." I remain interested in the sense of attention, or listening from which Emerson and Benjamin propose translation begins, but am less willing to accept the priviledging premise of "primal warblings" or the "age of fame."

WB: If the kinship of languages manifests itself in translations, this is not accomplished through a vague alikeness between adaptation and original. It stands to reason that kinship does not necessarily involve likeness. The concept of kinship as used here is in accord with its more restricted common usage: in both cases, it cannot be defined adequately by identity of origin, although in defining the more restricted usage the concept of origin remains indispensable. (p. 75)

KS: The indispensability of the 'origin' here rings strangely against Benjamin's later description of the art work's loss of aura, as mechanical reproduction technology discards the rhetoric of "original." Those of the poem-as-anticomputer camp will, of course, cling still to the trophy, tarnished as it is. But if these two essays, forays of Benjamin's could be reconciled, something like the ascendency of the translation to the throne (not just the right hand) of the original occurs. You describe it above, but who believes it?

KS: And what are we to make of the kinship of languages, is this more than a veiled rendering of aspirations to a common humanity mystically revealed, by art, through time, rain, sleet, and snow? I am interested in it as a possibility of relationship that does not resolve all into some larger, singular symbolic.

WB: Translation keeps putting the hallowed growth of languages to the test: How far removed is their hidden meaning from revelation, how close can it be brought by the knowledge of this remoteness? (p. 76)

ELG: Assuming that we share this notion of "revelation", that we can agree on the meaning of such a notion, who is going to experience this revelation? the reader? the translator? both? In other words who has the authority to test-ify that this revelation is such and how to guarantee that this knowledge can be passed to others?

KS: Here is the image of the translator as sanctified reader, reader above all readers of the poem, who by virtue of true ear and sound heart delivers up his [sic] authorized and authorizing experience, to the acolyte.

KS: Setting aside the revelation for a moment, the growth of language reminds how unstable the poem is in time, how Sor Juana, Shakespeare, Cervantes, or Chaucer read differently now, against our ears, even in the ORIGINAL texts. So even to pretend to the cult of the original, would require the promise not to see the tarnish of age on the sacrament. Some poet once opined, of Homer or another, that his poem needed to be translated anew by every generation. This is of course so, but not simply because the poem was in Greek; Zukofsky is about up for a translation, to render him into the current idiom for a few years, again.

How far are we willing to follow this?

ELG: I'm not sure that every generation needs to start from scratch... it seems to me that some readings have been done for us already and therefore "every generation" will take up the most appealing texts. I also believe that some translations/texts might take more that one generation on a row in order to be exhausted, take the example of Zukofsky's homophonic translations of Catulus.

WB: The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect (intention) upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. This is a feature of translation which basically differentiates it from the poet's work, because the effort of the latter is never directed at the language as such, at its totality, but solely and immediately at specific linguistic contextual aspects. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the center of the language forest but on the outside, facing the wooded ridge.... (p. 77)

WB: In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original's mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language. (p. 79)

ELG: In both quotes everything is to be seen as totality or as fragment. I believe that it is possible to say that language is always addressed as a totality, in spite of the fact that we only have fragments, which in itself could be seen as transitory totalities.

KS: We share the sense that writing and translating poetry involve the address to language, but to the totality of "language?" One aspect of Benjamin that we have not but probably should discuss is the quality of his notion of language, which often seems to me a kind of transcendant UR- Language. The proposition that poems are addressed to the greater language has charming implications for community and even poetry as devotional, but I suspect also a universalizing sentiment, one which would absorb all poems into the 'greater', capital 'L' language, thereby effectually effacing the need for translation, the specifity of indivdual poems or particular languages. Please explain, aside from its more generous complexity, how translation, under the sign of this 'greater language', differs from the universalizing dreams of Esperanto.

ELG: Esperanto was an attempt to find the perfect combination of some common linguistic elements, the hope that a universal language would bring people closer by means of better communication (?). But funny as it looks today, it was a serious and common believe of many socialists that a social revolution could use a new more "logical" language. On the other hand what Benjamin seems to be referring to by greater is the concept of kinship . . .

WB: If the kinship of languages manifests itself in translations, this is not accomplished through a vague alikeness between adaptation and original. . . . all suprahistorical kinship of languages rests in the intention underlying each language as a whole--an intention, however, which no single language can attain by itself but which is realized only by the totality of their intentions supplementing each other: pure language. (p. 75)

ELG: In reference to the whole issue of homophonic translation, I should say that I agree with you; it is a sort of practice that emphasizes the difficulties of finding an original text as well as the creativity of the translation process. If anything I tend to miss those things that homophonic translations leaves out. In the end I would like to think of a translation as bringing in as much as possible, including elements that are hardly related to the original or, for that matter, that are left out as it was the case when our publication of Lepore's poem didn't reproduce the black background that was offered in the Spanish version.

Toward the end of the 70's Shoshana Felman wrote in an article that: "Translation, however, is what psychoanalysis is all about; the unconscious itself, in Freud's writings, is often compared to a foreign language, and Freud had literally defined the basic fact of repression as a constitutive 'lack of translation.' The barrier between languages foreign to each other is therefore the locus (and sometimes the means, or the alibi), of repression." Assuming that there is such a thing as the "unconscious", the translation process would be one more way of looking at the unconscious as we build it, another form of writing.

KS: (10:03 AM 5/1/95) The drama of how much the homophonic translation leaves out, in first focusing on the sound of the original, is my preferred model. It so obviously neglects the other registers of the original poem's meaning that it cannot be mistaken for an adequate, complete, or authoritative translation, cannot sensibly be evaluated in relation to the "original" from which it comes. Translation for sound does not stand at the forests edge so much as it sits at the foot of a tree, a maple tree, this twisted 175 year-old maple tree in particular--only gesturing towards the rest of the forest, the forest of trees.

Open Series: Questions on Translation (E.L.G.)

*How would you define translation?  As a process or as product?

*Who is translating?

*What is being translated?

*Do you consider some texts to be untranslatable?  If so, how would you
describe the obstacle?

*Isn't the idea of "version" a funny place for the translator to be left in?

*When see some of your own texts translated into a different language from
the one you wrote them in, what kind of relation would you established
between the two of them?

*Is it true that today there are fewer people translating?  If so, why?

*[Substitute your own question here.]

*What does it say about our present situation that translation
seems to occur almost only when the "original" material is has been
canonized within its own culture?

*And what would be the possible relation between this kind of selection and
that other relationship between imperialism & translation?

*Are you ready to accept translation as another way of writing?

*When you or somebody else refers to a text as illegible?  What do you/he/she
mean by that?  Do you see any connection between the notion of a text being
illegible and the task of translation?

*Do you think of some texts as more worthy of a translation than others?
Could you elaborate on it?

*Would you say that you translate a text or a person?

*Do you consider yourself a translation?

*Could you imagine life without translation?

Please respond to e-poetry@ubvm.cc.buffalo.edu for inclusion in a
future Rif/t.

RIF/T: An Electronic Space for Poetry, Prose, and Poetics
Editors: Kenneth Sherwood and Loss Pequeño Glazier
ISSN#: 1070-0072
Version 4.1 Spring 1995

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