Mary Jo Bang

Sounding the triangle: Sarah Stickney & Diana Thow on collaboration, translation, & the poetry of Elisa Biagini

L'Allegra by Angelica Kauffman, 1779 | Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini
L'Allegra by Angelica Kauffman, 1779 | Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini

As a kid, you might have made a new pal on the schoolyard—over a game of kickball, say, maybe even after you'd kicked someone, or they kicked you. Such are the strange shifts of human relationships. The friendship of Sarah Stickney and Diana Thow began far less traumatically, though impelled by a similar desire to connect—if not on a playground, far from their respective home turfs.

In her essay, "Translating Writing/ Writing Translation," Cole Swensen articulates the sensation of palpable contact brought about by the process of translation, "the collision of … deep structures, assumptions, and traces" that simultaneously inhabits the translator and influences the yet-to-be-written. "The foreign here is the agent that prevents stagnation."

Bright arrogance #8

Intersemiotic Dante and expanded translation

Diagram of The Malebolge (from Alexandre Masseron's 1947 French translation of the Divine Comedy)

In the last column, I speculated that Mary Jo Bang’s translation of the Inferno was initially seduced by but ultimately rejected the more corrosive qualities of Flarf. However, in the baroque-brut line of Henrik Drescher’s accompanying illustrations, there seems to be a corrective, drawing us into visceral mess of hell’s innards, albeit with high artisanal flare.[1] These illustratings seem to outdo (or undo) Gustave Doré's engravings from his popular Dante volumes of the 19th century, in that they are at once more terrifying and more cuddly — open to being in an loose relation with the text they accompany. In contrast, Doré's engravings are so aesthetically overpowering that, existing in volumes that were kept around the house more as a marker of status than for reading, the illustrator’s name is more commonly associated with this Divine Comedy than that of its proper translator (Henry Francis Cary, who for the longest time, because of a C with an overgrown serif, I thought was merely “Gary” — like some anonymous Cher or Prince of a forgotten poetry scene).

Bright arrogance #7

Death Metal Dante

“Hell is other people,” and that’s perhaps why Dante chose to write in the vernacular.  Mary Jo Bang posits Dante’s choice of demotic Italian over more academic Latin as crucial to her more “pop” approach to the Inferno, as if Dante, in descending the circles of Hell, were literally playing out a necessary descent from the purities of high-culture into the noisy substrata of the low.[1] But for a misreading of Benjamin, in which Bang posits his translational ethics as invested in “sharing what is common to all,” her approach partakes in Benjamin’s notion that, in the zombie “afterlife” of a text, one can only reanimate it through translation in ways that are impermanent and historical.

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