The body that translates, that reads, is a sited body. Folded and creased, stapled, sewn and décousu: it is both disenfranchised and enabled by its temporal and cultural location. No body escapes this. We are culturally and ideologically marked, and we read and translate the texts of others through these markings, altering the very texts that we read and translate to reflect our own intentionality. There is no innocent translation.
Yet there is always an ethics of translation: How do I respect “what Chus Pato has written,” for example, when I am physiologically not capable of reading exactly that? This question of respect has to be answered every time a text is before me.
On our second day on Paterson we were visited via Skype by Joe Milutis, whose New Jersey as an Impossible Object blog I’ve been following for the last several years — since I first read Paterson in graduate school, as a matter of fact. I wanted to bring Joe in to teach us how to navigate the poem using sounds and images, but also to read his poem “By Defective Means,” which appears in Visiting Dr. Williams.
A few years back New York poet and friend Elaine Equi suggested she compile a collection of poems like Holiday Cards, by various hands. I once almost applied for a job writing verse for Hallmark Cards in Sydney, back in the 1960s, so I said yes, please do!
Dozens of poets wrote in to Elaine with their poems, and many were supplied with Collages by Kevin Riordan. They’re all in Jacket 32, here, a feast of quirky, light-hearted calendar verse. Take a look!
Above is a photo of Elaine and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at left, in New York City, back in 1992. Cigarettes… ah, they were the days. Tell me it wasn’t twenty years ago! Photo by John Tranter.
Each text tells us how it wishes to be translated, demands its “proper” translation. Points the translator to its own pulse and propulsions. And “I”—unha cousa sentida e sensíbel, a felt and feeling thing, already socially constructed and hard-wired, yet, a nervous being, with nervature—I have already sensed the text; I receive the text into myself.
I extend my hand to mark a letter, some letters. One language enters and another emerges. This möbius strip operation—for text remains text, letters remain letters—passes by way of a body. This body may be, at times, a machine (as in legal translation, often done by machine so as to stabilize the terminology before being corrected by a human being) or it may be human cells. It can’t be cells of trout. The difference between machine and body is that the body does unpredictable things, makes leaps… Though it chooses (or is blind to, but this body, as much as is possible, chooses) where to situate itself in relation to the socius of the book (as it perceives it) and the socius of the receiving language, this body can also absorb things that have never before been absorbed.