The term “Gothic” is marvelously, if disconcertingly, fluid, designating at times both barbarian horde and proto-nationalist regime, pagan chieftain and Christian theocrat, aesthetic atrocity and high art; thus to speak of the “translational Gothic” is to speak of both the wild mutations possible through “infidel” translation and the wild translations implicit in the survival of the term Gothic itself. John Ruskin describes the Gothic as “the rough mineral … submitted to [the analysis] of the chemist, entangled with many other foreign substances, itself perhaps in no place pure, or ever to be obtained or seen in purity for more than an instant.” He nevertheless thinks that this instant — knit into the mess of centuries — is definable, much like Walter Benjamin’s faith in a translation that only momentarily, fleetingly touches upon the meaning of the original — or the meaning of “originality,” for that matter.
While I feel hard-pressed to finish what I had planned for this column within the time allotted, time is on my side—or lack thereof. One area that remains unexplored is the ways in which theories of artificial intelligence impact translation, especially given the huge impact of machine translation technologies. Forgoing the sense of translation, no longer routed through consciousness, one can embrace an inhuman speed which, while riddled with non-sense may evolve unforeseen sensibilities and new forms of intelligence—while still attending to the situatedness of the agen
There is a large shelf in the poetry section of Powell’s Used Book Warehouse in Portland, Oregon that is weighed down exclusively by versions of Edward FitzGerald’s illustrious and legendarily loose translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. It is perhaps the destiny of only the greatest poems to become furniture, decorative shelf-filler, markers of conformity masquerading as taste. Ultimately, unread. Just as easily do these all-too-willingly adopted artifacts start to become emblems of an embarrassing past, haunting “used” stores with their overabundance like copies of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights.
David Hadbawnik’s Aeneid (currently a series of hand-sewn and illustrated chap-books numbered 1 & 2; 3 and 4) is a translation-as-reduction, paradoxically allowing for selective amplification through subtle resonances generated in the space of what’s left out. The epic in general is no light reading, although these translucinations make it so without trivializing the content. Like Christopher Logue’s similarly reduced Iliads (but unlike, I would say, Ronald Johnson’s erasure of Paradise Lost or this more transductive work of conceptual needlepoint), the modernist spacing and minimalist gestures of condensation allow the poem to take advantage of an aeon of intertextuality, without getting the Laocoön end of it.
Willis Barnstone speaks disapprovingly of literal translation as like a “xerox machine.” This derogatory use of the word xerox in relation to translation is a little unfair, especially since the xerox is a much better metaphor for translation pushed to its creative extremes than is the more typical technological reference to the game of “telephone.”