The title of Don Mee Choi’s new pamphlet, Translation is a Mode=Translation is an Anti-neocolonial mode, contains a “=” mark, a symbol that is not written language and yet conveys a recognizable meaning. The equal sign establishes equivalency: the “=” holds a mirror to the first clause, showing a second clause that’s not an exact replica, yet is in some ways a reflection. The “=” achieves what Choi approaches in her pamphlet: translation as a twinning language. As Choi writes on the first page of her pamphlet, “I come from such twoness.
The poem’s forcefield qua khôra, Plato’s “placeless place,” functions as an interstice — an opening or clearing rather than a “site” — defined by indeterminate plasticity and mobility rather than the rigidity of fixed “ground.” The malleability of the poem’s frame opens to a play of transecting forces — an unsettled interval, an open orchestrating lines of force to produce “tension between the homogeneous world and what finds no place in it.”
The poem’s forcefield qua khôra, Plato’s “placeless place,” functions as an interstice — an opening or clearing rather than a “site” — defined by indeterminate plasticity and mobility rather than the rigidity of fixed “ground.” The malleability of the poem’s frame opens to a play of transecting forces — an unsettled interval, an open orchestrating lines of force to produce “tension between the homogeneous world and what finds no place in it.” This interplay of forces produc
In his last book of poems, Into It (2005), Lawrence Joseph describes his work as “A poetry of autonomies, / bound by a transcendent necessity,” which paradoxically produces “A continuity in which everything is transition.” In his new collection, So Where Are We?, Joseph remains faithful to these notions, pushing them to a further extreme.
Trans-. The prefix means “across,” “beyond,” “through.” It appears at the beginning of words that signify motion and change: “transportation,” “tranformation,”and of course “translation.” In 1830 Goethe captured just one kind of motion and change brought about by translation when he remarked to Johann Peter Eckermann: “I do not like to read my Faust any more in German, but in this French translation all seems again fresh, new, and spirited” (trans. John Oxenford).
“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. 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.
Of the “three grades of evil . . . in the queer world of verbal transmigration,” Nabokov places vernacularism at the lowest circle of Hell. “The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public.” In another place, he says that “A schoolboy’s boner mocks the ancient masterpiece less” than work that attempts to create a more “readable” version than the original. Since this column explores, and indeed celebrates versions that are wildly discrepant from the original, we should perhaps forget Nabokov’s contempt, and embrace the vernacularist translator—even espousing the No Fear Shakespeare series and its ilk as a harbinger of fearless literary experimentation to come, in its promise to translate the works of Shakespeare into “the kind of English people actually speak today.”
Like many traditional translators, Benjamin describes a bad translation as the “inaccurate transmission of inessential content,” an inaccuracy that experimenters may revel in, as they amp up the noise between versions . . . We could say in a Lacanian moment that these new translators make a pere-version of the original, seemingly derailing the paternal metaphors and prohibitions implicit in God-as-namer and the translator as the guarantor of the name. But what would it mean to take Benjamin seriously (and, with Lacan, to avow the unavoidability of the paternal imago), to search for the Adamic patois, divine remnants of the sacred language in the infomatic jumble of disaggregated signs in our literary arcades?
It is a common misconception that Walter Benjamin’s writings on translation, specifically “The Task of the Translator,” support and even found a translation practice that calls itself “experimental.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Traduttore, traditore”: a cliché perhaps not worth repeating (like most bon-mots about translation, including that singularly awful quote from Yevtushenko). Except that, pari passu and funiculi, funicula, it doesn’t get repeated enough. That is, in its original it’s a near sonic repetition, with only one changed vowel—it is a repetition, then, that is subject to disavowal when you say “translator, traitor” in English.