Transcreation / Transcriação

Isabel Gómez.  Photograph by Gelare Khoshgozaran.
Isabel Gómez. Photograph by Gelare Khoshgozaran.

Reina María Rodríguez (featured in the "Geometries of everything / Galiano St. Variety" and "Kitsch" entries) has influenced many aspects of my approach to translation, not least in her attention to literary community.  She often calls attention to younger and emerging poets in our readings, and she consistently dismisses the grouping of writers via literary generation, a popular form of categorization that she sees more as a divide diverting attention away from meaningful affinities.

Considering this sort of divide, I've invited an emerging translator, Isabel Gómez, to share a commentary and translation of her own in this series.  Isabel and I met at the Latin American Studies Association meeting in San Juan, so the invitation also cuts across a second divide that routinely shuts down potential dialogues on translation:  the gap separating language departments from creative writing.  Isabel works with both Spanish and Portuguese, and here she takes the important term “transcreation” in hand.  Pairing it with another key term, “untranslation,” she frames her new translation of a poem by Angélica Freitas. 

A brief introduction, then, to Isabel.  Her translation experience includes supertitles for theater (Jorgelina Cerritos Across the Sea, 2010 Casa de las Américas Prize Winner, USA Premier 2013 at UCLA), prose and poetry (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, contributions forthcoming in the Norton Critical Edition).  Taking on translation from another angle, Isabel’s dissertation is entitled “Reciprocity in Literary Translation: Between Mexico and Brazil (1968-2014).” It analyzes poet-translators as tricksters, cannibals, and gift-givers forming links across Latin American literary traditions.  And what I most enjoyed about talking with Isabel this year was hearing the ways in which her commitment to translation extends from writing into teaching and editing.  She has taught a course titled “Found in Translation: North/South Poetic Friendships and American Idioms”; and in 2015 she is Editor-in-Chief of the graduate student journal Mester, organizing an issue with a focus section called “Translation, Travel, and Circulation.”

Cannibal Translation
By Isabel Gómez

The Brazilian literary field includes significant space for translation, thanks in part to the avant-garde poetics of the 1928 “Cannibalist Manifesto” by Oswald de Andrade.[1] This text urged poets associated with Brazilian modernismo to creatively appropriate and digest European literatures and indigenous cultural forms for a uniquely Brazilian artistic movement. Starting in the 1960s, Concrete poets including Haroldo and Augusto de Campos expanded the cannibal metaphor to encompass literary translation. Translation serves them as a laboratory for creation, and they interpolate elements of the Brazilian tradition into translations from elsewhere.[2] Their translation praxis continues to influence translators in Brazil—through application or counteraction—where the concept of cannibal translation applies more than discourses of fidelity, betrayal, or invisibility. Given this legacy, one way to honor a Brazilian poet is to translate her in a Brazilian way.

I met Angélica Freitas and translator Hilary Kaplan during their May 2014 visit to Los Angeles where they gave bilingual readings at UCLA and at Alias Books. Introducing a poem made “with Google’s assistance,” Freitas described two options for translators: translating her poem from Portuguese or recreating the exercise with Google in another language. Kaplan’s translation of “a woman goes” took the first route, leaving me the alternative form of translation invited by the Brazilian tradition, by Freitas’s poem, and by the poet herself—the results are what follows.

“a woman goes” by Angélica Freitas, transcreation by Isabel Gómez
from “3 poems assisted by Google” in A Uterus is the Size of a Fist (2012)

a woman goes to her mother’s funeral
a woman goes back to her beginnings
a woman goes through a lot during her period
a woman goes through something every time a pervert ogles at her
a woman goes from a Size 2 to a Size 8
a woman goes from being a “babe” to a “ma’am”
a woman goes to yoga class, and what happens next will astonish you
a woman goes into Wal-Mart to buy a rod and reel
a woman goes into a bank in Chicago and asks for a $1000 loan
a woman goes into the store to purchase only a purse
a woman goes into an adult toy shop
a woman goes to war
a woman goes to her date’s room on the first date; it implies she is willing to have sex
a woman goes cold
a woman goes out to a bar alone
a woman goes around staring at people in public
a woman goes from man to man
a woman goes to the doctor with a black eye
a woman goes missing after people’s court
a woman goes missing and is presumably dead
a woman goes after another woman’s husband
a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband
a woman goes into labor as a tornado approaches
a woman goes into labor, decides to get a quick pedicure
a woman goes back to work after thirty years
a woman goes into natural menopause
a woman goes through life stages and changes that make her nutritional needs totally different from a man’s
a woman goes Super Saiyan after being denied McNuggets
a woman goes silent on you, long story short, you just messed up BIG TIME
a woman goes out she carries everything in the room with her
“a woman goes” by Angélica Freitas

Haroldo de Campos defines “transcreation” or transcriação to distinguish his activity from tradução properthe former treats semantic information as a mere boundary to depart from.[3] A transcreation recreates aesthetic information and allows translators an ideological position as political actors. I could also call my version an “untranslation.” Coined by Augusto de Campos, the term intradução adds the prefix in [un] to tradução [translation], also echoing introdução [introduction]. My transcreation is an untranslation in translation. I translate by not translating—Freitas wrote by not writing.

Both “a mulher vai” and my transcreation “a woman goes” draw attention to the social construction of certain bodies, activities, and concerns as female. Both works diagnose the status of women online as indexed by Google’s algorithm. Searching for “a woman goes” rather than “a mulher vai” magnifies similar female masks across two cultures: both depict women as vulnerable but important bodies, concerned with mating and childbearing, threatened by aging, subject to scrutiny and violence. Contrasting the two also reveals differences between gender constructs in Portuguese and English. My transcreation pulls from an English colonized by brands and consumerism where Freitas’s Portuguese draws on discourses of seduction and erotic pleasure. Neither work includes a woman who goes to the library, to her computer, to a meeting with her editor—the writing woman remains buried deeper in the algorithm than either of our searches reached. In fact, the first literary woman my search found was Angélica Freitas’s poem “a woman goes.” I chose to end my cannibal translation there.

“a mulher vai” by Angélica Freitas
from Um útero é do tamanho de um punho (2012)

a mulher vai ao cinema
a mulher vai aprontar
a mulher vai ovular
a mulher vai sentir prazer
a mulher vai implorar por mais
a mulher vai ficar louca por você
a mulher vai dormir
a mulher vai ao médico e se queixa
a mulher vai notando o crescimento do seu ventre
a mulher vai passar nove meses com uma criança na barriga
a mulher vai realizar o primeiro ultrassom
a mulher vai para a sala de cirurgia e recebe a anestesia
a mulher vai se casar ter filhos cuidar do marido e das crianças
a mulher vai a um curandeiro com um grave problema de hemorroidas
a mulher vai se sentindo abandonada
a mulher vai gastando seus folículos primários
a mulher vai se arrepender até a última lágrima
a mulher vai ao canil disposta a comprar um cachorro
a mulher vai para o fundo da camioneta e senta-se choramingando
a mulher vai colocar ordem na casa
a mulher vai ao supermercado comprar o que é necessário
a mulher vai para dentro de casa para preparar a mesa
a mulher vai desistir de tentar mudar um homem
a mulher vai mais cedo para a agência
a mulher vai pro trabalho e deixa o homem na cozinha
a mulher vai embora e deixa uma penca de filhos
a mulher vai no fim sair com outro
a mulher vai ganhar um lugar ao sol
a mulher vai poder dirigir no afeganistão

[1] Translation by Leslie Bary. Latin American Literary Review 19.38 (1991): 38-47.

[2] For example, Augusto de Campos titles his transcreations of Stéphane Mallarmé Mallarmagem (1971), a play on the Brazilian cultural keyword malandragem meaning the quality of street smarts that combines cunning with potentially necessary criminality, roguery.

[3] “Translation as Creation and Criticism.” Novas: Selected Writings. Eds. and trans. Antonio Sergio Bessa and Odile Cisneros. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2007. 312-26.