Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mayhew on Translation and My Reply

Jonathan Mayhew, someone I basically disagree with about everything except Bruce Andrews, wrote the following on his blog:

"I've resolved the problem of translation. It's about time someone did. Here's my solution.

Regard translation as a perfectly legitimate method of producing poems. Stop thinking of translation as way of reproducing some other text. Once you do that, all the problems magically disappear.

All translations of the same original might be grouped together as the same genre of poem and compared against one another, but never against the original."

To which I replied:


Actually you haven't solved the problem of translation - the problem of translation cannot be "solved" until the problem of the poem is "solved".

The idea of the translation as an autonomous poem has been issued many times in the past - I think it's a way of solving precisely what makes us so uncomfortable about translation - that it problematizes our notion of the isolated poem (not just the translation) - the poem becomes something more unstable, less "urn"-like to invoke New Criticism.

One solution to maintain the urn-like quality of the text is to say - hey the translation is just another separate urn. But they are connected to the original! They are translations of the original!

And if we group the translations together (I think that's a very interesting activity), doesn't the "original" haunt this group in an interesting way that suggest that they are not autonomous?

I think we should let translations continue to trouble our notion of poems. Poetry is not what's lost in translation - a certain idea of the poem as an isolated artificat (and frankly, I think the subtext of that statement is that Frost thought poetry has to be written in Englis, but that's another story) is lost. Nor is poetry what's gained in translation - a certain kind of poem perhaps (an aesthetic that may be related to Dada and its various incarnations around Europe in the 1910s and 20s).


Blogger Fran├žois said...

I don't think the problem of poetry can ever be solved (and that's something that you seem to imply with your last paragraph). I think mostly of Karl Popper's explanation of how science works. Basically, a scientist fashion an explanation of how the world works, only to have it falsified later by someone else. I think this could be applied to poetry as well (and other arts and endeavors).

That being said, I don't think Mayhew was serious when he wrote that he "solved the problem of translation." Or I certainly hope he wasn't.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ah, I didn't get the irony. Well, it's hard to tell when that guy's being serious.

4:52 AM  

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