Sunday, February 04, 2007

Translation (cont.)

This is what Jim wrote about translation in the comment field:

"Might it also have to do with something more basic--that so much contemporary non-anglophone literature has not been translated, owing to the relative hegemony the English language enjoys at the moment? I'm sure that there are far fewer multilingual people in the U.S. than in Europe, where partially due to sheer proximity and economic necessity, citizens are multilingual."

I think this is absolutely correct, but it is not separate from my argument. The marginal status of foreign literature in the US has everything to do with the culture empire, the hegemony of the English language.

Almost every post I write on translation I emphasize the importance of multilingualism not only as a way to access other styles/literatures (and the benefits of multicultural relativism), but for the way it forms one's reading process. This is a form of reading that runs counter to US poetry's very monoglossic model - we believe in and protect a center of language (as Bakthin wrote about poetry in general).

It's not the problem that there aren't many people who know foreign language and are interested in translated work - I know tons of people who are trying to get their translations published (including myself, I have reams of translation, but I can't just publish them myself). That's not the problem. The problem is that the cultural/linguistic hegemony has insulated us, made us feel autonomous.

How many hundreds of journals and web journals (some very good) and books are published that show no interest in works in translation? Many editors will say that they are very much interested in international literature - then why are there no poems from other countries in their journals, why don't they publish any books of translation?

The issue of the foreign is more important than ever - now that the Web is standardizing language (and making everyone English-speakers) faster than the newspapers did in the 19th century (though the web has the potential to minorize). This is why I keep saying that true experimentation is not finding the latest formal innovation, but of altering our publishing and canonizing process to include works from other countries, cultures and socioeconomic groups.

Seems like there are tons of people repeating the mantra of "think outside the box" while crouching in a box. This kind of "innovation" is arid because it only leads to a new period style (as we now have several "experimental" period styles). Especially in this day and age of Internet - we can all learn the latest style in no time.

The alternative is not to write yet another tourist book (common subgenre of American poetry), but to actually bring in foreign poetry, to write about it, to teach it - and to know that if it doesn't comply with one's notion of a poem should do, that's good - thinking about those differences is true experimentation.

Also, as I stated in my reply to Noah - it's important to maintain their foreigness, not just to assimilate them into a style, not to treat them as mere enrichment of American poetry.

I think Deleuze and Guattari's ideas about "minor lit," "becoming animal" and "rhizome" etc are somewhat useful models here. The problem with then is that they have been neutralized into stylistics (anybody can seemingly claim to be "minor" even if writing in the most major English language).

Then of course there's the issue of who and what gets translated/published. Again I think it's important to know the context for a lot of this litearture. Not to just pick out some poets you like, but to make some effort at knowing other writers in that culture. Ie there are more problems in this process, but I'll save that for another entry.


Blogger Fran├žois Luong said...

I am thinking about Joris' comment about how every language is foreign. I would expand a little more, but I don't have my notes on translation, being too focused on architecture right now.

But I think the two of you are touching on very salient and similar points that I don't think I have seen approached by other poets, re: the acquisition of language, but also writing in a language that is not yours ("not yours," in the sense that English is not your first language).

9:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home