Sunday, February 04, 2007

Translation (repeat)

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?

I could throw a stone.


Blogger François Luong said...

I would welcome any translation from you, Joris, Rothenberg, Eschlemann, Jen Rogers or a young unknown and brilliant translator. But I don't know, the number of translation submissions has dropped drastically those couple past issues of MTD.

9:34 AM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Which goes to say, I'd really love to see more contemporary poetry from the Maghreb.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I can tell translators to send you stuff, but you can also find things for yourself. For example, every issue of Circumference is smackful of poets translated; I think Stefania and Jennifer would be pleased to give you the emails of various contributors.

9:53 AM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Oh, that would be great. Thanks, Johannes

4:22 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I have a feeling that this resistance has something to do with most journals being set up under the "taking the pulse" model of publishing. Many of them seem to be designed as "premier" collections of poetry (these selections are, invariably, of "the best" material ... or at least that's what they say they want). They may feel that translated works take away from their ability to operate as "premier" journals of domestic poetry, or that it is somehow beyond their scope to determine the quality of translations without a staff of multi-lingual readers, etc.

I think that, when you see examples of people paying lip service but not publishing international poetry themselves, it suggests that they're not against the practice of publishing such works, but that it would be better done by somebody more dedicated to that specific task.

In a sense, I can agree (I think you might be implying this, but maybe I'm wrong) that poetry is poetry, whether it's translated or not, and that we shouldn't fear the notion of mixing translated and English works of poetry. But if I were an editor of a journal, I would probably be hesitant to mess with translations unless I were surrounded by people who could really give them a fair looking-at. I think it would be lazy to rely on the translation as the final authority on the effects produced by the original.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Your points are well taken.

I think the "premier"-model is dominant and irritating [I'm going to write another entry on this]- why try to replicate some notion of the dominant situation? And I think that's one of the strengths of translation is that it shows how relative these aesthetic hegemonies are.

You're also right that it does take some bit of effort to engage with foreign literature. But if editors are going to claim that they are internationally minded and such, well they're going to have to put in some effort.

Your final point is also relevant. Do we need to be experts at poems in order to publish them? One promise of translation is that I think it could encourage people to get away from the safe-reading they are frequently encouraged to engage in - to be experimental readers.

Who can possibly determine what the "effects produced by the original" are? Or how to communicate those?

But you are partially right. The danger is that a foreign country busts into another culture without knowing anything about the local culture. Then translation becomes globalism, rather than multiculturalism.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Yeah. The only reason why I bring up the "effects of the original" and such is to put forth a larger argument about how editors hoping to deal with translated work should be actively involved in understanding the issues of translation vs. just being passive, tasteless goons accomplishing the equivalent of forwarding humorous e-mails to friends and family.

I would openly encourage editors of primarily English-language lit mags to include translations, if at all possible. But it almost seems as though, when dealing with translations, you're dealing with two distinct works of art: the thoughts/sentiments/ideas/effects of the original work, and the rendering of those thoughts/sentiments/ideas/effects in a new work. And as much as I'd love to see more translations in English-language lit mags, I'd rather have them be left out altogether than see them published willy-nilly, with little to no attention given to the specific issues of translation.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I see where you're coming from. I went to a translation conference a while back. There was a panel of editors of magazines that considered themselves open to translation. I asked one editor how they considered translations - the process of evaluating the translation. And she said, it has to be "good." I tried to reply that perhaps translations can challenge your received evaluative standards, but she didn't know what I was talking about.This will ensure that translations pose no challenge to the status quo, and in fact the rest of the world is thus absorbed. This is true of editors/poets of all persuasions. And what makes Circumference such a brilliant journal.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I sympathize with your position. And when I talk about "the specific issues of translation," it should be understood that I know very little about those issues (only what I can drum up through common sense, or what I perceive to be "common" sense), and may be treating said issues as far more complex/troublesome to English-language journals than translators would agree is proper.

I think that translators are facing a dilemma similar to that of true hockey fans forced to watch games on television (if you've never done this before, it is an incredibly underwhelming experience ... it strips the game not only of its grace, but of its speed, the very thing which allows you to follow the tiny puck as it is whacked around the ice). In other words, the format for dissemination is flawed. You often see translations printed all on their own, without the original for context, which skews the experience in a certain way. And then you see some translations published alongside the original, which again, skews the experience in another way. We don't know quite how to translations yet, but there is this feeling, I think, that somebody will come up with a "device" that does it just right, and is tailormade for this kind of art.

In the meantime, translation sort of muddies up the tidy format of most English-language journals. Which is, for sure, another avenue of criticism. Why should these journals be tidy in the first place, etc?

I'd be interested in seeing a journal that investigates the precise language-moves of translated works, placing the translation and the original side-by-side, and then doing sort of mini language lessons (not in any service-oriented way ... like "let's learn today's vocabulary word" or anything like that) in order to foster an appreciation of the, perhaps, entirely unique things that non-English languages can do. this might only be interesting to other writers, though. who knows?

7:58 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, this is very interesting to think about. And actually I do a bit of this in my introduction to Remainland, and I've done it in several papers given at various conferences. This is part of the appeal of translation - to see how the language permutate each other.

And I absolutely think journals and all of American poetry should be muddied up. That mud is the undoing of hierarchies, cultural insularity and stifling theories of reading.

Funny thing - right now I'm taking a break from translating Johan Jönsson's brilliant book "Collobert Orbital," a parasitic-Deleuzian rearrangement of the French poet Collobert's suicide diaries.

2:30 PM  

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