Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Words are the shit of art

[Here is an excerpt from an article Joyelle and I wrote a while back for a journal that solicited us. They didn't like it, so now I'm thinking of where to publish the whole thing. In the meantime, I'll present the beginning. I think it makes a fitting first entry upon bringing home my second daughter:]

from “…lodged like a foreign body in the overall system of art”: Translation, Foreign Bodies, Kitsch, Disability, Unnatural Motherhood, Plastic Ono Band

1. This was to be an essay on translation. But this is not to be. For translation is never one thing—one body, one text, one language, one nation undergodinidivisblewithlibertyandjusticeforall.

2. Speaking of fallacies of the Founding Fathers, as Frost has it, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” and we couldn’t agree more. For this quote inadvertently acknowledges the inextricability of poetry and translation. You can’t have one without the other, as Daddy/Frosty eternally says (attempting to suppress, as he does so, his Luftwaffe and his gobbledygoo and two eyes made out of coal).

3. Far from the programmatic dis of translation which even translators are always taking it to be, this quote also shows the ravening and subaltern power of translation, which comes from below and behind and pulls Pretty-Pony-Poetry-Persephone under into dark, subterranean Dis, which touches Earth everywhere from
underneath in the private and secret and dirty parts.

4. What is lost when Poetry’s lost? In the formalist sense, it’s Poetry’s well-wrought, perfect body, the sense that the poem is exactly the words on the page. Move it and lose it. Shift the Poetry somewhere else (off the page, into the underground, or into paraphrase, or mouth in another tongue) and you lose it. There is no noise in Poetry. Full stop. The rest is silence.

5. Furthermore, what is lost is the illusion of immediacy, of authenticity, of one person speaking to the next, of natural community.

6. So translation is that heterogeneous ingredient that creates an excess: an excess of words, excess of authors, excess of readings. And most of all: an excess of poems. Where there was once one there are now two, and those two are in a disturbing, mysterious, not-quite-symmetrical state. Like Elizabeth Smart and Persephone, is Poetry ever quite the same?

7. Oh Elsie Beckmann, why can’t you be true Oh-oh Jon-Benet--

8. Evoking Bataille’s notion of ‘expenditure’, we can say that translation creates loss indeed, that loss is utter luxury, that there’s no success like failure. Translation makes excrement of poetry. Words are the shit of art.


[Also this I include because it relates to the Tom McCarthy essay I linked to yetterday:]

20. An unnatural mother, whose body Dis-functions, whose reproductions are cheap and Dis-orderly and do not preserve the patriarchal lineage of art or life, resembles the disabled body, that ultimate cultural bogeywoman who threatens both in her evident lack and in the threat of an overcompensating, hysterical excess. It is not wonder that Rasula not only compares the wax museum poets to “muzak” and “karaoke” (kistsch), but also that he claims they use “vocal prostheses.”7 With its missing, defective, or inordinate components, the disabled body challenges the organic wholeness, the originary nature of the would-be natural body, just as a translated text uses its demonic combination of excess and lack to pull down the natural body of Poetry into the inchoate darkness (Mörk Materia) of Dis. This makes the translated text the ultimate disabled text:
"As do disabled bodies, disabled texts create a nervousness with reference to able, or enabled, texts and bodies. They give the lie to the supposed centeredness, completeness, originariness of able, enabled, or ‘original’ bodies and texts. Such nervousness is already an admission that all is not as stable—with our bodies, selves, and texts-- as we are led to believe we should believe… Disabled texts need no longer comply with compulsory ablebodiedness."


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