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B 3.1

By Fred Moten

What makes translation interesting and valuable and productive (of knowledge, of the the new thing, of pleasure) is its necessary failure. It succeeds insofar as it is deviant and deviance, in any case, is what the resistance of the “original” (which is always based on something) imposes upon it. There are a million different ways to celebrate this and none of them require being mean. This is a belated thanks to Thom, whose post on translation and the accompanying thread I just arrived at via Craig’s last post, but which, it turns out, I’ve been responding to, sympathetically, all along. I have to confess, now, that part of what caused my hiatus was having been made to feel a bit vulnerable by a couple of heckling posts, to which I surreptitiously referred in one of this last flurry of posts I just made. As much as I desire the commons,  I’m often way too afraid to do the hard work of helping to enact it, which is to say refresh it (the way that poems do life, according to Stevens). I have been always interested in, and have felt very much like an honored and very well-treated guest in what I’ll call the experimental poetry community. My being asked to participate here as blogger is only one such instance. And these are the poets with whom I hold the deepest affinities even though I feel uneasy about claiming that affinity primarily because I don’t think I’ve done nearly enough communal work to deserve to make the claim and also because, and in light of the fact that I totally insist on the brutal eradication of whatever split some folks delude themselves into seeing between “experimental” and “black,” if I would call myself anything it would be a black poet. Nevertheless, in my private space, I’m deeply committed to the experiment and feel like this blog is a chance to make that known in the very form my posts take. It’s just that the stuff I’m interested and that I’m writing about (my son’s autism and the way he’s totally irreducible to it, the thing/s they used to call “the black experience in America,” M. NourBese Philip’s poetry, Poetry!) (however distastefully unintelligible or irrelevent the way I’m writing about it might be to some) is so important to me, so deeply bound up with my life, that I don’t want it or myself exposed to nasty, resentful forms of counter-bloggishness. Unlike a few of the folks who posted comments in response to Thom’s post on translation, whose dislike of the ideas regarding translation to which Thom gave a forum was the animating force of the thread, the work of Brown and Larsen does nothing but excite me and give me pleasure in ways that are neither antithetical or antagonistic to the excitement I get from reading either Moncrieff’s or Davis’s Swann’s Way/The Way by Swann’s. Basically, I’m totally down with Thom (I mean I’m on his side, since it came to that), so much so that even though I like to think of myself as ecumenical enough to love Pound and to know why I should love him in spite of him, now I will have to come to grips with the fact that I haven’t seriously read him in a long-ass time myself. I’m down with talking about the stuff that I love and I truly don’t understand why people talk so insistently about stuff they hate. I don’t understand when I do it. When I do it I get mad. And then I get mean-mad (as Ma Joad used to say). And then I get stupid, which is to say, incapable of thinking and of dealing with the thoughts of others. And I’m not trying to say that anybody in the thread is, or even said something that is, stupid. In fact, there are a lot of interesting things in the thread; lots of interesting ideas on both sides. The problem is that there is also a lot of mean stuff, instigated by what I’ll call the anti-Thom or, maybe the anti-”avant” contingent, and to which Thom responded in kind, justifiably but still sadly, against the grain of who I think he is, which is a much better guy than me. It’s fucked-up, and unnecessary, to viciously dismiss forms of poetic or translational practice when you know that by such viciousness you are calling into question the very claim to the status of artist that is made by those who offer up such work out of their love or admiration for, or their interest in, it. Now, this is not an expression of my “anxiety-aversion to intense debate”; it is a function of my aversion, whether anxiety-driven or not, to meanness, which intense debate does not require and which, in fact, dilutes the genuine intellectual intensity of any debate. Moreover, it seems to me that folks who indulge themselves in such meanness know exactly what they are doing. With all that said, I’m also down with Craig (though I’m not, as you can see, boycotting) in that I think folks need to be allowed unfettered access to the apparatus that allows them to post their comments. Nasty counter-bloggishness is, to me, distasteful and noxious, but it is always also potentially productive. The fact that other modes of response can be more productive, that it’s possible to articulate one’s own views of translation without calling into question the artistic integrity of those with whom you disagree, is beside the point.  No gratuitous shittiness but, above all, no exclusion.

Comments (12)

  • On February 8, 2010 at 11:21 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “What makes translation interesting and valuable and productive (of knowledge, of the the new thing, of pleasure) is it’s necessary failure. It succeeds insofar as it is deviant and deviance, in any case, is what the resistance of the “original” (which is always based on something) imposes upon it.”

    This is where we disagree. I understand what you are saying about the “resistance” inherent in the original. I understand the point that different languages are, finally, not equal, & are not even similar, except in ways that accentuate their differences. But what I (as oppposed to you) find interesting & valuable is a translator’s effort to find & make a linguistic analogy as close to the original, & its historical & cultural roots & contexts, as possible. That I think is the standard of basic translation. Yes, poets & creative artists – from Lowell to Celan to the Bible to you name it – have appropriated & redesigned original works to meet new contexts : & yes, that is valuable & exciting.

    But I ask you this : if a translator decided to translate your own poetry into Urdu or some other language, which would you prefer – a “creative appropriation” by Artist X, or a translation which gives Urdu speakers a smoky window into your own experience, your own art? This was John O. Simon’s point too.

    By the way, in standard English, your phrase should read “its failure”, not “it’s failure”. Unless you were just trying to be deviant.

  • On February 8, 2010 at 11:34 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I meant “opposed”, not “oppposed” (I did that on purpppose).

    & by the way, I’m not just arguing for arguing’s sake, or anybody’s “negativity”, or “meanness”. My own writing is grounded in & has grown from the soil of careful & accurate & beautiful translations (Montale, Pavese, Vallejo, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Brodsky, Virgil, Homer, the Bible, I. Zhdanov, Dante, Ariosto, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, etc. etc. etc.) of poetry I would otherwise neither know nor understand.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 6:29 am Fred Moten wrote:

    I think that rather than having different, as opposed to opposing, views we have different points of view. The difference that must exist between the most “faithful” or “accurate” translation and the original is a happy and productive one which is lucky since if it were unhappy and unproductive nothing could be done about it. To find value in the translator’s efforts at making a “linguistic analogy as close to the original…as possible” does not, from my point of view, preclude finding value in the translator’s necessary deviance from the original, in the original’s resistance to the translator’s efforts and, at least in the case of certain classic and, therefore, multiply translated texts, in the history of such deviance and such resistance.

    Anyway, it seems that we agree that both modes of translation can be, at least, “interesting and exciting” and that’s cool. It’s nice to agree, sometimes, though even in our agreement a vast range of differences remain.

    I think that if someone wanted to translate my poetry into Urdu I would be so happy that I wouldn’t care what they did. In any case, I wouldn’t know the difference. But when I came back down to earth I would probably, presumptuously, ask for both kinds of translation.

    And thanks for pointing out the typo. I wasn’t trying to be deviant. By the time you read this I will have corrected it.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 8:58 am james stotts wrote:

    vivas for those who have failed!

    it should be reiterated that, in all cases, translation is an inherently violent act, that original intent is always betrayed insomuchas language is intent and the language we write in just as sure as the words w/in that language that we use are bound up in that intent.
    there is just as much hypocrisy in the advocates of ‘straight’ translation.
    the schools arise out of this desire for ‘sympathy,’ which doesn’t hurt or help any one’s poetics, so much as mask them–and that’s why frauds sneak in so effectively. the blandness of the rabble, the white noise of the spectacle, make their stands but are ultimately chromophobes. and it can be hard to resist, just as it is sometimes hard to resist calling names.
    the reclamation of true memory, what would be the satisfaction of a true translation, cannot come before a final judgement. we may be late, but i don’t think we’re so late that we are facing any such judgement.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 9:15 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for the post, Fred, we haven’t met, but I appreciate your voice here.

    And Henry, as I said in the last strand, why not both? Why not a lot of different approaches to translation? No one is saying your point of view isn’t valid. I went and read your interview with Kent Johnson–posted a decade or more ago in Jacket. I entertained your ideas on translation and went away to think on them along with all the other comments in that stream. Maybe I’m a bit slow, but my thinking could take a few more months. I’ll get back to you with a more precise reply.

    That’s the thing about blogging. To truly consider what someone has posted, particularly if it’s contrary to what one believes, takes time. I like to have my ideas challenged.

    I think what the last thread was saying was simply, why not entertain this idea too? Truly entertain another idea. And leave some room for other voices out there to come and enter the conversation. I addressed this in my slow blogging post–the fact that those skilled commenters are often so deeply involved in their own debates there isn’t much room for other voices, new voices, to enter.

    Their are many more voices out there and many more shades to this conversation. It would be great to hear more perspectives.

    I don’t need anyone to agree, but listening would be good.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 10:39 am Henry Gould wrote:

    My comments do not erase either the post or other comments. I’m responding to something I’ve taken the time to read carefully, & I’m offering another perspective.

    Faithful & accurate translations have been part of the foundation of my own poetry : not just for the works themselves, but for the footnotes, the introductions, the biographical material that go along with careful work of this kind. The series of Montale translations by Arrowsmith, or the various trs. of Mandelstam, in conjunction with his wife Nadezhda’s 2-vol. memoirs (carefully translated) have opened a window for me not only into the compositional, aesthetic & ethical choices faced by these writers, but to the impinging culture & world & time they lived & inhabited. This has been of supreme value to me as a write.

    & I’m sorry, Sina, but I dislike being repeatedly told to smile & shut up.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 10:46 am Matt wrote:

    Who told you to shut up? No one, that I can see.

    But actually that’s not bad advice–for everyone!–from time to time. If we don’t shut up occasionally, all we hear is our own babbling.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 11:02 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    I have never told you to shut up Henry, rather to hear more of the nuances of your own response.

    It’s interesting that there seems to be a desire for engagement and then an unwillingness to allow for other perspectives. I thought my statement was quite clear. People process differently. They debate differently. At different paces. Is the fact that I am considering your thoughts insulting to you? You may process faster than I do. Is that insulting to you?

    I find it baffling.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 11:28 am Henry Gould wrote:

    BTW, it’s in those footnotes & intros & end-matter, which translators sometimes include, that you discover the failures & limitations & differences & resistances which Fred, James Stotts & others have been underlining. Often the translator will go into great detail on subtle shades of meaning in the original, which she’s been unable fully to bring across… & it’s in those details that the reader begins to understand the beautiful depth & richness of sound & meaning & allusion & connotation… the music of the original. So I’m not denying the reality of limits & difficulties… but again, in my view, translation is about proceeding toward, approaching, getting nearer, reflecting as clearly as one can, the shape & design of the original… proceeding DESPITE obstacles & difficulties & vast imperfections.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Sina, “smile & shut up” is my colloquial translation of the following, which you addressed to me :

    “That’s the thing about blogging. To truly consider what someone has posted, particularly if it’s contrary to what one believes, takes time. I like to have my ideas challenged.

    I think what the last thread was saying was simply, why not entertain this idea too? Truly entertain another idea. And leave some room for other voices out there to come and enter the conversation. I addressed this in my slow blogging post–the fact that those skilled commenters are often so deeply involved in their own debates there isn’t much room for other voices, new voices, to enter.

    Their are many more voices out there and many more shades to this conversation. It would be great to hear more perspectives.

    I don’t need anyone to agree, but listening would be good.”

    The implication of your remarks : I am not listening, I am not entertaining alternative ideas, I am making it difficult for others to participate… etc.

    As I say, mine was a colloquial translation of the import of your remarks. If it was a mis-translation, my apologies… but then, according to some people around here, mis-translation is inevitable & to be applauded : it’s much better than imperialistic accurate translations.

  • On February 9, 2010 at 12:43 pm Fred Moten wrote:

    I think it’s probably time for me to let this thread go but I wanted to say thanks to everyone for their comments, especially to Sina, whom I look forward to talking to very soon! For those of you who can’t or don’t want to let it go, have fun!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 7:29 am Gregory Hughes wrote:

    La Brute by Camus, about a deaf mute who had been unable to defend his integrity after having been persecuted by the governing, was an interesting conversation fronticpiece, and is probably a novel that may ruin the critics complaints from consolations.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, February 8th, 2010 by Fred Moten.