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Chris Tysh in Conversation at Entropy Mag

By Harriet Staff

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Have you always wanted to speak with Chris Tysh about translation, but never have been in the same place at the same time? Look no further than this interview with Tysh at Entropy which is no substitute for an in-person convo but comes close enough to the hello you’ve been hoping for. From Entropy:

When did you first become aware of Translation? How did that realization impact your understanding of literature?

My keenest awareness of translation dates back to my lycée days, when we had to translate roughly a page a day of Latin (Caesar, Ovid, etc., the standard French regimen of yore) with the trustworthy Gaffiot dictionary as our only help; true, you could buy crib sheets down the street in a small bookstore, but even then I was beyond such cheap shortcuts. The truth is I enjoyed the intense corps à corps, that mental clash, word for word, source and target language tussling through the maddening maze of the Latin syntax, which yielded its nature with mind-boggling resistance, really, obstinacy of the worst kind. I’d emerge from these bouts astonished by the strangeness of my text, secretly doubting I’d transferred the goods—was Ovid speaking of a caryatid’s arms lifted high as in a plea or malediction—and yet somehow pleased with myself; the pleasure of that con/version, a pale omen of things to come, having to do with words.

Another image that jumps up has to do with my discovery of Ginsberg’s Kaddish, the elegiac poem written in memory of his mother, interned at the insane asylum of Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island, where she died. I remember feverishly reading a few lines to my mother as she stood in front of the sink and then as feverishly doing an impromptu paraphrase in French, all the while protesting that I wasn’t even coming close to the emotional force of the Beat poem. Again we find that sense of an écart, a gap, a drift—the essential characteristics of écriture as one will later learn from Derrida—already in place and pointing to that irreducible shard of untranslatability, which undergirds any such operation.

Finally, Paris the City of Lights should be dubbed the city of polyglots, since it is not uncommon to hear the sons and daughters of immigrants juggling two, three, four languages, passing from one to the other as if skipping rope, their rhetorical and linguistic fluency somehow taken for granted, like knowing one’s multiplication tables. What I’m trying to say is that born and raised in such a transcultural and multilingual metropolis has been the ground, the sine qua non condition of my awareness of translation. I know you’re speaking of literary translation here and that’s the reason you give the word an uppercase letter, to specify its unique status, not to be confused with simple instructions written in foreign tongues—es peligroso no asomarse al ventana—but awareness of translation, any translation, one’s ability to hear the tongue of the other, begins with that street din of foreigners, their accented French, the polyphonic tumult of voices in the city. [...]

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 21st, 2014 by Harriet Staff.