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Eric Zboya is a student, currently exploring concepts of “transcendental dimensionality” in the book Un Coup de Dés by Stéphane Mallarmé—and toward this end, Zboya has been responding to experimental translations of this poem by such artists as Marcel Broodthaers, Guido Molinari, and Michalis Pichler (all of whom obliterate the lines of the text in order to emphasize the depth of the "blank space" in the page itself). Zboya, however, breaks with these precedents by accentuating the spatiality of the typeset letters upon the page—and in the last half of my interview with him, he explains some of the various results of his literary research.

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Can you explain your translation, which uses the typefont, Univers Revolved?

Sure. Ji Lee is the inventor of a "3D-font" called Univers Revolved, and the process for translating Un Coup de Dés, using this typefont comes down to a simple act of transliteration, nothing more. Lee has already done the dirty work—he has created the typefont, which is free for everyone to use. I simply visit his website, take the characters that I need, reduce them in size accordingly, and then I place them on the space of the page, based upon the positions of the original text. The font gives each letter a tangible, concrete quality of depth, almost like rows of sculpture.


Can you explain your translation, which uses a form of anaglyphic projection?

To generate a three-dimensional projection, I must first recreate Un Coup de Dés in its entirety on the computer, and then I transfer the image over to Photoshop. From there, I create two identical images of the text: one image coloured in the red channel; the other image coloured in the blue channel. I superimpose these two images, and then I skew one of them slightly to either the right or the left: the greater the horizontal displacement, the greater the illusion that the text either extrudes off the page or recedes deeper into the page. The reader must, of course, view this text with classic 3D-glasses. The final result creates a dynamic, plastic structure, whose spatial experience not only plunges the reader directly into the page, but literally showcases the notion of textual transcendence, since every word almost appears to ascend from the surface of the page into the space above it—(very cool…).


Can you explain your translation, which uses a form of algorithmic extrusion?

In a manner much like the anaglyphic projections, I first recreate Un Coup de Dés in its entirety on the computer, reproducing precisely all the typographical characteristics of the poem—and once the text has undergone this mimetic operation, I transfer the forgery over to a program for editing graphics, where I mutate the text three-dimensionally through a series of computations. I use an algorithm that extrudes each of the letters into a 3D-model, and then I repeat this process again and again upon the resulting imagery, transforming it into multiple “dendrites” that spike off the shell of the page. I might note that each algorithmic translation of a page can never be recreated in exactly the same way twice, due to the seemingly aleatory function of the software during this mathematical transliteration.

What have you learned about translation from performing these exercises?

As long as a poet can provide a critical, aesthetic framework for their process of translation, almost any form of transmutation seems possible, especially when it comes to the use of computer-generated procedures for such metamorphosis.

Originally Published: April 26th, 2010

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...