In my last post about translation and Ali Taheri Araghi’s anthology of contemporary, underground poetry from Iran, I pointed out that a big reason for the anxiety about translation comes form our literary establishment’s anxiety about excess: Translation produces too many versions of too many texts, from too many lineages and too many languages.
Just as the reaction against the threat of the plague ground is to constantly make canons and lists of the truly good, truly “legit” poetry (prestige is the opium of the poets), I see the same thing going on in translation: we make hierarchies. We want there to be a foreign canon which will be as stable as the US canon – though there’s always a struggle to erect and maintain these canons since different people have different aesthetics and views.
Beneath this model and its anxieties we can sense what scholar-poet Susan Stewart has, in her wonderful book “On Longing” described like this: “… in the contextualist’s privileging of context of situation we see a Romanticism directed toward a lost point of origin, a point where being-in-context supposedly allowed for a complete and totalized understanding.” There is no origin where we can have “totalized understanding,” no matter how much such writers wish to demonstrate mastery. In the plague ground of poetry, poets and translations infect each other, deform each other. We lose the sense of the true original, the gold standard of interpretation, the master taste. READ MORE >
In my last post, I wrote that I see a lot of anxiety about translations in US literary discussions: “… the threat of translation is the threat of a kind of excess: too many versions of too many texts by too many authors from too many lineages.” Once you add the writing form another country, the illusion of objectivity of a single “tradition” is put in doubt (of course this dynamic is often at play in smaller, non-major countries).
One way this anxiety is manifested is in the skepticism about foreign texts. Whenever there’s a translation, people wonder: Is this really a major writer? Does this writer really deserve to be translated into our language? Is this translation really correct or is it corrupting the truly great poet? Or, as I noted in the essay I linked to last post, are the “young American poets” being “improperly influenced” by foreign writers without having mastered their tradition.
In his anthology “I Am A Face Sympathizing With Your Grief,” Alireza Taheri Araghi shows no intention of creating an illusory alternative canon of great works of Iran. Instead he has searched out underground poets – or more correctly, Internet poets – who have not been deemed publishable by the Iranian government. In a sense Araghi has done the opposite of the typical canonical anthology; he has chosen “young” poets who excite him, many who have little or none of the official recognition that translation discourse tends to demand.
Russia won the US Elections, white supremacists/fascists/military dictators toasting their BFF heart necklaces in a pyramid scheme, DAPL accepting donations for legal sanitary and emergency purposes, high school students and college students demand sanctuary cities and sanctuary campuses as sites of refuge from fascists, McCarthy-era Submit a Tip watch list compiled by a herd of Sound of Music golden Trump Youth a.k.a Turning Point, families torn apart by white nationalist swamp monsters, Obama somehow became the nation’s First Therapist, deportation trauma continues to swirl, more islands disappear into wrathful unforgiving waters, refugees have nowhere to go despite this one planet, endless slavery and the incarcerated state, $50k Thnxgiving dinners for 8 in Manhattan which is about the same average of graduate student debt in education, science, and arts, the undying click holes of inertia (dance with me, won’t you?), scam universities, the fake news problem, scam everything, the doctrine of legitimacy, elephants still being trained to paint, dolphins be painting too, paranoia as wish-fulfillment, unaffordable Buddhist retreats, warmer degrees, the rising tide of far right conspiracy theory cults, State says literacy is not a right in Detroit, while NYC to spend 1 million per day on Trump security, and a few days ago in Chicago Angela Davis reminded a crowd that “community is the answer.”
I met Julia Phillips several years ago via the tangled web of my polite, friendly, professional Brooklyn-based friends. She was a big part of editing my 2015 book, Popular Photo. Julia is a fiction and nonfiction contributor (respectively) to Glimmer Train, The Antioch Review, The Toast, Brooklyn Volume 1, Buzzfeed, Jezebel, The Rumpus, Slate, The Cut and The Awl, to a few. I admire her ability to bring immediacy to (somewhat? very?) remote subject matter and her descriptions of the narrative approach to specific people, places, characters, communities. Read more from her via Twitter at @jkbphillips. We conducted this interview using email. My questions in bold. READ MORE >
You can go back to Nuremburg—where the Nazis held their annual rallies, and where, some twenty years later, the Nuremburg trails were held—and see the blemishes made on the stone from their emblem’s removal. One imagines a worker with a chisel, carefully hacking into the stone much the way language was first carved. Choosing Nuremberg was more symbolic than mere coincidence; and besides, it was the perfect place: there already were spacious courtrooms inside which the Nazis enacted laws that made their morbidly bureaucratic brand of genocide legal. READ MORE >
Because a few days ago, I was walking in a garden and saw a pulse of motion and realized there was a hawk in the grass a few feet away from me, and when he turned his cruel and terrible head I saw a dead mouse hanging heavily in his beak like a testicle.
Because that hawk looked right at me before he took off flying, and from the branch where he landed there was a rip, rip, and entrails unraveled like yarn.
Because once my uncle showed me all of his guns, and there were so many of them lined up in a drawer beneath his bed, and the ammunition rattled in its box like movie theater candy.