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Transgressive Circulation: Translation, foreign threats, and counterfeit teenagers

Hi, I thought I would write a few posts about recent translation titles. But before I do that, I thought I would post a link to an essay I wrote about translation which was just published in the Australian journal, Cordite Review. Hopefully it provides some kind of framework for the kinds of issues I will talk about in future posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

1.

At the AWP writers’ conference in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, I attended a panel on Paul Celan’s poetry. In the Q & A that followed the panel, the first question was ‘How can we make sure that young American poets are not improperly influenced by Celan’s poetry without truly understanding it?’ The panel responded by offering a variety of possible solutions, such as reading the extensive literature about the poet or reading his letters and journal entries that have been published as well. However, none of them asked why it should be that this ‘improper influence’ should be the audience member’s biggest concern. I begin with this anecdote because it immediately struck me that the seemingly innocent question went to the heart of the marginalisation of translation in U.S. literature. In U.S. literary discussions, translations are – time after time – marginalised or dismissed in rhetoric that portrays translations as false, improper, counterfeit or of shallow ‘influence.’ The foreign poet is seen as a threat because he or she will ‘influence’ the young American poets who are vulnerable to such foreign forces, incapable of seeing the foreign writer in the proper ‘context’ (that is to say, one that is different from their own). These discussions about the dangers of the ‘foreign influence’ of translated texts betrays a fundamental anxiety about the ‘transgressive circulation’ of texts: an anxiety about the way they move from one context to another, about the way foreign entities may trouble our sense of agency and interiority.1

2.

In the question at the panel, the danger of foreign influence was posited as the dangers of foreign texts seducing the young. The question comes out of a worldview in which the ignorant enthusiasm of the ‘young American poets’ for the foreign texts threaten to make a hoax out of the foreign – make a counterfeit Celan. In their permeability, these hypothetical ‘young American poets’ become purveyors of kitsch, reverse alchemists who turn gold into trash by bringing the foreign into U.S. literature without the proper knowledge or mastery of the foreign. These young American poets insist on a close contact with the foreign, where such communication should be impossible. They are readers who may confuse the boundaries – between U.S. and foreign poetry, between greatness and counterfeitness. They have not yet learned the important distinctions of what belongs and what doesn’t – and most importantly, how to read poetry correctly. Their shallowness – their lack of learning – may cause them to imitate a bad model, or imitate good models for the wrong reasons (I imagine that the questioner at the Celan panel was concerned about Celan’s use of neologisms, for example.). In the terms of Mary Douglas’s argument about ‘pollution symbolism’ – later used by Julia Kristeva in her formation of the idea of abjection – the young poets are the sites of possible contamination, sites where the U.S. literary landscape becomes vulnerable to foreign influence. The question may at first have appeared to be about the learning of Celan, but ultimately it’s a question about keeping the foreign away from U.S. poetry, or keeping it at a safe distance.

Random / 2 Comments
November 2nd, 2016 / 11:16 am

HTMLGIANT Features

The Debut of Oksana Podcast with guest Molly Brodak

Oksana Podcast is conversations with authors and artists. The first guest is Molly Brodak, author of Bandit: A Daughter’s Memoir, recently published by Grove Press.

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November 1st, 2016 / 11:22 am

Deep Enough Place: An Interview with April Ayers Lawson

virgin

Virgin and Other Stories accomplishes what I’ve recently come to admire in the short story form. The stories are set in reality but are slightly off, something I have trouble explaining, but which April and I attempt to discuss. The writing is clean and intimate, and there’s a calmness to how the stories unfold making the tension that develops feel masterful and refreshing.

April and I spoke via e-mail – I was in Albany, New York, and April at the University of North Carolina where she is currently the 2016 Kenan Visiting Writer – about early success, dogs, writers she admires, and finally an answer to what it means to be Southern Gothic.

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Interviews / 1 Comment
October 31st, 2016 / 11:10 am

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve read so far this year?

Observations

Female paleontologists contributed to the community of inclusion by donning beards for field selfies. Donald Trump’s odds of winning slouched to zero as diehards threatened revolt and the Times reported his assessment of Arsenio Hall in the 00s: “Dead as dog meat.” A middle-aged man realized marijuana does not contain inspiration. Two hours later he forgot. The American hacker Jester told CNN he posted a message on the homepage of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs telling the country to go to its room. Former FBI agents call him Batman.

Scientists flooded a population of E. coli with a compound derived from cypress trees to see if it would shed its antibacterial-resistant transposons. It did. A woman in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho drove through a carwash five times in a row because she is in love with the feeling of detached time and the simple beauty of blue soap. “It’s cheaper than therapy,” she said, “and my car is so clean.” A sociologist in North Carolina argued that censorship today is not defined by withholding information, but by giving it directly to the public. In 20,000 pages of email WikiLeaks told us that John Podesta thinks former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson “can be a dick.” Richardson tweeted that he didn’t care.

A brown maple leaf slowly fell, draping the body of a dead squirrel like a blanket. A PhD candidate at Cambridge attributed the creation of Frankenstein, as well as the bicycle, to the distinct lack of summer in 1816. Astrophysicists lost a round of hide and seek with dark matter. No one knows why capuchins crack stones together just to lick the dust. This may be the last election dominated by baby boomers. People began to worry about a weaponized internet of things. All over the world people walked around dressed as creepy clowns. An elderly man in Fresno, California said, “That’s enough.” Then he sat exactly where he was, watching Jeopardy as steam rose from a humidifier in front a house plant. The light of the TV reflected the windows around him. Night fell and he was alone.

Word Spaces / 2 Comments
October 28th, 2016 / 12:48 pm

A Letter About Bolaño

A new friend in another country emailed me the following. The subject line was 2666: “There is this group of authors that mostly perplex me, from whom I end up reading more books than from anyone else, not really knowing why, Dostoievsky and Kafka were representative, now Bolaño. I never had the chance to hear someone who would have loved/been obsessed by one of these authors tell me about his or her relationship with them. May I ask you to tell me more about what you found (find still I guess) in this book?”

My response:

X,

You’ve pointed out a vital, strange fact: some readers feel enthralled to the work of certain authors. This opaque compulsion happens with a handful of authors in a given reader’s lifetime, I believe. It’s as if the enthralled reader cannot afford to give out more of their secret cravings. That to do so would be to risk revealing one’s most vaporous secret.

I’ve read a lot of Bolaño’s work, but I can’t say that I love my time inside his books. They hold for me this strange magnetism, to which you’ve alluded. When I think about the mechanics of Bolaño’s work, and the peculiar atmosphere of nearly all his novels, I often go blank. When I talk about his work with friends, I lean too heavily on metaphor and analogy. I’m either unwilling or unable to face the trace of his work directly, avoiding the center of 2666, or The Third Reich. Is the center of Bolaño’s work too dark to articulate explicitly? Some novels feel like elaborate shields around terror. Though, no: Bolaño’s novels don’t feel like they’re surrounding an evil in order to allude to it while also protecting their visitors, us readers.

To me, 2666 is a document that traces a dark channel of energy. This energy is constituted simply: it is life’s cannibalism of itself. This flow is dark because it lacks exuberance. Power expresses itself in Bolaño’s novels in muteness, or in insinuated terms. Bolaño’s evil whispers, whispers because its weapons have already been buried. 2666, ostensibly a long novel about navigating a world of obsessive violence and mental compulsion, is stylistically tame. Its darkness permeates the stratum just under the surface of its lingual foundation, its simple sentences which sometimes loop around and through psychological agonies—or which sometimes document budding cruelties. Bolaño’s realms are steeped in the sinister. Violence is explicit, but often merely as artifact. We see replica after replica of evil, shorn up in gutters and dumpsters and ditches.

Bolaño’s characters are, as a rule, reduced to confusion, and eventually to a despondency leaden with fate. The characters who catch glimmers off of life’s underground river are often made to disappear. The naive die. The poor, as well. The few who know never know directly; their obliqueness to the truth assures their living, even their becoming mythological. His books are not afraid to present the staggering violence hidden in simple conversations. For Bolaño, the novel is an apparatus for calmly vivisecting our attempts to clothe life in civilization.

As documents of the labor of a mind, Bolaño’s books testify to the great range of creative desire. Hundreds of poems, many novellas, excruciating novels. Bolaño’s work forms a fugue. I think its melody is most strongly stated in 2666, and most precisely stated in The Third Reich. The former novel is open-eyed, openly haunted, and presents the blunt violence of modern life in a cold starlight. The latter novel is precise, figural, listless, claustrophobic, lodging you in a hunting ground conveniently labelled Resort. 2666 invests you in a world in which death and madness are quiet, profane, and assured; The Third Reich invests you in a world in which death and madness are simple moves in a blind and silent game. Though I don’t see Bolaño’s subtle fatalism as equivalent with Kafka’s. Bolaño’s fatalism could only be considered a byproduct of humanity’s hollow pageantry, like a ceaseless laugh in an empty theater. Bolaño’s fatalism feels cosmic, gnomic. The fate spoken by his work has the walled glance of a predator.

But I’ve leaned too heavily on metaphor and analogy. I’ve again avoided facing the center. But what if this is precisely why we find ourselves drawn in to Bolaño’s work? Maybe we find ourselves drawn in to his work because of the astounding fact of its hidden center. Most writers can no longer afford subtlety; Bolaño’s work testifies to the low, rumbling power of a writer unafraid to stare past the world.

Yours,
K

Random / 9 Comments
October 28th, 2016 / 10:57 am

title

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October 27th, 2016 / 2:37 pm

Oil

The other day, one of my students asks me where oil comes from. I am helping him with an article about climate change and the oil industry that he was supposed to summarize for the previous week’s assignment. English is his third language and the one he struggles with the most, so we are sitting at his desk after dismissal going through his article line by line.

I’m surprised that he asks me that, where oil comes from, and then I’m ashamed at my own surprise. He has no reason to know the answer.

I could tell him that where I grew up, the drumbeats of the oil rigs were as familiar as the sound of my own heartbeat, or that my first school had an oil derrick next to the swing set, caged in with a barbed wire-topped fence and locked with heavy chains. READ MORE >

Random / 2 Comments
October 27th, 2016 / 1:34 pm

Call for Submission: A Shadow Map/An Anthology By Survivors of Sexual Assault

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In this dumpster fire of an election year in the United States we have heard a lot of dangerous #rapeculture rhetoric from Donald Trump. After Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” statement, writer Kelly Oxford responded on Twitter, putting a solicitation out for people to name their first sexual assaults (which certainly are/were probably not their last). Read the NPR article HERE. The response to her call was/is overwhelming, staggering, heartbreaking, and not in the least surprising to other folks who have also had these experiences and/or are aware of every facet of this culture. As Oxford stated in her tweets, these stories are not just dry, dead statistics, these stories are true, horrifying, and all too common. This is a reality for so many people.

In a poignant and much needed call for submissions, Joanna C. Valente, the new Managing Editor of Civil Coping Mechanisms, is editing an anthology called A Shadow Map: an Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault, to be published in February 2017 by Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Here are some words from Valente and CCM: READ MORE >

Presses & Web Hype / No Comments
October 26th, 2016 / 1:49 pm

HyperNormalisation

PROGRAM MrsGorman (Input, Output);
CONST
   Indifferent = 60
VAR
   Thursday, Indisposed, Called: BOOLEAN;
   Bed, Chair, Hearth, Fire, Window, open: BOOLEAN;
   Rand, Temperature: INTEGER;
BEGIN {Main Program}
IF Thursday THEN
   IF NOT (Indisposed)
      THEN Called:= True
   ELSE {If Indisposed}
      Called:=False;
   IF NOT Called THEN Random;
         IF Rand = 0 THEN (Bed)
      ELSE {if Rand = 1then}
      BEGIN {Else}
         IF Temperature < Indifferent
            THEN (Chair and Hearth AND Fire)
         ELSE IF Temperature > Indifferent
            THEN (Chair AND Window AND Open)
         ELSE IF Temperature = Indifferent THEN
            BEGIN {Else if}
               Random
               IF Rand = 0
                  THEN (Chair and Window AND NOT Open)
               ELSE {if Rand = 1then}
                  (Chair AND Hearth AND NOT Fire)
      END {Else if}
   END {Else}
END {Main Program} READ MORE >
Web Hype / 1 Comment
October 26th, 2016 / 12:00 pm