After Translation


My review-essay on Ignacio Infante’s After Translation: The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics Across the Atlantic (Fordham UP) was just published in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Here are the first three paragraphs:

EZRA POUND occupies a central place in discussions of experimental modernist translation — and rightly so. In “Translation Wounds,” poet and translator Johannes Göransson writes, “Pound used radically materialistic forms of translation such as homophonic translations or the use of deliberately exotic or archaic words. The ‘meaning’ may have been ‘lost’ but the materiality of the text is brought to life.” We can think of, for example, Pound’s translation of the Old English wrecan into “reckon” in his version of “The Seafarer.” This lineage of what Göransson calls “materialistic” or homophonic translation can be traced from Pound through Objectivist Louis Zukofsky to the language poets David Melnick and Charles Bernstein and beyond. We are, in fact, in the midst of a renaissance of experimental translations. (Göransson writes of Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, a creative translation of Georg Trakl.)

To be sure, the radical tradition of liberating the sonic from the semantic in both poetic and translational practice is an important one that has ongoing implications for contemporary experimental writing. However, the role that translation has had in 20th-century transatlantic poetics — especially if we widen our scope beyond an Anglophone focus — is extremely varied and exceeds the well-known Poundian model, which privileges the materiality of the signifier.

Ignacio Infante’s recent book After Translation: The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics Across the Atlantic reminds us that

the case of Ezra Pound as a transatlantic writer whose own poetry and poetics is intrinsically connected to the experience of interlingual translation is not an exception. Many other modern transatlantic poets […] conceived their own poetic practice in part as a very serious linguistic engagement with various foreign languages and poetic traditions.

One of the great values of this study is that, in exploring such “other” poets, it gives us a richer and more detailed history of how translation has played a vital role in modern poiesis around the Atlantic, and does much to remedy what Lawrence Venuti has called the “continuing marginality” of “modernist experimentalism in translation.” In fact, Infante rejects the terms “modernist” and “modernism” altogether (in favor of “modern”). The field of Anglo-American modernism, he claims, fails to satisfactorily account for the transnational, interlingual, and transhistorical dimensions of major cosmopolitan writers who continue to get neglected within mononational and monolingual paradigms.

~ by Michael Leong on February 5, 2015.

3 Responses to “After Translation”

  1. I’ve just come across your review of Infante in LARB and had to track you down to say, “grazie, grazie mille.” I’m a longtime student of Pound and his work in Italian translation – and am so glad to get introduced to Infante by way of your thoughtful piece. I reckon it will help me make sense of a lot of weird experimental poetry I’ve been tinkering in. Thanks again, sir!

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