Thursday, December 31, 2009

Multimedia Poetry Call for Submissions

As part of my ongoing interest in film and poetry (and multimedia poetry in general) I am collecting calls for submissions of journals, prizes, festivals, etc. Here is another in the expanding series of multimedia poetry calls:

The Missouri Review's Audio & Video Contest 2009

Our deadline has been extended to January 17th! Submit your entry in Audio/Voice-Only Lit or Video Documentary. Winners receive a total of $4,500 in prizes. First prize in each category receives $1,500, second prize $500. Five entries from both categories will be selected for a $100 Editor's Prize. All entrants receive a 1-year subscription to The Missouri Review’s Print or Digital Edition. Entries in both categories will be considered for publication in The Missouri Review or on our website. The winning video will be screened at the 2010 True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO.

Category Guidelines:
Audio/Voice-Only Literature
If you have a short story, a piece of creative nonfiction, narrative essay or poetry that you think worthy of recording, enter this category. All literary genres are considered. Pieces in this category can be solely author-read or contain other tracks of sound, voice and/or recorded interviews. Entries are judged on literary merit, technical proficiency and, most importantly, how the author uses audio media to futher the literary strength of his or her piece. Note: Poets may enter one or more poems as a single entry as long as the total recorded time does not exceed the 10-minute limit. We encourage writers and producers to make innovative use of recording technology as a means of furthering their literary craft.
Time: 10 minutes or less.
First Prize: $1,500
Second prize: $500

Video Documentary Short
This broad category includes everything from a filmed scene that stands on its own to a videographed 10-minute documentary play, interview or nonfiction narrative. In addition to short documentaries on any subject or historic period, interviews of artists and artist presentations are welcome, as well topics of interest to a general literary audience. Entries will be judged on strength of the script and subject, ability to meet its objective (stated or unstated i.e., a comedic short that’s funny, or an author interview that is informative, fresh and insightful), technical facility including sound and lighting, reporting, presenting and/or acting.
Time: 10 minutes or less.
First Prize: $1,500
Second Prize: $500

All submissions must include a completed entry form for each entry, a copy of the entry on a CD or video DVD, a label with writer/ producer, title and length; a brief program synopsis (short writer/producer bio optional; and $24 entry fee. Send entries to:

The Missouri Review Audio & Video Competition
357 McReynolds Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
For More Information, visit our webpage at:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Literary Translation as Peripheral

So the theme of this year's MLA is translation, and it's going to be an embarrassment of riches for those of us who are both interested in the academy and in translation. The current president picked the theme because she is concerned with the place translation and translation studies have held in the academy (or rather, the places in which they are elided, I might say). And thank goodness someone is.

But it concerns me still that a behemoth like MLA might not be able to help but marginalize the work of literary translation and literary translation studies (from here on out, I'm going to just assume the 'literary). I differentiate between the two because I think it's in part this duality that makes translation a difficult subject to broach in the over-compartmentalized and departmentalized university system. Translation is, among other things, about half creative writing and half critical theory. So Translation Studies tends to get the theory - and that includes of course a range of other multi-disciplinary concerns outside of straight "translation theory" or even practitioner theory, including literary theory, linguistics, philosophy, the broad range of cultural studies and more narrowly cultural sociology, history, economics, etc. And Creative Writing, if they have the resources for it, can include the translation practice and the compositional creative elements. So where does that leave Translation? Split and scattered across the academy.

For example, where to people go to study or teach translation? There are very few departments, most translation studies programs are incorporated into other, larger departments like Comparative Literature, English or the relevant area studies program. Job listings for universities that support or are developing translation programs tend to require training or interest in translation as secondary to a primary "authorized" academic interest, again within one of those departments. In this sense, translation is always a subsidiary peripheral activity. It is secondary to the 'real' qualifications and the 'real' work of the department. Supplementary.

Those programs that exist explicitly for the study of translation tend to be broad programs that address the practical issues of interpretation, language acquisition, technical and business translation and perhaps, but briefly, literary translation. Literary translation is not a practical career, generally speaking, so these more technical programs rightly don't devote the same amount of attention to its practice and study.

And maybe this is the root of some of the difficulty. Literary translators into English very, very rarely make a living as a literary translator. Those that I know either teach (again, in another subject with some potential for crossover), or are freelance non-literary translators. Or like me, came from publishing. So when a field of cultural production, to steal a sociological framework, is not even undervalued but literally unvalued as an economic practice, what incentive is there for it's continued practice or study?

It seems similar, though I'm not familiar enough with the history, to the problem that creative writing faced in the middle of the last century. The solution then was the establishment of the workshop format, relying on the Universities to sponsor and support the creative activities that were being undertaken. And really, this is not such a new model. The patronage model has been in place for centuries, but only recently has it been institutionalized rather than individual patronages.

Of course, even if the workshop system was the solution, and I'm not sure that it is, it doesn't resolve that creative/critical divide that literary translation so simply ignores. Doing both is the obvious move, and some academics do, but eventually, it seems, by sacrificing the primacy of one for the other. And the one that is sacrificed is inevitably the undervalued practice of translation. Academics are happy to have translated texts to study, to teach, and to reference. But there is no system of reward that compensates for the work it takes to produce those texts, much less one to train qualified translators to become the producers of those texts. Those academics that attempt to include these elements when they can are often unable to.

All of this has been said before, more thoroughly I'm sure. I think, though, that until the discourse is developed into a valued and positive gain-driven vocabulary for literary translation, there is going to be no real change in how translation is incorporated as secondary (tercery, or at all) to the established disciplines of academic study and teaching.


Not that I really know anything about meta-poetics, but I've been finding similarities in my reading and translating habits of late that lead me to suspect it might be something I'm interested in thinking more about. For example, the titles of some books I've been reading and translating recently are Armando Roa Vial's El apocalipsis de las palabras [The Apocalypse of Words], La dicha de enmudecer [Joyful Falling Silent - which I'm not totally satisfied with yet, because "dicha" sounds so much like "dicho" from the verb "decir" which means "to say" and that's just lost in it's literal rendering as "joyful"] and Efráin Barquero's El poema en el poema [The Poem in the Poem]. Poems from the first book are titled things like "De la palabra en la palabra" [On the Word in the Word] and "De la palabra recordar" [On the Word Remember].

It's not quite as simple as that, anyway. There's an inter-literary bent to Roa Vial that keeps me spinning - half the book is a response to Browning's Sordello, the other half invokes poets like Joseph Borowski and Victor Holan. It's rather staggering, really, to think about all this poetry talking between all these languages.

And maybe that's the relationship between what I'm thinking might fall under the category of meta (but not in a post-modern sort of way, or maybe in a meta-post-modern sort of way). Maybe the difference is that here the meta is not narrative but poetic. Maybe poetry has always contained the possibility of meta in a less self conscious way than narrative. Language in poetry is more expansive in some ways - the words take on their own shadows and slip outside of the regular usage. In my mind this is what is meant when someone praises a prose writer as being "poetic" - the expansion of the possibility of language.

In these poems the language is expansive and slippery, sonorous and silent. It's conscious but not self-conscious. Intentional without too much intent. That is the meta that fascinates me.

There's also a post in here - but not the post of post-modern. The word post itself attracts's temporal duality at once before and after the word it modifies (as a prefix it literally and semantically comes before the word, but as a referent it signs an afterward). Now that I'm thinking of the word, I notice the orange button at the bottom of the screen telling me to "publish post" which is another interesting usage of the word. I'll have to come back to post.

It just seems like language becomes slippery in these works - a slipping that invites you to consider that none of this language means anything without all other possible language and as readers limited by mortality and capacity we are unable to access those possibilities. At the same time, poets, translators, writers of these words are equally isolated from the expansive potential of their words, which puts language into a very threatening role. It can mock you, disparage you, cheat you, betray you just as easily as it can open up for you the spaces between meaning.

But really, I should be researching and not reflecting on my strange and randomly consistent reading habits.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm telling you, poetry and film. It's the new hot thing. To whit: the 2nd annual International Poetic Short Film Festival at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. If only I still lived on the East Coast.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Call for Papers: Sociological Turn in Translation

It struck me a few months ago while I was looking for a book by Pierre Bourdieu that had come up in a discussion related to poetry and translation that I was deeply interested in sociology. Initially, I thought I was interested in literary theory, but when that turned out to be a whole lot of psycho-deconstruction-analysis (yes, I'm generalizing unfairly here) I determined what I was actually interested in was much more specifically constructed. The theories that I get passionate about are the ones that relate to the world directly - what literature and poetry and translation can do to construct identity (identity politics) in a post-colonial, post-national, globalized context. The power of poetry. The political import of art. Etc.

Where this seems to keep recurring in my reading is in cultural sociology, and so apropos of these revelations in my personal life the internet has again delivered a timely notice to me.

Conference Announcement and Call for Papers
“The Sociological Turn in Translation and Interpreting Studies”
The Fifth Biennial Conference of the
American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association (ATISA)
April 22-24, 2010
New York University (NYU), New York, NY

The American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association invites you to attend their fifth biennial conference, “ATISA V: The Sociological Turn in Translation and Interpreting Studies.” The conference will be held on the campus of New York University in the heart of New York City on April 22-24, 2010.

ATISA encourages, supports, and furthers the study of translation and interpreting studies by disseminating knowledge and research relevant to all areas of language mediation, speci­fically translation and interpreting, regardless of discipline. Translation and interpreting studies here means the study of all forms of communication between languages, including translation, interpreting, localization, bilingual text revision, cross-cultural communication, and the various
specializations, tools, and technologies involved in such activities.

Presentations focusing on the act of communicating between human languages from a wide range of disciplines and methodologies, including translation studies, interpretation studies, applied linguistics, cognitive science, cultural studies, ethnology, sociology, anthropology, education, and other social sciences are welcomed. Presentations must follow the standards of scholarship of their respective disciplines, and they must show the connection of their work to Translation and
Interpreting Studies.

ATISA V promises to be an exciting conference where new ideas are generated, disciplinary boundaries are crossed, and research on all aspects of translation and interpreting, from cognition and social action to teaching and learning, is shared.

Translation and Interpreting scholars are invited to submit 200-300 word proposals for individual papers in Word as an attachment. (Please include your contact information in the body of your e-mail, not in the file. Name your file with the first three letters of your paper title)
Presentations on all aspects of translation and interpreting studies are welcome. Papers will be divided into sections on translation/interpreting theory, research, pedagogy, and technology.
Presentations will be 20 minutes in length, followed by discussion. There will be sessions Friday morning, Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is October 15, 2009.

Send Proposals To: Dr. Claudia Angelelli, Chair, ATISA Scientific Committee, at

Information: For more information about the conference, visit the conference registration page at

Questions: E-mail to:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Split This Rock

I've recently become very interested in the interaction of poetry and film. This grew from a translation project of a long, semi-narrative prose-poem which turned out to be using a lot of cinematic language and techniques. As I dug deeper and deeper into the poem, and fell more and more in love with the work, I began to wonder what the fruitful relationship between film and poetry could be. What was the author's inspiration, in 1981 when he was writing this, to turn the language of the poem toward a kind of experimental screenplay.

There's a clear relationship in the primacy of the image. The poem, as Williams and his cohorts would tell you, is all about the image. Film, too, relies on visual perception - a visual literacy if you will that cues us without statement. Sound, also. Someone told me, and I don't have a citation, that the majority of what viewers of media respond to is the sound, not the picture. Likewise, poetry even sitting silent on the page consists of music - the internal music of the word, and of the line, and the fuller music of the poem.

I also want to find a relationship in the non-narrative ability of poetry and film. While they both can, and often quite successfully are, narrative projects, poetry by virtue of its concentration of language and form on the page (not just verse, but short blocks of prose because of the plunge into whiteness that follows each one, use the void, the break of the line to create this possibility) can exist in a momentary eternity. That is, one moment that is comprehensibly infinite and universal. Of course, there is a temporality locked into the reading of the poem - you must read one word, one line at a time, there is no way to instantaneously take in the entirety of the poem in an atemporal experience. Rather its the subject matter that, by breaking the bonds of the temporality of the medium, the printed page, can free itself to express something beyond history, beyond time. In the same way, film, while constrained by the linear succession of images on a screen, can yet break these narrative bonds and express something beyond.

All this to say that today I received a call for submissions for Split This Rock poetry festival, for film and video submissions. They are "looking for artistic, experimental, and challenging film/video interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues." Which brings me directly to my other serious poetic interest: poetry as an agent of social change and conscience. On their mission statement page they write:
Poets have long played a central role in movements for social change. Today, at a critical juncture in our country’s history, poetry that gives voice to the voiceless, names the unnamable, and speaks directly from the individual and collective conscience is more important than ever. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.
It is a reality, and not necessarily to be lamented, that many more people are responsive to visual media than written. Poetry is excellent at appropriating, so why not explore fully the relationship between the two and perhaps infuse again the ability for poetry to be active in the social conscience of the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Perishable Publishing

It struck me while writing the title for this post that "perishable publishing" would be a great zen-like e-zine name - the ephemeral quality of web publishing speaking for itself....but that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about that oft-touted phrase for academics (or aspiring academics like me) "publish or perish." I'm thinking about this now particularly as it seems as though there will be some future for the project I spent the last two years working on, negotiating rights for, etc. I did this for the love of the work, but also with the idea that I could share my love of the work with a wider audience. Which requires a publisher.

One of the main topics of conversation in my translation discussions has been on the topic of publishing. While I may not be the most published person out there, I have been on both sides of the game, so to speak; working as an editor for Arrowsmith Press, Zoland Poetry and a number of other wonderful independent presses for many years, and also submitting my work with many rejections and a few acceptances. I've now had original and translated work published and let me tell you, it's much much harder to do with translated work.

First, the rights. ALTA and PEN both have wonderful publications, more like how-to guides, on things like "breaking into print," developing a contract, "promoting your translation," etc. The ground rules are laid out and free to download for anyone who might be interested. But there are some things gained by experience that I have been thinking about, which might be useful for those just beginning to think about publishing.

1. It helps to know the editors. Really, this isn't nearly as nepotistic as it sounds. You absolutely don't need to be friends with editors to get published. But it does help to know about the editors of the places you're submitting. It's kind of like dating - you want to find someone who is a good match. It doesn't make sense to submit translations of Chinese fiction to an editor that is primarily interested in Latin American poetry. It likewise doesn't make sense to submit lyrical poetry to a publisher who is primarily interested in political art. A good way to come up with a list of potential places to submit is to make a list of the journals and presses that publish the books you like to read. Look on your bookshelf for publishers - most likely they will share your tastes.

2. It does actually help to know the editors, or someone else who knows them, or someone who works somewhere in publishing. Literary publishing is a small world, literary translation publishing even moreso. If you're fortunate enough to be in an area where there are events centered around literary translation (readings, for example, or visiting writer programs) go to the events. Talk to people there. It's like networking, only these people are actually interested in the same things you are, and are probably doing fantastic work of their own that you will also be interested in. And you may get a lead - someone who is interested specifically in what you're doing, or knows of someone who is. If you're really lucky, you might also get an introduction, but at the very least you'll make friends with similar interests and learn about avenues you might not have already considered.

3. Research is key. Reading widely could be considered a pre-requisite for work as a literary translator. A general love of world literature predicates all work as a translator, and so there are likely a variety of world literatures represented on your bookshelf. The same approach for finding a new book could be used for finding a potential publisher. Go to a bookstore or library and look at the literary journals for those who publish work in translation. Or look at publishers backlists online. ALTA has a list of publishers (and journals) that publish works in translation, but because of the changing landscape of publishing it can't be comprehensive. Small Press Distribution, Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and Poets & Writers all have lists of presses (though you can't search for translation specifically) that are worth browsing through.

4. Submit. Actually do it - it's good practice, and helps develop a thick skin. And you might be accepted, or get a thorough, and much coveted, personal rejection that can help you improve your work. The way I do it is aim high: start with the three or four places I would most love to be published, and then each time I get rejected I submit to three or four more. Some pieces are accepted right away, and some have been accepted after 15 or more submissions. Some haven't been accepted at all. But the practice of writing query and cover letters alone is worthwhile. And a great place to keep track of all of these submissions (because the worst thing to do is submit the same piece to the same journal by accident) is Duotrope.

Well, there are many more concerns in submitting translations for publication than original work. I may return to the subject, but I think for now I must return to Derrida, Des tours de babel, and thinking about the loftier aspects of translation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The End of the Summer

Well, it's official - school has started, and the summer is ending. Here in Iowa, where I've found myself immersed in a world of literature, art and translation, it's still sweltering out but the fall is on my mind. ALTA is coming up in November, and I'll be discussing the future of ALTA from my perspective.

It also means the newsletter is coming together, and I'm constantly humbled by the wealth of activity and interest in literary translation that is out there.

The summer was wonderful - two whole months, uninterrupted, with my husband before the inevitable distance took its place. But it is nice to be thinking again about my work, the work I hope to do, the work I am doing. Iowa is a good place for this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Swallowed Whole

So English got it's millionth word today which is, rather strangely, not a word but a phrase: Web 2.0. What's interesting is the methodology, and debate, over what a word is and whether they can be counted at all. From hearsay, it takes use by three different authors in three different literary or scholarly publications to get a word included in the Oxford English Dictionary, which currently has 600,000 entries. This particular count is based on complex mathematical formulas that I can't pretend to understand.

OK, so what does Web 2.0 mean for words, then? We all know and probably have made use of some online linguistic reference, the OED online, Merriam-Webster or even These are more or less static representations of the print medium - they don't take advantage of the interactivity of Web 2.0. But does. synthesizes some other online dictionaries for multiple and layered definitions, but goes far far beyond including (sometimes off-base) usage examples, pictures from Flicker, feeds from Twitter including the sought-for word, sound recordings (and the ability to record and include your own), synonyms, antonyms, and even statistics on how often you can expect to see the word. In other words, it provides a comprehensive if momentary picture of the current usage of the word.

Look up "translation" for example. There are 14 potnential definitions, though none of them are wholly satisfactory for me. This is not wikipedia, it is not user-defined definitions, though there are wiki elements to the page (like the possibility to add your own note following the definitions provided). Scrolling down, from a Twitter feed I learned that Google has launched a translation toolkit today, intended to help humanize machine translation through interaction with wikipedia. I've filed this away for further exploration, and continue looking down where I find a list of synonyms and antonyms and the etymology. Flicker pictures are understandably obscure for this entry, and I'm told that I can expect to see this word twice a month (which would make sense for the average browser, but for me it's closer to twice an hour). I can also see that the word was used heavily in the 1860s and the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, no one has tagged this word.

What's truly wonderful about this is that it fully explores the potential of user interaction. Logged in, I can suggest other synonyms, antonyms, even rhymes - and that's just for starters. It is not going to take the place of print dictionaries for long-term authority, but much like Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia, it may force established ways of thinking about language to shift towards popular usage and multimedia elaboration.

But search on for "Web 2.0" and it comes up with nothing. So by whose standards is it a word, or is it just not there yet? The creator of the Global Language Project, responsible for the formula, criteria and count of English words, says the project is about English as a language of resiliency, expansion and populism. Words appear and become commonly used all the time, and those words, that flexibility of language, is what makes English such an important global language.
"English has the tradition of swallowing new words whole," he said. "Other languages translate."

It is the ability to assimilate new words and new usages with dizzying speed (only accelerated by Web 2.0 interactivity) that makes English such a powerful tool. And perhaps this is also the use of translating into English - to expand the linguistic and symbolic possibilities of the language and allow it to reach further and more significantly than it has before. To encompass more, without subsuming it. To adapt.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Breadcrumbs #1

Occasionally I find myself sucked into a vortex of information, jumping from one interesting link to another, always intending to find my way back and read carefully rather than skimming. It occurred to me last weekend on a particularly strange journey that brought me finally to the Dubai International Poetry Festival, that it would be interesting to keep track of the jumps, the rational and the points of interest during a session like this. Call it electronic anthropology.

So I'm going to begin now with a relatively short but fruitful session. It begins, as it often does, with a google search:
"academic literature jounrals" (and yes, I did mean journals as google helpfully points out) from which I jump to the first result:, with a comprehensive list of literary journals with links and descriptions of what each journal does, from which I jump to
Sirena: an online literary journal in Spanish and English published by Johns Hopkins University Press and edited at Dickinson College - it doesn't look like they have published an issue since 2007, but still I visit their links page and jump to
Fractal: a literary journal from Mexico which I'd come across before in the Harvard Library which has some great Spanish-language poetry, and translations of poetry into Spanish.

Both of these journals deserve closer attention than I had time to give them at the moment, and has some great lists other than this one of literary journals. In fact, I'm headed back there now to see if they can help me with my original quest for scholarly journals in the humanities.

On my next jump from I landed here:
Emily' Page: a collection of links to other sites with humanities resources like:
Voice of the Shuttle: a treasure trove of humanities links and resources, though it seems to be somewhat out of date (at least the calls for papers and conference announcements end in 1998) and some links are broken
EServer: which has a ton of primary sources, though they don't all seem to work
On-Line Literary Research Tools: which hasn't been updated since 2006, but still has some awesome literary theory links.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ALTA on YouTube

I only recently became aware of the LiteraryTranslaion Channel on YouTube, which has several videos from the ALTA Conference in 2008 including interviews with translators about their careers and work.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Summer Translation Study

So I'm compiling news and announcements for the bi-annual ALTA newsletter - a delightful project that I'm thrilled to be helping with. It's amazing how much translation information and conversation is out there once you begin looking around.

Anyways, one of the tasks is paring down the information to the most timely and relevant. This means lots of things are getting left out - in part because deadlines have passed, etc. So because I think they're interesting things to know about/keep in mind for future years, I'm going to put them here.

These are some summer translation programs that I've come across:

The Translation Research Summer School (TRSS), a joint initiative of three British universities and the Centre for Translation at the Hong Kong Baptist University, organizes an annual two-week course in one of the partner institutions in the UK and an annual two-week course at Hong Kong Baptist University, offering intensive research training in translation and intercultural studies for prospective researchers in the field. Collaborating in the UK Summer School are the Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manchester, the Centre for Intercultural Studies at University College London (UCL), and the Translation Studies Graduate Programme, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh.

Nida School for Translation Studies (NSTS) in Misano adriatico (Rimini), Italy.
The NSTS is a program of the E.A.Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American Bible Society. Its mission is to support advanced training and research into translation studies (understood as inclusive of the history and practice of Bible translation). Supporting institutions include the Translation Center at UMass-Amherst, Istituto San Pellegrino, the Society of Biblical Literature, The United Bible Societies (UBS), and SIL International. The theme of the 2009 session is “Translation and Culture.”

British Center for Literary Translation Summer School

The one week program brings together writers and translators for literary translation workshops, round tables, seminars and readings. Workshops are offered into English from Chinese, French, Portuguese, German and Spanish and from English into Italian. In each workshop participants work with a writer in residence under the guidance of a workshop leader who is an experienced literary translator. Limited funding is available.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not Lost

A New York Times piece on a Christopher Hampton's play 'The Philanthropist' ends with a wonderful reminder of how important translation is for literature and the arts:
I think translation is very underappreciated and under-rewarded. I feel quite strongly that translation is performing an incredibly valuable service for us all. As often as not, when you read a translated novel, you have to search to find the name of the translator. Of course the translator is the person who is directly mediating the language to you and giving you access to all these worlds that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to enter.
And of course, the first comment on the story says in a contemptuously backhanded agreement:
poetry is, of course, what is “lost in translation,” and good translators (like every good artist) knows that their work will inevitably fail to convey the full beauty and truth of the original (in the case of the artist, the original being the kernel of an idea for a work that is alway better than whatever gets made). but where would we be without wonderful translators like hampton, who give us worlds that would otherwise remain completely inaccessible? translation is an art — an interpretive art (like acting, directing, dancing, singing, playing an instrument) but an art nonetheless. here’s to translators!
Though the article was posted two weeks ago, I couldn't help but add my disgruntled .02:

Though another commenter quips Frost's famous derision of translating poetry, that it is what is lost in translation, I think this view is often misunderstood. I think he means is that great translation requires a great artist, a poet, to re-form the poetry in the new language. Those who think that translations are always and inescapably inferior and derivative tend to be rather limited in their view of what a translation can achieve. It's no surprise to anyone that there are losses in the translation of literature - sounds, rhymes, meters that simply have no equivalent in the target language. But most people who have not thought overmuch about the practice don't realize there are equal gains - in sound, rhyme, meter, and even, sometimes, in allusion and elsewhere.

This history of this inferior and derivative idea of translation actually comes from translating religious texts - that the original was sacred and divine and that any transference of it was necessarily inferior. We recognize now the crippling absurdity of that idea - especially since it came to bear when the Christian Bible was already in Latin, having been translated already.

Many of the greatest poets in recent history, Pablo Neruda for one, believed that translation could actually improve upon the original. And I think he was right - a great line from his most famous book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, reads: "El amor es tan corto, el olvido es tan largo." It is much tighter in English: "Love is so short, forgetting is so long." The anaphora is clearer, the symmetry of phrasing emphasized by the loss of the articles, unnecessary in English.

The myopic view that a translation is necessarily inferior to an original work is what prevents translators from being recognized as artists, necessary for the success of global literature. It is what prevents translators from being fairly compensated for their work, and what prevents acknowledgment that without them we would have a very limited and sad reading world indeed.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Translator, Trader?

There is a fantastic new review of an essay on translating literature over at The Complete Review today. Not only am I constantly impressed by the number of foreign-language books reviewed (either in translation or untranslated) over there, but the insight with which he addresses not only the merits of the work but the translation as well. This review deals with a new translation of That Mad Ache by Françoise Sagan, translated by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

What is especially interesting is that the book on has two covers - a front and back. The front is for the text, the back, when turned upside down, is the cover of the long essay on translation by Hofstadter included with the text. I haven't read it, but having read the review I think it's safe to say that I will likely disagree with his discussion of translation in major parts, I would not translate Bonjour tristesse as Howdy, Blues, and don't feel the need to elucidate texts as a translator - that is the job of the critic, teacher or student. In any case, having not read it I was still struck by the magnitude of giving the translator not only so much page space in the book, but his own cover. And, according to The Complete Review, listing him on the front not as a translator but co-author.

Which immediately made me think of Russel Valentino's excellent post at Words Without Borders a week or so ago. He discusses the debate over the National Translation Award's new eligibility requirements that the translator of a literary work be listed on the cover. This, he seems to say, and I agree, needlessly punishes translators who have little to no control over what a publisher may decide. Not only that, it is, he says, a misguided attempt at educating a reading public about the necessity and pervasiveness of translation. I agree with his conclusion that this kind of education should be happening in universities and schools - where it is most effective and appropriate.

The issue from the publisher's side is that translation is scary to the reading public, and being aware that a book is translated will make readers choose not to read the book. As Valentino says, this is merely heresay, with no real data to back up this claim. You can also posit readers like me, who have several 'favorite' translators and regularly search for books translated by them not only because of their skill in the art of translation, but because of their execellent tastes in literature. If Margaret Sayers Peden translates a book, chances are I'm going to like it, because I share her taste in literature. In any case, there is no current way to determine what effect the prominent display of a translator's name on the cover of a book has on its sales.

Which makes it more interesting then that Hofstadter is credited as being a co-author. His approach to translation, on the freer side of the spectrum, certainly allows for the possibility of crediting in this manner. The idea, frankly, turns me off. It would be one thing if he worked with the original author on the translation, which doesn't appear to be the case here. But even then, I would be skeptical of a claim of co-authorship. There is an analogy here in music, perhaps. A contemporary conductor re-interpreting a Mozart symphony does not then claim to have co-composed it. Conducting itself is an art of interpretation, of translating written notes to sound, and is respected as such. Great conductors are acknowledged as masters of an art form that is seperate from the act of composing (though of course one does not preclude the other, just as being a translator does not preclude one from also writing). Even in arranging music for new combinations of instruments one does not claim authorship of the original music. It is an adaption, seperate from but indebted to the genius of the original author.

Looser translation tactics should also be seen in this light. And so while it is imperative that translation become more acceptable to engage academically, as Valentino suggests, and that translators are given credit and respect for the practice of their art, there are limits to how much ownership one can claim of the original text.

I'm delighted that the translator's afterward in this book is so substantial - I think this is something that publishers, should they choose to, could add to the reading and understanding of a text. But I'm wary of the heavy-handed claims being made. A sure way to lose respect for the art of translating is to infringe into the art of authoring without warrent.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Poetry as a Political Indicator

There are times when, in the often overwhelming inundation of information that I chose to subject myself to daily, threads almost miraculously make themselves clear to me. (I won't contemplate the wealth of connections that I'm sure slide by in the deluge). Last week I discovered the Poetry Foundation's wonderful podcasts, and have been listening in chronological order to the Poetry Magazine podcast. When I finally reached the discussion from October 2008 on the November 2008 issue I was not only interested in the conversation about Bolaño's poetry, but about Robert Archambeau's discussion on poetry and politics. Actually, it seemed as though he had a book forthcoming on the subject, though I haven't been able to find out anything about it.

Archambeau talks about something that most U.S. writers will smile knowingly about: poets who claim to speak truth to power, when power isn't listening. I think, though, the problem isn't really that the power isn't listing, it's that people aren't listing. In many wealthy industrialized nations, people are more or less capable of speaking for themselves, and so don't turn to literature to represent communities. The exception to this, of course, are subaltern communities (for example racial and religious minorities, gay and lesbian communities, and until very recently, women). But for the most part in wealthy industrialized nations the common recourse for writers who want to 'speak truth to power' is relying on language that can't be exploited, that stands outside of the logic of the marketplace as resistance to capital. This, of course, doesn't usually create direct connections or solutions to real problems, but offers instead an alternative sense of valuation - that there is more to life than subsistence. The problem is that when poetry offers abstractions in the face of real problems, it removes itself from directly addressing these problems. The more esoteric and apart from worldly issues it becomes, the fewer people rely on it to speak for their concerns, and the more removed it has to become in order to fulfill its sense of purpose. (These are my thoughts, though drawn from Archambeau's discussion).

So, does poetry accomplish anything? Archambeau says that in some circumstances, it does - especially in subjugated cultures and societies. Literature thrives, he says, in situations where vast percentages of populations are disenfranchised, because it offers an alternative means of expressing something that isn't being represented. In this way (and I hear a note of Neruda here) poetry speaks for an otherwise unrepresented community, it is a "voice for the voiceless." Not a community of poetry readers, but an identity group. They read poetry not for it's pure aesthetic enrichment of their lives, or for a search for morality, truth, beauty and the sublime, but because it is perhaps the only place in which their voices are heard, and in which their values are expressed. Archambeau even quotes a colleague as saying that "When you look at a country in which poetry is highly valued outside of a literary community, it's generally a sign of underdevelopment."

With these thoughts about poetry as a means of identity politics for disenfranchised communities whirling in my mind, I came across today an article in the online magazine Guernica in which Joel Peckham writes:
A nation does need its poets and poetry. However much people claim to dislike it, poetry—those articulated symbols and metaphors, those stories that resonate with a community and are therefore essential to human aspiration—responds to the basic need of individuals to reach beyond their small existence and connect with something meaningful. At its worst, poetry simply records the longings of an isolated individual but, at its best, when one poem or poet tunes into the longings of a people, poetry provides us with an articulated affirmation of our purpose as a culture—and indeed, culture cannot exist without it. This relates to why rhetoric is such an important part of the political sphere. A political speech attempts to give a vision in keeping with a nation’s core values while also trying to expand, adapt, and reaffirm those values for successive generations.
(Emphasis mine).
Guernica, April 2009

There is something here that strikes exactly at the heart of it: great, powerful and political poetry is for communities. And not communities of poetry readers and writers, but a larger sense of community, one not restricted by geography or language. Poetry can't convert (usually), but it can speak, it can galvanize and it can be the spark of ignition for communities to take shape and become heard around.

Poetry has power only when looking outside the individual, or the specialized literary community, to address and take part in the world around it. And it is not only powerful, but necessary.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cuban Science Fiction

Thanks to Three Percent a few weeks ago I learned about the World SF News Blog. I am a sometimes guilty, but constant, reader of science fiction in English and only recently began exploring the rich world of science fiction in translation, and in Spanish (my other reading language). Today, on the World SF News Blog they posted a link to a list of Cuban science fiction writers which includes detailed biographical information, bibliographies and links to texts and interviews. A great resource I look forward to more fully exploring!

Monday, April 27, 2009


In an insightful and suggestive article yesterday, Columbia professor of religion Mark Taylor discusses the structure of higher education in the United States, and its future. Despite it's rather anxiety-inducing title, "The End of the University As We Know It," the article is not as doom-saying as all that. Rather, he carefully isolates the major recurring problems of academia, which those of us involved in it know all too well, and considers solutions to these problems.

Among his major complaints, and rightfully so, is the debillitating specialization and inability to foster innovation that the current system necessitates:
And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. ... The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning.
All other problems aside, the siloing of academia has made it less and less relevant and by extension made the sometimes very important work that happens in both practical and theoretical fields within university communities arcane and inaccessible. This problem connects, in my mind, to that of jargon, which Edward Said wrote about brilliantly in Representations of the Intellectual. When the work that academics do cannot be understood as relating to the world outside the ivory tower, it becomes relegated to navel-gazing and self-indulgent diatribe. In just the same way, when departments and the faculty and students within them turn away from the connections implicit in their work they become diminishingly important. It is these connections that justifies more obviously the humanities, but the sciences as well.

This is to say, also, that all fields of study are equally rich with connections. That poetry (as I firmly believe) is as relevant as chemistry for addressing the world's multiplying and complex problems.
There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.

It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.
I think that there have been surges in this direction in academia. Comparative Literature departments, to some degree, address the necessity for looking outside single national literary traditions to form complete pictures. New Historicism in literary criticism requires the situating of a text and its author in a socio-historical, political and economic context for the fullest understanding. I'm drawing examples from my own discipline, but I'm sure there are many others.

It's no surprise to me that the author of this article is a professor of religion. One of the monumental and formative moments of my undergraduate academic experience was a spirited discussion in a study of religion class (which became a second major for me, in part because of this) in which we examined the place of the study of religion in academia. Was it even possible to study religion without equal parts anthropology, history, economics, politics and literature? Was it reasonable to expect to be able to study any of these independant of the others? As a class, we came to the conclusion that it would make more sense to have a Cultural Studies field in which one could focus, like a wide-angle camera, on a particular aspect without excluding the others. Our professor agreed.

The problem is that these steps are too small. Even the collapse of autonomous and disconnected departments is not enough. It is also the problem of national in the place of international. Taylor addresses this through the increased use of technology and resources, allowing universities around the world to simultaneously share resources and faculty, but this leaves 2/3 of the world behind. In order for academia and scholarship to truly transform, it needs to break free of the elitism that is endemic in the institutions. The elitism isn't mearly in the absurd over-specialization, or in the equaliy pretentious use of jargon, but in the basic assumptions of what higher education can accomplish, and what its intent is in the world. A dissolution of boundaries between disciplines is a good first step in a larger examination of the role of the intellectual in public life.

Critics of these ideas say that it is the ability to specialize so minutely that allows great ideas to develop, and while I don't doubt that for some that's true, I think for the most part it rewards elitism and arcane scholarship. There must be not only room, but encouragement, for both. Critics of these ideas say that these kinds of changes would take away from the scholarship that is possbile, for who is making the decisions once professors aren't guarenteed a life-time position? God forbid it be the administrators! The answer, of course, is more innovation: boards - perhaps much like editorial boards, for example, that determine areas of inquiry and whether to discontinue unsuccesful focuses. There

I, unlike Taylor, have no solutions. His are radical, and will be rejected but shouldn't be. Even the suggestion of aboloshing tenure, though this made me flinch with aprehension. He's right, though, aboloshing tenure to be replaced with long-term contracts would allow for more innovation in universities, and make it possible for younger professors to find footing. There's a risk here that by aboloshing tenure universities would merely increase the exploitation of adjunct and graduate student teachers (another institutionalized problem addressed in the article), without creating opportunities and a system of rewards that would encourage the change Talyor is hoping for.

This is perhaps why change occurs so slowly in institutions as old as the university. The risks run high, and the people in power have a lot at stake. There are no shareholders to call for radical restructuring, only students whose futures are at the whim of the system they are a part of. There are too many people who have too much to gain by maintaining the status quo, and no one in the position to push for immediate and comprehensive change. It is a system dependant on evolution. But I don't find this discouraging.

I've already seen the inklings of this broadening of perspective in academia. Literary translation, perhaps the best example of looking outside the singluar specialized field, has begun to find a place in academia in the UK and the US. Interdisciplinary studies programs are popping up, still new, unfunded and untested, but there. The possibilites for real change are out there - but only if the existing power structures can evolve towards it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Husk

Reading over at Harriet a post by
It also could have been the denaturing process of translation itself, which gives us, at best, the husk of poems. But it was the husk I needed, not the grace notes. I needed a new conceptual platform.
Young North American poets of the early 21st century must come to understand that the English language has become the global language, and this global idiom comes in two basic forms: hegemonic and co-opted; that is, English has become a language which embodies both power and the struggle against power, both the standardization and the defense of the particular.
It is our duty now, since English has become the language of globalization, to continually recycle all of its registers, to shift and shuffle them, to be at once plain spoken and baroque, as need be, to keep the language exercised, lean and honest.

I was glad to see the discussion in the comments turn toward translation, because I was dismayed by the first statement above, especially in light of the conclusion - our responsibility now as speakers of a language of globalization, war and consumerism.

It seems to me that in large part the assumption that nothing of value can move between languages is a result of linguistic monopoly, and an archaic one at that, coming from a previous language of empire and religion, Latin. Replaced by the religion of consumerism and the empire of free market, English supplants Latin but the premise is the same. Translation threatens the supremacy of the language of state, and therefore is classified as at best inferior and at worst traitorous. He mentions in a comment that he's studied the 'art of translation' - and I do believe it is an art, at least when translating literary works - and so it is even stranger to me that he would reduce it to failed derivative reproduction.

While I accept that there are necessary sacrifices made during the translation process, there are also gains. These gains are not only in the sound, syntax, image and structure of the poem (as they can be, at times) but in the expansion of our horizons as readers and writers, and importantly the de-centering of our native language as the only legitimate producer of culture and art.

Translation, I think, is an inherently subversive act that can throw into sharp relief the bloated egotism of our linguistic assumptions. To use his term, it is through translation that we can perhaps un-co-opt poetic expression.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Zebra Poetry Film Festival

I've always been intrigued by the possibilities of combining, or exploring the overlap between, film and poetry. This may be because I work in poetry while my husband, brother and several of my closest friends work in film. I won't pretend it's not a selfish interest. It's also always seemed rich in possibility because both rely heavily on universal communication through the image, and film allows for a multidimensional and multitemporal exploration of single or multiplied and shifting images.

So I was thrilled, in a frenzy of surfing, to come across the Zebra Poetry Film Award and corresponding festival. Though the site is moderately difficult to navigate and my German is severely lacking, with 600 entries from across the world in 2006, it's clear that I'm not the only one who believes this is a fertile ground for creation. The site does, after a bit of searching, have information about the upcoming 2009 event from June 27 - July 5, and the videos of past year's winners. I looked a bit for a dvd of the films, or some of them, because I would certainly buy it if not only to support the festival, but also to enrich my understanding of this borderland art, but in vain.

In any case, this certainly bumped German up on my list of languages to improve.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Literature Across Frontiers

They have a spectacular list of links to publishers and organizations that support literature and translation. According to Three Percent:
LAF represents approximately twenty cultural organizations from across Europe that provide translation subsidies to publishers interested in translating their works. In addition, these organizations frequently produce pamphlets and other promotional materials to spread the word about their literature.

The Guilt of the Photographer

I know that fiction relies on a suspension of disbelief, to some degree, even realist fiction. But I wonder, as I begin reading Margaret Sayers-Peden's translation of Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Painter of Battles, why a person threatened with being killed wouldn't immediately go to the police. The protagonist, a retired war-photographer, is confronted by the subject of an award-winning photo from ten years ago, who tracks him down in his secluded studio and promises to kill him. Perhaps the photographer cum painter feels an obligation to the subject for his dispassionate capture and use of his image, or remorse for not remembering the subject, asking his name or even finding out whether he survived the war being documented. But that somehow seems too comfortable, to easy to succumb to guilt.

I'm interested to see how it will unfold - it the painter, we already know, is searching for some meaning to life and death, it is why he became a war photographer in the first place. There is the promise that the meaning he seeks will be developed, like a photograph, through the conversations he has with is subject and would-be killer. Perhaps there is he insinuation that by photographing this man in the midst of battle, anonymously and without emotion, the photographer in some way took his life from him. Though the subject survived the battle, his face becomes the symbol of a lost cause, a defeated party in a civil war. That theft of choice in identity - what one's life represents - will be balanced by the theft of the photographer's life.

Faulques, photographer and now painter of battles, says to his subject, companion, inquisitor "War ... can be photographed well only when, as you raise the camera, what you see doesn't affect you." (40) In this way the camera becomes weaponized, the photographer a soldier of sorts. Soldiers learn, through training or experience, to dehumanize the other, the enemy. It's necessary in order to kill, tortue, villanize. A soldier who feels remorse, sympathy or empathy is useless as a combatant. In the same way, here, the photographer cannot indulge in an emotional identification with the subject - sterilizing them, though without the villification necessary to kill them. The interesting double meaning of "shoot."

Poetry On Demand

I love this. The idea that poetry is just as vital as groceries, if it were just as available. I would love to try something like this - it must be an amazing feeling, to know that your poem, no matter how hurried, is important to someone's day.

More than that, it's a popularizing of the commissioning of works of art - something that only the very wealthy could do, and which they rarely do anymore. Putting art in the hands of the everyday. Because neither can survive without the other.

Friday, April 17, 2009


There is so much information out there it's overwhelming. Well, maybe not if you're under 20, but sometimes I become inundated with input. It's something I almost seek - right now I'm watching a History Channel program, working on the bi-weekly Joiner Center newsletter, checking and answering emails, and researching a few things that especially caught my attention today. So how able am I to significantly absorb any of this information?

There's a lament I've seen, though I can't recall where, that we have become a society of skimmers. We look for fast, quick information that is easily digestible and assimilatable. We shirk from meaningful contemplation. This affects our communications, our intelligence, and according to some, our morality.

The thing is, I've never had a good memory. Really, even before the days of constant digital input (and output) I could barely remember the conversations I had earlier in the day. Does subjecting myself to virtually constant information make it more difficult for me to digest? Some people swear by multitasking - especially those with attention disorders - claiming that using more of the brain allows for better focus. Some, a dear friend of mine for example, advises slowing down. I'm caught in the middle. At times, like now for example, I find myself distracted by the multiple inputs, yet strangely unable to pull myself away from them. At others, and perhaps the origin of the habit for me, I can't seem to devote myself to one project entirely and so search for other stimulation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Disappointed Potential: The House of Paper

This is one of those books with vast potential that is left untapped, and ultimately disappointed. The premise of the story is spectacular, Borgesian, intriguing and mysterious: a book encased in cement with an inscription to an unknown person from a recently deceased professor is sent to her office and discovered by a colleague. He decides to try to find the sender of the book (no return address) based on the somewhat mysterious inscription, and return the book.

The set up is there, and the scope could be grand, labyrinthine, compelling and significant. But the short format makes the story seem hurried rather than unfolding, and dictated rather than narrated. The exquisite insights into the mind and heart of a bibliophile, or even just an avid reader, are plunked in as though the story is being tied up with significant meaning, instead of letting the meaning evolve through the story. It reminded me from the outset of The Shadow of the Wind, a complex mystery centered around the obscure author of a hidden book, but The House of Paper falls significantly short of what it could be.

Perhaps that's what's most frustrating about reading this book - that it could be infinitely more than it is. That the story could be experienced by the reader, rather than relayed by a rather monotonous narrator whose voice (perhaps because of poor translation) sounds no different than the character that tells the bulk of the story. Instead, it is a series of epigraphs linked together by a skeletal and merely sketched plot. Though eminently quotable, it amounts to little more than an excuse for these nuggets of wisdom about the significance of books and libraries in our lives.

The translation itself is in sore need of revision and editing, and reads more like a draft than a final version. The clumsy language obscures whatever rhythm and beauty may have been present in the original.

It is worth reading though, if only for the gift of its potential. And worth expanding upon, should the author and publisher see fit to do so. I would read this happily as a full-length novel rather than merely a novella.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


"Without translation, we would be hopelessly lost to one another, lost to the possible exchange of the hopes and fears that make us all human. The KALIMA Project affirms the centre that connects us all, language and structures we build with it, including our capacity to love," poet, playwrite and translator Aafa Michael Weaver said.

KALMIA is a massive translation undertaking sponsored by
the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), which plans to translate 100 titles annually into Arabic from classic and modern texts in other languages. Announcing its first list of titles this year, if successful, could be the translational equivalent of the library of Alexandria, or more recently, google's ambitious Alexandria project. It's humbling in its magnitude, and unsurprising then that it is only because of translation to and from Arabic that much of 'western' literature and knowledge has passed through to us today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


A friend, Christopher Lee Donovan, brilliant photographer and artist, shared with me his work in a webzine, Area Zinc. The zine itself is bilingual Spanish/English, and is rather spectacularly edited and designed. This issue's 'theme' is delirium, and the collection of art (primarily from the US and Latin America, but with a strong representation of other countries) is haunting. I'm thrilled to know of a new venue in which to indulge my art-voyer habit!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'd like to be a writer

“There's a kind of confessional impulse that not every literate, intelligent person has,” Mr. Updike said in his 1990 Globe interview. “A crazy belief that you have some exciting news about being alive, and I guess that, more than talent, is what separates those who do it from those who think they'd like to do it. That your witness to the universe can't be duplicated, that only you can provide it, and that it's worth providing.” Quoted in their article about John Updike's death.

I can't help feel insignificant in light of this - feel as though what I want to do is devote my days to writing in the belief that I can be one of the few, lucky writers to do so. I don't know if I'm a coward or just lazy, but I haven't yet learned this kind of insanity. But I hope to.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The death of teaching

Stanley Fish, in a blog for the New York Times on January 18th, The Last Professor, lauds a book by a former student of his that in no uncertain terms declares victory for the utilitarian model of education and predicts the demise of the university as a place for "understanding and explaining." He's not entirely wrong, but neither is he entirely right.

I haven't read the book he's reviewing, and based on his review I likely won't. As a poet, moreover, a literary translator, and an aspiring academic, I hear often enough how the humanities don't contribute to the world in a tangible or measurable way. I hear often enough that higher education is "an enterprise characterized by a determined inutility." This is the triumph of the corporation over the individual, the system over the human. And those who can view this change with satisfaction, with victory, have clearly never read Dickens' Hard Times.

Had they bothered to read literature they would perhaps understand that this is the ultimate dehumanization. The author of the book, Donoghue, concludes, “that all fields deemed impractical, such as philosophy, art history, and literature, will henceforth face a constant danger of being deemed unnecessary.” He's not wrong - in fact, we have already seen this happening - it continues to happen to the fields of imaginative pursuits. It is not my purpose to rehash the classic arguments that only by first imagining a better world can we then create it, or by taking an imaginative perspective on the world can we critique it, and therefore improve it. I fully subscribe to these arguments, as anyone pursuing my future would have to. But the idea that the future holds no place for the imagination, and only for utility, is not to be congratulated as pragmatic but lamented as defeated.

Not only that, but it seems to me to be distinctly wrong. One might just consider events of the past several months as an example. The devastating crash of the unregulated market, and the resulting loss of faith in the free market as a suitable system of moral guidance for life, is a place to start. The free market, we have learned, is very good at one thing, but can not serve as a model for all things, nor even can it be left to its own devices without oversight. No longer can we associate goodness as a virtue with the manifestation of material wealth and productivity, as the utilitarian model requires. While we need technicians, engineers, investors and bankers to make the system run, so also do we need the visionaries who imagine ways to improve the system, to make it both more efficient and more human. We need people with the developed ability to envision alternatives to the status quo, both in the name of progress and in the name of morality. And these people don't just learn to do this by studying numbers or processes. It requires the nurturing and development of a different set of skills, those of the imagination, through literature, philosophy, dare I say art?

Second, look at the recent (political) victory of the intellectual imagination over the lowest-common-denominator. It is the ability to envision change, envision a better world that we can all be part of, that in large part ensured the success of the Obama campaign. No longer are the willfully ignorant lauded as being more 'authentic' - but the chance for education must be extended to be universal. Only by having an imaginative, engaged and educated populace can a democracy thrive. People get the government they deserve in a democracy; it is by celebrating the life of the imagination, the ability to make real in the world what our artists, writers and philosophers dream for us as a better existance, that we have come finally to a new beginning. There is hope in this national shift, though no assurance it will become permanent.

The stifeling of the imaginative intellect visibily damaged the world we live in. These are but two examples. Perhaps there is a future in which professors, and university life that stimulates imaginative thinking, is gone entirely. But I rather doubt it. How many students vy to go to the University of Phoenix (mentioned approvingly in the article) over Harvard, or even the University of Massachusetts? This is not soley because of name recognition - it is because for the most part we still understand that without an interactive, imaginative education we are limited to our technical skills. Like a machine working into all eternity with no purpose.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Giving Thanks

Last year I was incredibly fortunate to receive a grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine. As part of my responsibilities, I needed to send them a completed version of my project, along with a letter describing how the grant helped me in completing it.

Writing the letter, I realized that, while the grant was incredibly generous and had a significant financial impact on my ability to work on the project, perhaps even more significant was the impact on my confidence as a writer and translator. As a relatively young translator, with no major publications as yet, it's difficult sometimes to believe that my work has any value outside of my immediate circle of friends, family, mentors and colleagues. It's difficult to remember that it is to bring the work to the world outside of my direct interactions that I'm doing the work in the first place.

Receiving the support of an institution to which I have no direct connection was perhaps the greatest assurance I could have gotten that not only is the work I've selected worthwhile, but my own translations are as well. It is not only the completion of this project that this grant has supported, but my ability to take on new projects with assurance, and to continue to pursue my passion with confidence in my ability to succeed.