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.

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