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Currently Reading: Translation and Reproduction

On Bloomsday this year, Dadalus Press of Ireland and Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris co-released Four Irish Poets / Quatres poètes irlandais. Under editor Clíona Ní Ríordáin, poem by Pat Boran, Katherine Duffy, Mary Montague and Gerry Murphy found translators Paul Bensimon, Isabelle Génin, Yves Lefévre and Anne Mounic at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle to make a parallel new text.

It involved “endless discussion ranging from the diferent parts of the bagpipes to how to translate 17 stones to kilos – and the mystery of the disappearing stanzas”. The editor continues in her preface to mention what Antoine Berman said, that a “literary work reaches completude through its translation into another language, though the trial of the foreign.” I’ve read Katherine Duffy before but not the other 3, (or should I say, 7)?

Duffy writes in part, p. 46

Sorrow’s a long street;
sometimes you’ll wonder
if there’s a vanishing point

For the same stanza, Anne Mounic writes:

Le chagrin est une longue rue ;
vous vous demandez quelquefois
s’il y existe un point de fuite.

I look forward to going thru this backwards and forward, English and French.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin, translated from German by J. A. Underwood. The Penguin Classic is an essay written in 1936. It travels time well giving a lot of food for thought. What defines lived experience when one is continually consuming not one’s own perceptions of the immediate lived experience but echoes of reproductions, fictional narratives in name or via media spin of news. One sees art continually in ads, in merch, in lithographs. We wandered into a hole in the wall gallery to find it has authorized lithographs of Henri Matisse, Juan Miro, Amedeo Modigliani, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso. What does it mean to be an authorized copy? Instead of an illustration coming free in a magazine in a small glossy size, it is wall-hanging size and 200 to 1000 euros with a certificate of “authenticity”.

The difference, as Benjamin drew it between an original in the era of oil paintings as art, is that the original is time consuming to make, time consuming to reproduce, can only be in one place at a time. There is cachet and prestige because of scarcity. Once that model is blown up by quick photos and then widely available photos and movie-making, visual art needed to look for a new way to set itself apart. It settled in the time of early photography in Art for Art’s Sake. Photography can make an accurate depiction cheaply and reproduce and distribute it cheaply and broadly so to make a niche, art had to forge a new speciality. It is not the accurate literal portrayal but the ability to skew reality subjectively. If I understand him right, he said that art took as its own characteristic the ability to reproduce itself quickly, not even the image so much as the idea.

So we’ve gone, culturally, from the message is the message to the medium is the message to the me inc. post-post era where the messenger is the message. Brand concept and influence is further divorced from product of rare commodity of church-patronized paintings.

I’ve heard said that literature is a generation behind visual art. Perhaps that’s because what quick printing of image and moving pictures did to traditional paintings, the internet does for text. The idea gets the primacy. Text cannot be controlled to the degree it was. The printing press and cheap pulp loosened things up but the internet and email have blown to hell what remained of the model of control of art of words. So the logic would got that we need to reconfigure a niche for literature, for poetry.

Poets against Authorship, a manifesto by Gregory Betts in 17 seconds comes at that idea of what to do in this era. We could curate information. What role should we joust for as a cultural niche for words?

3. The idea of authorship, in contrast to the idea of poetry, is predicated on the idea of authority, of mastery, of precision. If we trace the word back to its Latin root, auctorem, it means to cause to grow or to lead society forward.
5. The problem begins with the legal fact that authorship is inextricably bound up in the idea of ownership and the use of language as intellectual property. Language and ideas flow freely between people, however, despite the law.
6. The authority that enables authorship has nothing to do with leading society forward or changing society. The authority of authorship, in fact, comes from intellectual property laws that seek to limit the free flow of language and ideas.[…]
17. Authorship, with false claims of cultural authority, and with links to anti-intellectual oppression, is the wrong model for poets. Poetry is fundamentally different than authorship: legally, economically, and politically.

How can we translate this idea of poetry into a response that acknowledges and works with the idea of our era of a huge literate global exchange of ideas that are free and yet take a lifetime’s work to achieve?

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