Translation is a Compromised Body

open pressSome smartening of some stuff I said about translation and poetry and compromised bodies at a poetry-gathering last week in LA made its way onto the Poetry Foundation blog. Amanda says these things way smarter than I think I did, though.

“Here is what Erica Mena (of Anomalous) discussed in response to these questions (of course, this is just a summary, and many parts are missing):

She wanted to contest the idea of translation as a the idea of equivalence—one in which the translated text is thought of as the imitative body of an original text that was pure or whole to begin with. Erica read a passage from an Anomalous Press chapbook that is a work in translation:

From An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy by Mike Schorsch:

1        Hurrying pilgrim, stop here!
Stop here. When you think
hurrying pilgrim, think
stop here! When you think
2        Sara Jessica Parker, you think
Carrie Bradshaw. Stop here
pilgrim, there is a lot more to her than
Sarah Jessica Parker, you think
the place teaches the prayerful
3        to tread lightly.

The chapbook is a translation, through intrusions of pop culture, of a sacred medieval text written by a poet-saint. Erica opened up a discussion about whether original texts are compromised texts to begin with, especially since people think of original texts as pure and inviolable. She questioned whether translation is a “forced insertion” of one textual body into another, raising uncertainties about the ethics of translations. Does translation have to be violent? She said she thinks of the text of Mike Schorsch’s chapbook as a Frankenstein body, hewn and sewn together from many parts, in which the stitches are visible. Does this Frankenstein constitute a whole, brand new body? One that is a modernization of memory, a relic made culturally accessible to the present moment? And if so, does this act of translation mean that a temporarily current self must (violently, narcissistically, solipsistically) impose itself on the original work? Or can the act of translation, as representing one social body interacting with another, move outside of the problem of history—move outside of the dualistic frameworks of violation versus purity?

There is, of course, the thin-ness of identity. And in translation, one body can empathically and imaginatively inhabit or co-habit the body of another. Time itself is a form of translation.

Anomalous also uses many media platforms for its publication, including printed letterpress chapbooks, an online journal, and sound recordings. Erica talked about how traditionally men used letterpresses, and how women only started to use them to publish works after the letterpress was considered to be an obsolete technology.”


You should go read all of it – it’s such a great post, and was such a great conversation!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.