Sunday, June 26, 2016

World Literature on Wikipedia

Are you a Wikipedian? Pusteblume, the journal of literary translation that Pen & Anvil publishes in coordination with the Editorial Institute and the Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature (both at Boston University), invites you to join their ongoing project to create English-language pages for noteworthy literary figures and topics which do not yet exist or which only exist in non-English versions. It is called "World Literature on Wikipedia."

If you know of a non-English Wikipedia page, which you think should be translated and posted to a page on the English-language Wikipedia, you can:
  1. Let the Pusteblume staff know, and they'll add it to their queue for to be translated; or
  2. Become a Wikipedian yourself! If you're new to that kind of work, the Pusteblume folks can put you in touch with a seasoned WP editor who can walk you through the process and help you get your first page underway. When the page is created, email Pusteblume so they can add its URL, and your name, to their list of pages completed, and list of participating Wikipedia users. 
The first page to be created under the WLW banner went up today, an article about German literary theorist Wolfgang Kayser, translated from the German article into an English version. Next up will be an article translated into English from Spanish, about the poetic form known as cuaderna vía.

If you agree with the sentiment of any of these three quotes, each of which seems to speak directly to the kind of behind-the-scenes translational labor that the World Literature on Wikipedia project seeks to encourage, you should think about signing on as a contributor. From Mariano Antolín Rato:
Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle.
From José Saramago:
Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature.
And finally, from Paul Auster:
Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.

Pinsky's digital involvements

In this interview for The California Journal of PoeticsRobert Pinsky -- former Poet Laureate of the United States, present keystone faculty member at the graduate program in creative writing at Boston University, and long-time impresario behind the Favorite Poem Project -- discusses his history of involvement in the domain of electronic publishing. Here is Pinsky, talking about the pleasure he takes as Poetry Editor for online magazine
With all due respect to excellent organizations like the Academy and the Poetry Society of America, as a matter of my own eccentricities I much prefer the informal, personal, improvised forum of Slate.
His digital involvement goes beyond the online magazine. Did you know that Pinsky is the author of one of the first "hypertext" novels? It carries the title Mindwheel, and is described thusly:
The situation is dire. The world is in chaos and at the brink of disaster. Mankind's only hope is for you to make a telepathic journey through a neuro-electronic matrix dominated by the thought-patterns of four dead people of unusual mental power: an assassinated rock star; an infamous and ingenious dictator; a poet killed for his forbidden love for a princess; and a woman known as the "female Einstein", a scientist, humanist, and distinguished musician. By traversing this mental labyrinth, you must find and recover the Wheel of Wisdom at the dawn of civilization itself.
Read more at related reading, we recommend this essay about the looming problem of obsolescence in innovative media projects, an issue which threatens to lock projects like Mindwheel on old systems no one has the ability to boot or interface with, inaccessible to contemporary digital readers, writers, and scholars:

Friday, June 24, 2016

TS Eliot on hearing oneself, and self-revision

"By the time T. S. Eliot made his first published recording, here at Harvard 80 years ago in 1933, the two poems he chose to record -- "The Hollow Men" and "Gerontion" -- were already 9 and 13 years old, respectively. And incidental, by the time he recorded The Waste Land, the sequence was already well over a decade old. At one of his Harvard readings, Eliot described the experience of reading his own older poems in this way:"

"It's not as if it's written by someone else; that would be comparatively easy. But it seems to have been written by a young person with whom one is intimately and rather embarrassingly associated; and one isn't enough the same person to have the right to tamper with it."

* * * * *

These comments, with their relation of the Eliot quotation, come from curator Christina Davis, from her introduction of Sir Christopher Ricks before his September 2014 lecture at the Woodberry Poetry Room on the topic of "Eliot’s Auditory Imagination."

About that talk: "Christopher Ricks (author of T.S. Eliot and Prejudice; Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot; and T.S. Eliot: Inventions of the March Hare) explores the editorial pertinence of T.S. Eliot's own recordings, including those created for the Woodberry Poetry Room in 1933 and 1947."

A recording of Ricks' talk, opening with Davis' introduction, can be found online at the Harvard YouTube channel.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

George Steiner on the argument against translation

There are no total translations: because languages differ, because each language represents a complex, historically and collectively determined aggregate of values, proceedings of social conduct, conjectures on life. There can be no exhaustive transfer from language A to language B, no meshing of nets so precise that there is identity of conceptual content, unison of undertone, absolute symmetry of aural and visual association. This is true both of a simple prose statement and of poetry.
The point is worth stressing. Where they engage, as they must, the root fact of linguistic autonomy, the fact that different grammars delineate different realities, arguments against verse translation are arguments against all translation. The difference is one of intensity, of technical difficulty, of psychological apprehension. Because a poem springs from the core of a language, commemorating and renewing the world view of that language at its deepest level, the risks taken in translation are greater, the waste or damage done more visible. But a gritty colloquialism will frequently offer a resistance as vital and obstinate.
Each act of translation is one of approximation, of near miss or failure to get within range. It tells of our fragmented legacy, and of the marvellous richness of that legacy -- how meagre must the earth have been before Babel, when all spoke alike and communicate on the instant. The case against translation is irrefutable, but only if we are presented, in Ibsen's phrase, with 'the claims of the ideal'. In actual performance these claims cannot be met or allowed.
They have been discarded, obviously, in our economic, political, private affairs. Men's undertakings proceed by linguistic barter in a zone of approximate, utilitarian definition. School primers, tourists' phrase-books, manuals of commercial and technical usage, our ordinary lexica, establish a neutral ground of rough-edged but indispensable concordance. The multiplicity of scientific developments, the fact that science operates internationally and at its own forward edge, have made of the translation of scientific papers a large-scale, urgent enterprise. Some of the difficulties met resemble those which arise in the translation of poetry, the main difference being that mathematics is a true esperanto, a perfectly conventional yet dynamic code such as no artificial or inter-language can be.
Translation is equally essential to humanism, to the continued life of feeling. We translate perpetually -- this is often overlooked -- when we read a classic in our own tongue, a poem written in the sixteenth century or a novel published in 1780. We seek to recapture, to revitalize in our consciousness the meanings of words used as we no longer use them, of imaginings that have behind them a contour of history, of manners, of religious or philosophic presumptions radically different from ours. Anyone reading Donne or Jane Austen today, or almost any poem or fiction composed before 1915 (at about which date the old order seems to recede from the immediate grasp of our sensibility), is trying to re-create by exercise of historical, linguistic response; he is, in the full sense, translating. As is the player who acts Shakespeare or Congreve, making that which was conceived in a society, in a style of feeling, in an expressive convention sharply different from that of the modern, actual, active to the touch of our mind and nerve.
No language, moreover, however comprehensive, however resourceful and inclusive its syntax, covers more than a fraction of human realization. There are, at every moment and on every horizon worlds beyond our own words. Hence the urge to cross the barriers of national speech, the effort to make other insights, other tools of awareness, available. What man has the linguistic wealth needed to read in the original Homer, the Bible, Shakespeare, Pascal, The Brothers Karamazov, the poems of Li Po and A Take of the Genji? Yet which would one be prepared to do without or discard from the adventure of literacy? A major, perhaps a predominant element in our culture, in the fabric of our consciousness, is inevitably translation. 'Say what one will of its inadequacy,' wrote Goethe to Carlyle, 'translation remains one of the most important, worthwhile concerns in the totality of world affairs.' Without it we would live in arrogant parishes bordered by silence.

(From The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, 1966, introduced and edited by George Steiner, pp.24-5)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heber quote on book ownership

A quote from Richard Heber: "No gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers." About its utterer, according to Rictor Norton: "Richard Heber (1774–1833) was an obsessive book collector, as perhaps is suggested in the pencil drawing of him. When he filled one house from floor to ceiling with his books, he bought another house; and when he filled that one, he bought another. By the time of his death, he had filled eight or nine houses with 145,000 books."

(A tip of the hat to Eric Holzenberg, director of The Grolier Club, for alerting us to this maxim.)

Pen & Anvil Quote-Card #22.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A sonnet at the Tony Awards

Lin-Manuel Miranda accepted the Tony last night for Best Original Score for Hamilton. Rather than the conventional prosaic litany of thanks and acknowledgments, he gave an acceptance speech in the form of a sonnet. The staff at Slate magazine attempted a transcription, which follows here with a few adjustments made according to our ear.
My wife’s the reason anything gets done,
She nudges me towards promise by degrees.
She is a perfect symphony of one,
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us,
Until they’re finished songs and start to play.
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us,
That nothing here is promised. Not one day.
The show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger.
We rise and fall. And light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love (is love is love is love is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE) cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa's symphony; Eliza tells her story; now fill the world with music, love, and pride.
(Being as we take a capacious view of the sonnet form, we heartily approve of the daring length of the lines in that closing couplet.)

Congratulations on an award well-deserved, Hamilton and LMM.