When Pressed

Number 2

movement in language

This initial collection of works on When Pressed, grouped together under the banner of translation, has been a long time coming. It seems appropriate that its propulsion into a more public sphere has been largely delayed by movement. Several of the people involved in putting this together are in motion, or have recently moved — across borders, continents, out of old cities and into new ones. The idea of movement has always been extremely important to the practice of translation. We know that the word translation in several languages means basically to carry across/over. And in an equally obvious way it is the movement of people that both facilitates and proliferates translation.

But in a more elemental way I think translation demonstrates things about how we move through language as we engage in writing practice. In Walter Benjamin’s seedy essay The task of the Translator, language reaches out through the many languages of (wo)men and takes form in an embryonic and intensive way. The life of the literary work flowers anew and abundantly. The work flowers but the seed of language hangs inside in half-realised fits of reciprocal relations. Whether or not we want to completely take on Benjamin’s messianic notion of pure language – this is a bigger question than an introduction could take on – surely when we write we move, be it through or towards, the language in which we write and think. The translator feels this almost corporeally in the inevitable moments of confusion and speechlessness that fester in any translation project.

In Stuart Cooke’s translations, movement, or rather speed of movement, is paramount. Unwilling to get bogged down in theory gluts, he reminds us that translation is not just a question or an idea but an everyday reality and necessity. Languages are scraped together quickly and are always in conflict with some version of themselves; dialects, vernaculars, grammar. Cook stresses the importance of transformation over crystallisation, and points to political imperatives that can override the hopelessness that we often feel before a translation project.

Another way out of this equation is proposed by Susana Chávez Silverman’s work. As the daily exchange of people who live in bi and multilingual regions of the world shows, translation is both necessary and unnecessary, immediately evident and expendable. In a sense Chávez should be uncermoniously rejected from this collection, as her work aggressively refuses to translate. Her texts slip between two or more languages without parenthetical explanations, footnotes or glossaries. And if she or somebody else were to translate these pieces, it would require a double translation, or an inversion, which would create a mirror-text, leaving each version equally partial . But of course Chávez’s work suggests something about relation, the tightness of idiomatic expression and the arbitrary dexterity of thought. Where the fruit sticks too tightly to its skin, she throws us the whole thing to swallow. Though there is not translation in the composition of the piece, the process of its reading creates a cognitive translational space for the bilingual reader. For those who read only English or Spanish, the experience runs blank at times. But if there is such a thing as a kinship of languages, surely that benefits from this kind of intimacy. In the velocity of Chávez’s prose, rivulets start to edge towards each other between the two languages. Perhaps that is merely a trick of the eye and ear, but similar effects are found in Astrid Lorange’s and DJ Huppatz’s pieces.

Huppatz’s poems are also non-translations, though they are heavily indebted to the practice. The language is largely found language, from the ever-growing reservoirs of strange English found in NES countries. The birth of this language speaks of imperialism and an ongoing hegemonic homogenisation of language. But as the world is recreated in the image or language of dominant forces, that image becomes distorted and renovated. The receiving cultures thrust back a renewing force and the language of ‘mis-translations’ reterritorialises and revitalises a system which continually engenders its own use and therein its own transformation. These poems sample this language and imagine its poetry. This project runs the risk of all translation, of subsuming the Other, of pilfering from other cultures. And though it could seem like these poems make fun of this English, Huppatz seems to laugh more at himself and at us, at our monotone sameness, our lack of invention and novelty. By taking both a naïve wonder and serious avant-garde experimentalism to this task, he reminds us that we learn our language best from others.

Lorange’s work [Which will be added to the site soon - Ed.] is a homophonic translation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood. We’re still talking about velocity and proximity of language, but in this case, rather than two languages coming together, we have two works in the one language. This work is an experiment on the limits of translation. The Zukofskys, along with Melnick and others have tested the limits of translation and relation between languages through homophonic translation projects. They take the idea of tuning the receiving language to the original more literally, and create strange and foreignising translations. Lorange’s work however traces roughly over the form of Thomas’s language and subtly and cleverly rewrites it.

Translators get to say the same thing again. That may not seem like a fair exchange for poor pay, constrictive contracts and weak copyright laws, but it is a special privilege. In doing so translators can get close to language. Lorange gets close to Thomas’ language despite the fact the it was composed in her mother tongue. She respeaks it for herself. There is something of eavesdropping here, overhearing and looking-over. If she is unfair to Thomas and does his work a kind of violence, she is also utterly fair to him and treats his work extremely tenderly. The violence here is the violence of all translation, and of all writing, as with each word inscribed on the page we leave unwritten others, waiting. Here we’ve presented the work as an audio piece accompanied by Thomas’ text, though it could just as easily have been formatted as a bilingual (the bi of course being slightly problematic here) translation, as parallel texts.

The idea of erasure and trace is also apparent in my live translations of a Spanish poet, Esteban Pujals Gesalí. The translation strategies attempt to engage with a movement in language in an immediate and physical environment. I’ve also included a critical piece which, though not a direct exegesis, definitely speaks to the development of this technique and the ideas that informed it. Both the audio and text formats included here are reproductions, documentations of an event, as much a cataloguing of a translation process and movement in language as textual and audio works. This collection is a continually growing archive, and we welcome the submission of more work on this theme. I sincerely hope that for now you enjoy the work.