Thinking on Lawrence Venuti's provocative entry, "Where is the foreign in "international," the last two weeks days, I tried to see whether there is a difference between translating from contemporary texts and ancient ones. My first answer was that there is not. The difference between translations of poetry in the last twenty years or so and before is that many more American poets of the last twenty years have a sense of self-sufficiency, that they are at the center of poetic universe. They do not experience the sense of lack, need, which I think is at the root of all generative translations. For instance, Ron Silliman's blog –being the most visited by experimental poets, I assume quite representative- has very few discussions of translations or of foreign writers per se. The blog reminds me of Henry Ford's famous assertion that, "history is bunk"(what would Ford have said of the events in Iraq, of Ramsfeld's "new thinking" as opposed to "old thinking"?). Ironically, Silliman's early essays consistently refer to European thinkers and writers. One key rationale for the necessity of the "new sentence," the basis of his poetics, is a European event, the invention of the printing press, which, for him, transforms a poetry for the ear (performed) to a poetry of the book.
I agree that there have been even fewer translations of ancient texts than of contemporary ones in the last twenty five years,. Nevertheless, I can add a few to the list started by Lawrence ("Men in Aida" and "War Music") and Kent ("The Tablets"): Andrew Schelling's translations of Sanskrit erotic lyrics, Vincent Katz's "The Satyricon" and Kent Johnson's "The Miseries of Poetry," which contains a group of translations of ancient Greek fragments at its core.
What is provocative and insightful about Lawrence's distinction is that it points to a real, significant difference between the translations on the list and those of contemporary texts. While the latter texts focus more on the interests and issues of poetic language, translations of ancient texts have a thematic dimension, as if the interest in the ancient text has something to do with the attempt to say something about one's own time.
All these texts revolve around the themes of war and sexuality, and the nexus of violence which connects them both. In "The Tablets," "The Miseries of Poetry" and k. Iskender's "souljam" this sadomasochistic violence connects to the fragmentation (dissolution through time) of language, that is to say, to translation.
I would like now to include a number of my translations from 13th and 16th century Turkish poetic texts, and also an adaptation from the 16th century Persian poet, Hafiz. These translations had an important place in my development of the idea of eda. I hope they will add to the discussions.
Go to the translations >>