Wednesday, April 05, 2006


JH: August Strindberg is definitely in the region of poetry (in fact, he also wrote poetry, though I haven't been able to find any translations of his poetry), and astrology for me is closer to the novel, with its interests in social interaction. Though astrology is considered a forerunner of astronomy, it is more accurately a forerunner of sociology, with stars instead of economics and mores as the first principle of the study. Stars are poetic, astrology not so much. The mention of Strindberg leads me to considerations of translation. How can anyone unfamiliar with the language know a poet in that language, even through translation? There is always simply the act of looking at a language word by word, line by line, which is an act of reading. How could one tell if a text in an unfamiliar language is a prose poem or a government document? If the text uses the Roman alphabet, one could look for sound patterns (aka letter motifs). But what if no such patterns are used? I used prose as an example, but could also use lineated texts. How could someone who didn't know the language tell the German Billy Collins from the German Clark Coolidge when confronted with texts of similar physical shape (line lengths and stanzas)? If the text uses Cyrillic, cuneiform, Arabic, Hebrew, or some other alphabet, and the reader is unfamiliar with the alphabet, how does that reader approach a poem? Does every text in an unknown alphabet become a poem, or is it all prose? What would assigned values, which may be an indispensable component in reading / literary attention, look like if one wished to create a poetics of a never-to-be learned (in the traditional sense of studying it with a person or text who knows the text's language as well as the reader's) language?

AHB: I suspect that every text in an unknown alphabet is a poem. In The Pound Era Kenner points out a passage in Shakespeare that gets misinterpreted nowadays because people aren't aware that the term golden boys refers to dandelions (don't make me hunt out the book, just trust me). I don't know how a foreign Billy Collins would look to me compared to a foreign Clark Coolidge. Presumably stanzaic poetry is still stanzaic in Cyrillic.I think the reading of such texts would free the texts of meaning. Unless the reader was wicked good at code-breaking, and detect the patterns in this unknown alphabet, the reader could make whatever out of the written shapes. I don't know if we're to credit Gaudier-Brzeska's ability to read ideograms with no prior knowledge. It sound nice. Maybe he was just riffing. Your questions really just put me back on my heels. Translations very often leave me dissatisfied. I'd rather read Pound's Chinese translations, which he wasn't shy abut changing for his own purposes, than the perhaps more scholarly, but dry, Arthur Waley ones. And I don't like the ones Amy Lowell was involved with, garnished with flowers. I think my point si that the translation should be poetic, and likewise the readers reading of an unknown alphabet. Poetic, that is, rather than 'accurate'. We have the example of abstract painting whereby the forms on the canvas are what they are not what they seem. Thus, I suppose, if you give me a Cyrillic text, I'm going to see something, influenced by whatever is present in me at the time (Rorschach test?).are such question as you posed above ones that you frequently ponder?


Post a Comment

<< Home