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Sources and Translations

Author: joe

Monday, 08 November, 2010 - 22:31

- on the withdrawal of the text.

The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect [intention] upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. This is a feature of translation which basically differentiates it from the poet's work, because the effort of the latter is never directed at the language as such, at its totality, but solely and immediately at specific linguistic contextual aspects. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at the single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one. Not only does the aim of translation differ from that of a literary work-it intends language as a whole, taking an individual work in an alien language as a point of departure - but it is a different effort altogether. The intention of the poet is spontaneous, primary, graphic; that of the translator is derivative, ultimate, ideational. For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate - for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize. If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is - the true language. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translations.
The Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

Re-reading this passage again recently for a lecture plan, I saw for the first time new significances in Benjamin's articulation of the work at stake in translation. The texts themselves - sources and translations - are split not only in their causal relationships as either originals and derivatives, but also in their modes. The original is the outcome of spontaneity, "primary, graphic", while the derived text is "utlimate, ideational". The existence of the original can be found, is specific, and tied to contexts, while the translation aims at "totality".

This essay is often read as an exploration of the angst of searching for the "intention' of the author - the author, who must later die at the hands of Barthes, even as Foucault stands by with Frankenstein's resuscitator. But I can't help but read these lines now with a different compiler at work in my brain. This "ultimate, ideational" text must appeal to a text we cannot access - written as it is in "pure language", the "language of truth". It is perhaps a writerly text, the reading that is written at every encounter with a reader. But perhaps it is also a withdrawn text, ready-to-hand, invisible.

Levy Bryant recently wrote an interesting discussion on what an object-oriented literary criticism would look like. Following his ontological plan of understanding objects as fundamentally split, he suggests that any given text is split between its local manifestation and its withdrawn and inaccessible dimensions.

Insofar as the virtual proper being of a text is necessarily withdrawn, this dimension of texts could only ever be sensed in traces indicating or suggesting another dimension at work in the manifest dimension of a text. Based on the "logic" of these traces, the literary critic might seek to form a "diagram" (always partial and incomplete) of the virtual text that haunts a manifest text.
Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Literary Criticism by Levy Bryant

Yet the withdrawn text that we cannot access is invisible only because it is ready-to-hand, zuhanden, in action, tooling and thinging, everywhere; meanwhile the manifest text we encounter is empty, present, vorhanden. The "true language" is everywhere, in action, at work. Our fixings of it, in sources and, vicariously, in translations, are brittle instances, frozen, delicate, unable to bear the demands we place on them.

Categories: text, translation, language, truth, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, source, original, writerly, author,
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Mind the gap

Author: joe

Tuesday, 26 October, 2010 - 23:36

- on resisting closure.

Why drag in ... lines from a poet? Because, again, of the gap! In the gap between the saying and what slips away there is a sense of sadness, a feeling of mourning... In the gap there is always a reminder that asks not to be forgotten. The shadow of the unsaid haunts our saying... The difference lingers with its own terrible and relentless insistence, which, like an outgoing tide, sucks our words back into the fullness of being. To write down soul, then, is to attend to the mourning in our knowing for what our words leave behind.
The Wounded Researcher by Robert Romanyshyn

As I've noted here before, I attended a masterclass with Robert Romanyshyn, and in the course of two days he changed my mind about psychoanalysis - I had tended to see it as magic, conjury, or at best, 'thinking aloud', rather than a powerful way of translating the mysterious subterranean existence of individuals into self-knowledge. Maybe I'm not all the way there yet, since I still have discomfort with 'furniture of the mind'. Perhaps it is the same kind of discomfort a scientist has with ether or deities - unpalatable candidates to explain what is inscrutable but nevertheless already there. But anyway I'm digressing.

The inadequacy of language; the difficulty of grasping experience; the abysses over which we easily skip to escape confronting the dead ends of fear, death, incomprehension, finitude. The impossible capture of life in language seems to be a self-evident denial of the 'linguistic turn' - that 'there is nothing outside the text'. Far from being inadequate to contain experience, language is the universe in which experience unfolds. In this latter tradition, the galaxy of signifiers is a world of infinite play in which final determination of meaning is always postponed; thus language offers infinite freedom - every possibility left open, closure resisted, finitude escaped...

ah! But there is the clue - that language is everything, and that language is not enough, these are perhaps both symptoms of a deeper phenomenon: the gap, the lack of closure, the expectation of an end that is not there. A longing for endings created by endlessness. Since we reach endings all the time, and yet we continue.

Categories: Robert Romanyshyn, language, finitude, mourning, gap, closure, linguistic turn, phenomenology,
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That thing about academia

Author: joe

Tuesday, 02 February, 2010 - 20:38

So I've been trying to work out how to develop the theme I started a week or two ago about how academia seems always to avoid, escape and devalue "practice" even as it strives to be the only institution that might legitimise that "practice". It was a long-winded post about complicated academic language, written with complicated academic language.

I enjoyed the response I got to a subsequent post - a thought experiment inspired by real events - in which I tried to write some powerful ideas down in a more direct, earthy way. One such response was - "Joe, are you in love?". And I thought - that's how we should write!

Sod the technical jargon: when we write, we should try to be understood as lovers, as wells of passion for what we do - our action in the world should be the force that drives the green fuse through the veil of symbols with which we obscure the world when we write in academic language. If I write about my work, why would I not want my reader to wonder - "is he in love?"

Categories: language, writing, academia, practice, love,
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Academia vs Practice

Author: joe

Wednesday, 13 January, 2010 - 22:28

A thought experiment around practice-led research in academia.

A practice-led PhD is normally assessed on a body of evidence which consists of an artefact - the product of the 'practice' in question - accompanied by an extended piece of writing in which the questions, world-views, investigative approaches and methods, disciplinary concerns and interim self-diagnoses are made explicit. So for example we might see paired materials such as: a piece of sculpture, accompanied by an articulation of the traditions within and against which the process of making the object has worked; a film, along with an essay exploring the disciplinary innovations and concessions that were revealed in its making; a networked set of documents, and some accompanying long-form text drawing attention to the conventions of mediation and aesthetics which are either challenged and rejected or accepted and extended in the pursuit of innovation in the production of such works.

So I wonder aloud what would such a submission look like if my practice were poetry? I write some words (in the form of poetry) and I write another set of words (in the form of academic explication). On the surface, it might seem that an assessment of the value of either of these sets of words is dependent upon the other. So, it is not enough to write poetry: in order to be judged expert enough for doctoral status you must translate the importance of your poetic output into academic language - the purpose of which is of course to ensure that you can articulate in a suitably neutral language what your non-neutral, poetic language has achieved. But note that the reverse is not the case: one may be recognised as doctorally qualified, wholly on the basis of an academically articulated thesis. Thus the primacy of academic language is established.

This primacy is predicated upon a number of assumptions:

I hope that the logical sequence as I have described it here demonstrates well enough the shortcomings in such assumptions. Certainly, if, like me, you are persuaded by the Latourian and/or Deleuzian notion that translation is transformation and production, then you will quickly concede that neutral articulations which permit mediation between two discrete fields of practice without distortion, problematisation and transmogrification are impossible and illusory. If you are not persuaded, then at least consider the possibility that academic language, rather like the poetic language produced by practice, has no claim to being anything other than a genre of writing, any more than other accepted genres such as journalism, prose fiction or drama. Academic writing is a non-neutral genre of language, constituted by a set of arbitrary conventions, no less than drama is convened through dialogue and performance, prose fiction is enacted through narratorially organised text, and journalism is constructed through the signs of format, voice and a reference to some convenient form of accepted reality.

All of which is to say that the requirements of the practice-led researcher are currently that they must make explicit in academic language what is implicit in their practice; and yet those who are not educated or indoctrinated into the conventions of academia are no more able to comprehend what is supposed to have been made explicit in that academic account, any more than competent academics with no expertise or experience in poetry might be expected to uncover the implicit value in poetic discourse. Another way of stating this is to say that if it is necessary to translate the implicit innovation and disciplinary excellence in poetry into academic language in order for it to be made explicit to a wider community of interest, there is no less need for the excellence implicit in academic language to be made explicit in yet another (meta-generic?) language for the benefit of a wider community of lay people. Indeed the irony here is perhaps that a wide community of lay audiences might be equally competent to grasp and appreciate the practical outputs and artefacts of practice-led research (if not more adequately equipped by virtue of the disinterested yet loving enthusiasm of the amateur) as is the proponent of academic discourse. This becomes especially true when one considers that the academic's livelihood increasingly depends upon a specialisation which moves ever further away from easy access by a lay audience, and further into obscurity and jargon.

At the risk of repetition I'll restate this once again: the notion that innovation and discovery in practice must be re-articulated in academic language, as though that academic language is an adequate meta-language for the communication of such innovations and discoveries, is no more or less true than the notion that academic language must be re-articulated in a third language, accessible to lay (or other) audiences who are not academics. The constant striving to establish the academic norms of language and writing over other forms is simply the will to power of the academic institution as a necessity in the social order. Excellence and sensitivity in the domains of practices can be achieved without recourse to academia.

Academic experience is not a necessity for excellence in the practices I pursue. There. I said it. It is a watershed for me, personally. I rather wish I had discovered this (in hindsight, rather obvious) truism a good deal earlier.

Categories: academia, practice, research, language, genre, translation, learning,
Comments: 3


Author: joe

Saturday, 14 February, 2009 - 13:29

We mark the world with words, and conjure a veil which rises between our selves and the hard edge of the present. The charm of our words breathes through the insubstantial gauze, which unanchors, unmoors, and drifts with the streaming of the currents. We inhabit a noosphere.

The marks in blood on the flat side of the cliff and cave, patterned wounds cut in the stone tablet, potions fixed in colour on daub walls, stylus scratched on parchment, crafted shape and form on canvas, scripted lines on cloth and paper, humming signals on the wire, magnetic rhythms printed on the air, binary recombination from the ether, the ever expanding radiosphere of human words, all mark an event horizon beyond which our eyes cannot see, our language cannot penetrate, our being cannot touch. But can our imagination escape into the unsingular and heterogenous world beyond?

Categories: Teilhard de Chardin, Heidegger, language, metaphysics, noosphere,
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