Attempts to Generate a Field of Potential Translations with Silence
1. Speculative Translation.
see If Not, Winter, Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s fragments. What exists in the absence of the text are not erasures but potentiated silence. Generative silence. A silence where the original holds no authority. The silence can be made to remain, potentiated, on the page and to demand for itself a respect beyond the sorrow of loss.
2. Palimpsest Translation
Taking Abraham Avnisan’s term “palimpsest aesthetics” as a substitution for what is commonly referred to as “erasure poetics”1 I argue: palimpsest is a different kind of appropriative gesture than erasure, the term which is much more familiar. Palimpsest, “from Greek palimpsestos “scraped again,” from Greek palin “again” + verbal adjective of psen “to rub smooth” (of uncertain origin).” The idea of iteration is essential, inherent to the word. Multiplicity, re-generating. Erasure is “an obliterating” of the original (the OED says: “to destroy utterly”). Erasure is an act of “mine,” a kind of possession, with all the power and visibility and hierarchical problems that contains.2
If an erasure is an obliterating, manipulating, possessive gesture, and an appropriative gesture can often/always be seen as an act of asserting power over a text (which can be resistant to or rebellious against the existent structures of power, but can also reinforce and capitalize on them) then palimpsest is the alternative to that. Palimpsest can overwrite, write into and out of, an infinite set of potential sub-texts. Applying palimpsest to a text makes it multiple, makes it generative, amplifies rather than reduces or redacts.
3. Quantum Translation
A quantum particle in a state of superposition exists in all possible states simultaneously. It isn’t until we measure it that we force it into one of its potential existences, a single, determinate state. And so with a translated text. It isn’t until we translate it we force it into one of its limitless potential iterations, so we can measure and consume it. Quantum potential may be a mechanism to actively resist the use-value economy of art.
Quantum translation allows for, without needing to iterate, all of the potential a text contains. Rather than reducing the text to one reading or (in the case of a very popular text, like, say, Ovid’s Metamorphosis) 27 readings. It is an ethic, an approach.
4. Quantum Silence
Quantum silence is the indeterminate superposition of language, of all the things said and unsaid and sayable and unsayable. In palimpsest translation, one might strive to introduce the super-potentiated supersilence, to inhabit the quantum silence of a text.
5. [I insert myself as silence into the text.]
6. Erasure Translation
Erasing the translation is erasing myself, the already-in/overly-visible translator. A part of my obscuring fantasy-self. I can bring through my body, my invisible body, the poetry of my Puerto Rican self and show it to you, in the form you desire. Here is the beautifully rendered translation, rendered through my body into sounds that mean to you that you know what it is to be other. That by doing so my body is erased, my voice is erased, my translation persists in its silence.
Soy el fabulator
el tejedor of truths and undichas
las palabras spoken and not yet
se dijeron come as far as mi,
soy in myself y in others
collect en my eyes y in time
y in my voice the songs that workers se cantaron
collect the ciudades the hombres the caminos
reúno las cities los men los streets
Fabulator I made me they made me
from The Fabulator by José Enrique García
translated & then erased by Erica Mena
What remains beneath the translation when the translation is erased? My silence (but not the text’s). A new silence, of possibility. The original language, which is itself a kind of silence, to the right reader.
7. Multiverse Translation
Every choice that can be made. Every choice that cannot be made. The idea of every choice dissolves into absurdity. To chaos. To uncontrolled proliferation of the original through its mutations, through its generations.
If every choice is possible, if it is just as possible to translate a word with any other word, given the right set of constraints or rules, say an infinite and elaborate series of n+ translations, then every text can potentially become every other text, and every text imaginable and unimagined, and then there is no legibility, or legitimacy, merely undifferentiated possibility.
This, like Menard’s Quixote, might give rise to a body of scholarly work explains the potential choices of the imaginary translator who translated Dante’s Inferno into the Epic of Gilgamesh—the translation pre-existing its original and in entirety. A new field of scholarship that focuses entirely on potential texts, and their potential relationships. These works would explore every text as a possible iteration of every other text, and the possibility of translating one text into multiple texts. Imagine if each word in a text were translated into the entirety of their context, allusion, and referents. A tracing of influence without regard to linear notions of time.
8. Singularity Translation
In the reverse of multiverse translation, singularity translation seeks to collapse a text into itself, exponentially increasing its inter-textual density until the full generative possibility of the text resides in the smallest possible iteration of the text, which is always silence.
9. “A field of absent yet potential language”
1. From his talk at the &NOW 2014 conference about his creation of a sub-textual series of readings from a page from the Einstein-Bohr debates on quantum reality.back
2. Who’s text is the “found” text, who is being manipulated? These were the questions Eunsong Kim raised in her discussion of found texts and appropriation at the Mongrel Poetics talk Thursday night at &NOW.back
Erica Mena is a poet, translator, and book artist. Her booklength poem Featherbone is available from Ricochet Editions. Her translation of the Argentine graphic novel The Eternaut by H.G. Oesterheld & Francisco Solano Lopez is available from Fantagraphics. Her work has been published in PANK, Vanitas, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Asymptote, Words without Borders, and others. She is the Executive Director of the American Literary Translators Association, Editor of Drunken Boat, and Founding Editor of Anomalous Press.