Printer Friendly

Retranslating Ibykos and Li Bai: Experimental, Rhizomatic, Multi-Media Transformations.

Anne Carson's "A Fragment of Ibykos Translated Six Ways" and the 85 project's "Common Autumn Song" raise important questions about the retranslation of ancient Classical texts, specifically lyric poetry. Both works are retranslations that challenge the conventionally singular, linear and unidirectional movement of an original "source" towards a translation "target." Multiple retranslations--translations of a single original text over and over again--offer unique and complementary facets of the original, and highlight the fact that a text is not a closed unit with a single, identifiable, retrievable meaning. Retranslations also reflect the ideological and poetological currents of the time in which they are made. If nineteenth-century English-language translations of Latin poetry rhyme, even though the Latin does not, then what ideological and poetological currents are motivating Carson's six ways of Ibykos and the 85 project's versions of Li Bai? Carson retains the structure and rhetorical gestures of the original poem while breaking with the historically conventional poetic diction used in traditional translations of ancient Classical texts. The 85 project relies on unconventional visual layout and deferral techniques that attempt to mimic for the Western reader the experience of reading Classical Chinese poetry. Carson's Ibykos and the 85's Li Bai offer challenges to existing translation and retranslation theories.

In this paper I examine a contemporary literary phenomenon in which rhizomatic retranslations metabolize the ancient Classical canon through modern poetic experiments. The rhizome ([phrase omitted]) is a "mass of roots," or a "stem" or "race." The botanical rhizome is a subterranean root system that grows new auxiliary shoots from its nodes and is capable of generating new plants from its separated parts, like aspen trees or gingerroots. In the hands of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (D&G), the rhizome is an "image of thought" which challenges the arborescent metaphors that pervade Western culture, a culture in which the mind organizes its knowledge of the world in terms of the tree image, where centralized, hierarchical principles--branches--are grounded in foundations--roots (D&G 1980). A retranslation is a second or later translation of a single source text into the same target language (Koskinen & Paloposki 2010b: 294). It is not the first translation of a work in the translating language. Since my paper addresses ancient Greek as well as Classical Chinese literary texts, I include the national designations. When "Classical texts," "ancient texts," and "Classical canon" appear without any cardinal or national specification, I mean to refer to both Western and Chinese literary texts traditionally accepted as most representative and influential in shaping later literature and culture. Responding to the "open concept" and "open field" descriptions of translation and Translation Studies (Tymozcko 1085), I use Deleuze and Guattari's open system rhizome, a model that challenges the arborescent metaphors that inform western language and thought, as a scheme for reimaging the discourse of Translation Studies with regard to multiple retranslations of Classical texts. I will outline relevant models of Deleuze and Guattari's project as they apply to Translation Studies and retranslation, show how the rhizome is an appropriate image for retranslation of Classical texts, and propose a rhizomatic model for multiple retranslations illustrated by Anne Carson's "A Fragment of Ibykos Translated Six Ways" (LRB 2012; Sylph 2013) and Claire Huot and Robert Majzel's multi-media distillations of Li Bai's "Common Autumn Song" in the 85 project (; Les Figues/Moveable 2013).

Existing Translation Studies discourse is rich with dualist models, like source/target, foreign/domestic, alienating/naturalizing, even original/translation, and I will use some of this language, too. These models describe the process of conveying a literary work in one language unidirectionally into another language for the first time, which is the case with much contemporary literature. As other papers in this volume attest, Classical texts thrive on retranslation--that is, translations that are not first translations but second or third, or more likely hundredth--and Classical retranslations flourish on those translations that precede them. In the case of experimental rhizomatic translations, they sometimes even depend on readers' knowledge of previous translations.

Recent years have seen an emergence of attempts to develop a theory of retranslation, beginning with the journal Palimpsestes' 1990 issue devoted to the subject. In it, the Retranslation Hypothesis posited that first translations are domesticating and retranslations foreignizing (Bensimon 1990; Berman 1990; Chesterman 2000). A number of scholars use this hypothesis as a baseline for fostering more expansive theories of retranslation (Brownlie 2006; Chesterman 2000; Palopski & Koskinen 2004; 2010a; 2010b). Founded on the assumptions that first translations are more assimilating and that later translations lack the responsibility of introducing a text, the hypothesis concludes that retranslation marks a return to the source text (Gambier 414; Bensimon ix). So, as the quantity of translations increases in number the translations more closely approach the original. Later translations also benefit from accumulated research and information about the source text, author, and culture, so a contemporaneous or "hot" translation is disadvantaged by the scholarship available for later "cold" retranslations (Vanderschelden 9). Lawrence Venuti writes that retranslation is motivated by "diverse domestic readerships" that "seek to interpret... according to their own values and develop different retranslation strategies that inscribe competing interpretations" (25-26). Such retranslations strive "to challenge institutionalized interpretations of a canonical text in an effort to change the institution or found a new one" (ibid.). With works of cultural authority that have achieved canonical status in the translating culture, like Classical texts, retranslation occurs as a result of a previous version's "ageing" (Susam-Sarajeva 2; Palopski & Koskinen 2010a: 30). Indeed, like a first translation, a retranslation or "rewriting" (Lefevere 1992) occurs in the service of certain shifting ideological or poetological currents in the translating culture at specific historical moments, and performs an ongoing redefinition of the source text and culture. In the case of Classical source texts and the formidable number of retranslations rendered at myriad historical moments, the Retranslation Hypothesis is an abbreviated theory that typifies the complexity of retranslation in broad swathes.

This is where the rhizome comes in. In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between arborescent and rhizomatic models. In an arborescent culture, the mind organizes its knowledge of the world in terms of the tree metaphor, whereby centralized, hierarchical principles (branches) are grounded in foundations (roots). The root, tap-root, or tree-root, is a fundamental image in our cultural capital that ranges from a preoccupation with genetics and genealogy (family tree), data classification and diagrammatic representation (information tree) to historical linguistics and etymology (Indo-European roots; Chinese radicals) and essentialism (root cause); all of which designate hierarchy, lineage, and a chronology of "one that becomes two, then two that become four" (ATP 5). Themselves becoming "unrecognizable" or "imperceptible" (ATP 3) as writers of the book, Deleuze and Guattari destabilize the habitual identification of categories conventionally dictated by language: they write not as individuals, nor as singular authors composing an uber-text.

Deleuze and Guattari revise the arborescent model by presenting the subterranean botanical image of the rhizome. The rhizomatic "image of thought" apprehends multiplicities and operates on "principles of connection and heterogeneity" (ATP 7) that emphasize the possibilities of what language can do. They argue that "any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be," and that language consists of "only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages. There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more that there is a homogenous linguistic community" (ATP 7). In direct resistance to Chomsky's linguistic tree, and viewing the diagram of generative grammar as a marker of hierarchical social power--that it begins at S (the sentence) and bifurcates from the top down into subordinate and superordinate branches resulting in NP (noun-phrase) and VP (verb-phrase) units--Deleuze and Guattari deconstruct the tree into a rhizome consisting of a multiplicity of lines, in which the "determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions" of the lines are commensurate with the multiplicity's changing nature; each shift or addition of line changes the dimensions of its connection to the other lines in the multiplicity.

The multivalent rhizome has lent its image to a multitude of discourses from new media and cultural studies (Buchannan 2007; O'Sullivan 2002; Pisters 2001) to American literature (Koerner 2010; Newman 2006; Abel 2002), post-colonial studies (Ashcroft 1999), and pedagogy (Munday 2012; Semestky 2007). It is not surprising that such a compelling image has been used in translation theory, however its appearance in recent scholarship has been limited to the botanical attributes of the rhizome in a metaphoric capacity and describes new concepts as being integrated in the constellation of discourse, in the manner of a rhizome (Brisset 2004; Brownlie 2006). As the field of Translation Studies grows rapidly and steadily, and as translators explore the range of forms and practices that translation has maintained over centuries, Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome as an "image of thought" becomes increasingly relevant to a conceptual orientation that favors creative variation and multiplicity, such as the one I present here.

The combined forces of perceived aesthetic and cultural values of the original text and the poetic currents of the historical moment impact a translator's decision to privilege certain strategies over others. Retranslation brings changes because times have changed. When the aesthetic and cultural values of a historical moment consist of a fragmented assemblage of colliding aesthetic and cultural values and historical moments, as they do in Carson's Ibykos and the 85 project, when a single translator creates multiple synchronous translations of the same text, the implications of this kind of comparative study and translation theory become manifoldly more complex. What does this assemblage say about our current historical, cultural, and linguistic situation? What about our poetological currents and our values? What kind of translation theory can systematize a decidedly unsystematic retranslation?

Justifications for retranslation mentioned above include revision or correction of a previous translation, updating or modernizing an "ageing" translation for a new readership, and reinterpretation according to changing values. The retranslations modernize the original text for a new readership, but which, or whose, readership(s) is/are it? What kind of changing values call for a reinterpretation that ventriloquizes, and thereby questions, authorial voices? Viewed linearly, successively, and in arborescence, these retranslations appear as a mess of "illocutionary strategies" (Lefevere 1992) and competing values; viewed together, rhizomatically, they yield a message.

Ibykos' Fragment 286 is a vivid and beautiful example of poetry on the pain of Eros. Bowra (264-265) suggests that after moving to Samos, Ibykos changed his manner from writing choral stories to singing of the glory and beauty of Polykrates' son, turning from epic narratives characterized by Stesikhoros to themes of love and the lyrical mode. Fragment 286 belongs to this latter category and later period of Ibykos's life. It is his most famous poem:
[phrase omitted]

The 13-line poem is structured in two parts divided into 6-line and 7-line sections. Images in the first part appear swiftly, and present vivid, painterly, full depictions of a lush garden scene. These images are strikingly contrasted with the restless, arid, chaotic scene of rushing winds and fiery lightning that follow in the second part. The imagery is symbolic, with the blooming quinces being objects of affection given in traditional developments of eros (Plat, epigram No. 2 and No. 3 in Bowra 274), the "inviolate garden of the maidens" (Euripides Hipp. 73-8), and the use of the "swelling grapevine" to fullness in conveying the natural growth of love (Pind. Nem. v. 6; Sapph /Bowra 275). These elements exist in a natural harmonious environment. The experiences Ibykos conveys are primarily the innocent, natural developments of love in young girls, followed by precisely the opposite experience of eros in Ibykos himself: a violent, unseasonable onslaught. Both experiences and the emotions they evoke are more effective and striking because of their proximity. Bowra suggests the elements in the poem are not real--there is no Spring wind, no garden--rather, they exist outside experience and in the mythological realm for the sake of depicting the emotions Ibykos wishes to describe (273). While the two scenes Ibykos constructs in this poem certainly create strong emotions in the reader, it seems impossible to me to encounter them and consider them merely symbolic. In fact, because the corresponding emotional force is so strong, the dewy maidens, the shuddering wind and dark, seem even more real. This is not to say that they aren't also symbolic.

Carson translates Fragment 286 of Ibykos into English in a literal, philologically traditional way, paying special attention to the structure and the rhetorical markers in the ancient Greek text. In the subsequent six poems, Carson retranslates the same Fragment under different constraints of word choice, selecting and using only vocabularies from other existing topical and literary sources with contexts remote from the original. In Carson's retranslations, the Fragment is conveyed initially in English and then using only words from John Donne's poem "Woman's Constancy," Bertolt Brecht's FBI file, p. 47 of Endgame by Samuel Beckett, pp. 136-37 of Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch, stops and signs from the London Underground, and pp. 17-18 of The Owner's Manual for an Emerson 1000W microwave oven. All six retranslations retain the structural components and rhetorical gestures of Fragment 286 while contributing new layers of intertext. The gesture is "an attempt to convey a move or shock or darkening that happens in the original text" (Carson 2012) rather than a word for word correspondence. With each version, the Ibykos fragment emerges as a transmutation of itself ventriloquized through Carson's voice. It is a venerable cast of Carson does Ibykos-as-Donne, Carson does Ibykos-as-FBI file, as microwave oven. Each encounter of personae creates an intertext between the individual poems and poets.

The poem's correlative rhetorical markers "([phrase omitted]" (on the one hand... on the other hand...) divide Ibykos's Fragment roughly in half. Carson retains the structure of the original poem throughout her six retranslations while changing the diction and traditional semantic correspondences. I will focus on the phrase "... [phrase omitted] (for me, on the other hand, eros [is] in bed for not one period of life/season) and trace its permutations across each of the six retranslations, with the aim of showing how multiple iterations of the same original phrase exhibit some discernable common resemblance to the original's structure and its rhetorical gestures, like a shared genetic family trait. However, unlike the traditional genealogical descent illustrated by the pervasiveness of the "family tree," these iterations are not generated according to lineage inherited from the household pater familias:
[Ibykos fr. 286]

On the other hand, for me
Eros lies quiet at no season.

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using only words from "Woman's Constancy' by
John Donne]

On the other hand, me
thy vow hast not conquered

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using only words from Bertolt Brecht's FBI
file #100-67077]

On the other hand, of my name with a hyphen between
Eugene and Friedrich
the Bureau has no record.

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using only words from p. 47 of Endgame by
Samuel Beckett]

On the other hand, I shouldn't think so.

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using only words from Conversations with
Kafka by Gustav Janouch, pp. 136-7]

On the other hand,
one who is afraid should not go into the wood.

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using stops and signs from the London

On the other hand,
a multi-ride ticket does not send me padding southwark.

[Ibykos fr. 286 translated using only words from The Owner's Manual of
my new Emerson 1000W microwave oven, pp. 17-18]

On the other hand, a frozen pancake
will not crust.

In each case, structural components are retained, such as the phrase "on the other hand," as well as reference to the first person singular pronoun in all but two retranslations (Ibykos-as-Janouch and Ibykos-as-microwave manual), and a negative adverb. Eros, however, is transformed into a frozen pancake, and Eros's refusal to "lie down" becomes a gesture of obstinacy, or perhaps defectiveness. Carson's Ibykos as Conversations with Kafka bespeaks a "bureaucratic capitalist world" saturated with hierarchical, overcoded structures reminiscent of the very conditions out of which Deleuze and Guattari were writing: "In the end, on the one hand, all those who sit behind us at the cash desks, / being engaged in the most destructive and hopeless rebellion there could / ever be". It conveys a scene of over-managed, centralized power in which one's identity must be exchanged for the right to speak or act: "like modernized armies... / against myself, / against my own limitations and apathy, / against this very desk and chair I'm sitting in, / the charge is clear: one is condemned to life not death." The stops and signs from the London Underground direct and control public movement. They render the commuter "tooting," "turnpiked," "hackneyed," "Kentish, "cockfostered." The microwave's handbook, full of imperatives, warn, caution, and instruct; improper usage yields bodily harm. Just as the Ibykos versions might represent the spectrum of retranslation possibilities, ranging from traditional to machinic, the human elements of Fragment 286 are transformed from desire (Ibykos) and romance (Donne), becoming increasingly surveilled and de-humanized (Brecht), amputated, truncated, disembodied (Beckett), managed and manipulated (Tube signs) to the point of absurdity and risk (microwave). If Carson's Ibykos considers the technological innovations of automation and artificial intelligence that dominate our societal conditions as regimenting desire by channeling its productive tendencies, it also undermines its own trajectory by calling itself "translated." Doing so summons the dominant expectations embedded in the discourse of translation while proceeding to dismantle those very expectations in each of the six "ways." Conversely, the machinic might be the means to liberate or deterritorialize desire by moving Ibykos gradually away from socially coded expressions of desire and the dominant modes of retranslation that suffuse conventional retranslation practices. In this way, Carson's motivation aligns with that of Deleuze and Guattari, revising the model of dominant arborescent discourse.

While Carson's Fragment is the work of a single poet, the 85 project is a multi-media collaboration between Canadian Sinologist Claire Huot and Canadian writer-translator Robert Majzels. The project began with translations of the Hebrew Torah's Song of Songs and expanded to Classical Chinese poetry from the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). The project approaches Classical Chinese poetry using retranslation strategies that rely mostly on unconventional visual layout and deferral techniques, rather than lexical and syntactical variations. The project restricts each retranslation to eighty-five Roman alphabet letters, and arranges the English words vertically into five columns of seventeen equally spaced letters with a right-to-left reading orientation similar to a traditional Chinese text. A reader sounds out the words of the poem one letter at a time, moving down each column and toward the left side of the page. See Fig 1. [Image of "After Li Bai, Common Autumn Song"]

In determining the number "85," Huot & Majzels refer to Marc-Alain Ouaknin's book Le livre brule (The Burnt Book), in which the author seeks to define what constitutes a book. He consults a discussion among some rabbis in the Chabbat Treatise of the Talmud about which exceptions to the proscription against work on the Sabbath are acceptable. For example, if one's house is on fire, one is forbidden from extinguishing the flames. However, if inside the burning house there is a holy book, one is permitted to save it. This leads to speculations about how much damage to the holy book would make it irretrievable, and it is determined that the minimum number of letters required is 85 if a holy book is to maintain its status as a book.

The 85 project's visual arrangement accomplishes at least five things. The eye registers the poem as a whole in terms of an image: it receives the impression of a black rectangle speckled with white letters. The arrangement slows down the reading process by making the reader form each word one letter at a time. It impedes the eye's tendency to register the word as a unit, and, having grasped its shape and the linguistic meaning that shape signifies, skim over it. It also defies any conventional semblance of the feature so essential to what constitutes poetry: the poetic line, the line break. But the progression of the poem, its letter-by-letter unveiling, creates the sense of hesitation after each individual letter. The eye still groups together a few letters at once, so in truth the breaks or pauses occur irregularly, but still more haltingly than in an encounter with conventional arrangement. The equidistant spacing between letters and the absence of punctuation recalls ancient script, which appears without spaces between characters and words and without conventional punctuation. This calls upon the reader to figure out when each word ends, the cadence of each phrase, and to participate in the experience of textual discovery.

I will focus on the 85 project's "After Li Bai, Common Autumn Song." The poem by Li [phrase omitted] (701-762 CE) is the fifteenth poem in a series of seventeen poems in [phrase omitted] "Qiupu River Songs," which the 85 project titles "Common Autumn Song." During the period 754-756 CE, Li Bai lived in Chizhou [phrase omitted] in Anhui [phrase omitted] province, situated on the Yangzi River [phrase omitted] (also known as "long river" [phrase omitted]) between Nanjing [phrase omitted] and Jiujiang [phrase omitted]. There the Qiupu River flows as a subsidiary of the Yangzi. The circumstances surrounding Li's presence in Anhui and the years during which he was there are significant to the interpretation of this poem. Li's participation in official affairs was minimal. In 742-744 CE, he served as an on-call scholar and litterateur among other distinguished poets in the Han Lin Academy [phrase omitted], performing secretarial tasks and awaiting summons to attend court galas and excursions which would be commemorated in verse (Kroll 297; Ming 151; Owen 305; Waley 19). An outsider foregoing the traditional, aristocratic route toward earning a living and attaining literary prestige via official examination, he traveled along the Yangzi, ingratiating himself to potential patrons, and garnered a reputation for himself in his poetry as an eccentric, a drinker, a Daoist (Owen 307). Beginning in 755, widespread disorder and anarchy ensued across the Tang empire. When the rebel general An Lushan [phrase omitted] (703-757 CE) amassed military power in northeast China and captured the Eastern capital Loyang, he declared himself Emperor of Yan [??]--the actual Emperor Xuanzong [phrase omitted] having fled to Chengdu in the South--and captured the Western capital Chang-an [phrase omitted] shortly thereafter. Li Bai was implicated in so far as his agreement to join Prince Yong in rebellion against his brother, the new Emperor Suzong, fueled by fantasies of his own political role in establishing a new Southern Dynasties (Owen 321). The rebellion failed and Li was given a prison sentence, which was pardoned (ibid.), so this was a period fraught with much uncertainty and grief.

Written in quatrains, with the exception of poems 1, 2, and 10, the "Qiupu River Songs" series is a meditation on the Qiupu River, and uses the landscape to explore subjects of ageing, uncertainty, sorrow, and lament. The fifteenth poem in the series, which I include below, uses frost imagery in conjunction with a description of white hair to convey ageing and the surprisingly rapid passage of time, as well as uneasiness about what will become of the speaker in the future. The 15-kilometer Qiupu River boasts fourteen different rapids, where turbulence forms Whitewater, so the river water would at times be rushing tumultuously and white (Anhui Government Tourism Website). I include this retranslation because the multiple video recordings of readers encountering the poem, which are available on the project's website (, reveal the challenges, expectations, and preconceptions of certain Western readers confronting an unfamiliar layout and reading orientation. The videos also demonstrate these rhizomatic possibilities, which I will address later in this paper.
[phrase omitted]

bai fa san qian zhang
yuan chou si ge chang
bu zhi ming jing li
he chu de qiu shuang

white hair three thousand zhang
fate worry seem this long
don't know bright mirror inside/within
what place obtain autumn frost

My translation:
Thirty-thousand feet of white hair
Fate-worries as long as this
In the bright mirror not sure
Where this autumn frost comes/came from

The 85 project generates a multiplicity of voices. Huot & Majzels invited a variety of people to read the 85s in front of a video camera in their home and Majzel's office: children, adult native Chinese speakers, speakers of English, and Newlipo (New Oulipo) poet Christian Bok. These videos create a digital archive of iterations generating a multiplicity of assembled voices--an ensemble, an assemblage--in which each reader's encounter and struggle to decipher the text produces its own retranslation. "It's interesting the words different people can't say," Majzels responds, after Suzette Mayer's first attempt at reading "Common Autumn Song" yields "melancholy" as the subject of "tears," which she renders as a verb in following the basic subject-verb-object structure of an English-language sentence: melancholy tears this autumn rime. Anna Taven figures out "melancholy," then pauses for seven seconds before sounding out "tear," quickly realizing the "s" belongs to the word-unit, and makes it "tears." These impromptu utterances form unscripted combinations of words that produce multiple meanings from letters which are in fact inscribed, scripted. The production of "accidental" peripheral meanings brings to mind the actual consideration of those meanings produced. For example, to think about a tear, as in a small rip, characterized by melancholy is unconventional, poetic; it transposes emotion onto a tangible thing, or in this case a hole in a thing.

There are five video recordings of "Common Autumn Song" available on the 85 project's website. The same 85 letters is read by five different readers. I will describe each video, focusing on the iterative features and chance elements. I will show how each reader produces a unique rhizomatic retranslation. The URLs for each video are listed here:

Anna Taven is one of two children featured in the 85 project's video recordings. She proceeds to read with remarkable ease and confidence. Her only "stutters" are those mentioned earlier. Christian Bok prepares for his reading like a gymnast psyching himself up to spring onto the vault. He runs the fingers of both hands through his hair twice, and mutters "ok... ok... " as if to gain mental focus. Bok's reading emphasizes the monosyllabic nature of the words chosen by Huot 8c Majzels; he reads each word as if keeping time to a metronome, accentuating the individual words while disregarding the phrase units: Where. Does. It. Come. From. Bok's background as an experimental poet and his experience reading from his Oulipian oeuvre Eunoia, a book in which each of the five chapters uses exclusively one vowel, makes him suited for the potential play the arrangement of letters yields. Of all the adult readers, he seems the least outwardly flustered in his performance.

The video by Montreal poet and translator Bronwyn Haslam is remarkable for the unique ways her attempts at reading "Common Autumn Song" reveal readerly expectations. The video records three successive readings. Each reading demonstrates a different approach to the arrangement of eighty-five letters, and shows what trust readers can invest in and divest to the authority of the text. Haslam reads easily. She seems like a fluent reader of vertical text, forming the intended word units without any obstacles, but in the first attempt she proceeds from top to bottom, left to right. This poses challenges when she arrives at the bottom of both the second and fourth columns, where the "wh" and "th" are left incomplete. Haslam vocalizes these sounds with a head-shake, as if to clear her vision, and moves on. Majzels then directs her to "now read it from the other side." This prompts her to form the word units from bottom to top so that the poem reads: long hair white long th[e] tears melancholy the in rime autumn is wh- mirror brilliant from come it does ere. Majzels then directs her to "now read it from the right, from up there, from the other end," presumably while pointing. Haslam clarifies, "From e to l?" thinking he means left to right across the top of the first line: e b i m 1. One more clarification yields the anticipated poem.

David Waddell's video is edited so that it begins after his initial reading attempt. We don't see his first figuring, but are introduced to him wrestling with the word "tears" after the fact. "Terrace?" he seems to say, "what am I doing wrong?" After a few intense seconds of continuing to move his eyes over the letters, it clicks: tears! He shoots the fingertips of both hands to his temples, expressing disbelief at his former inability to discern the word. "I can't explain it. I must have been parsing my eyes wrong," he says. Indeed, the left-to-right motion of the eyes in Western reading practice has become natural, second nature, after training and years of habit. The visual arrangement of the letters disorients the eye's customary movement, so a once-over is not sufficient. The eye must scan and re-scan, the mouth utter, stutter. The joy comes from figuring it out. Suzette Mayr appears thoroughly amused through the duration of her recording. Like Waddell, she is hung up on "tears," as I mentioned earlier.

Finally, the publishers of the 85 project's print edition compiled a video featuring outtakes of readers encountering an 85 for the first time (Les Figues Press). The material for this video consists of the brow-furrowing, sighing, laughter, and head-shaking that bookends the actual reading of the poem. In particular, Canadian poet Erin Moure goes through all the expressive permutations--furrowing, giggling, incredulous headshaking, gleefully sounding out combinations of letters in exaggerated tones: mee-lah... mela... mee-lah-chol-eee... this ow-toom ree-meh... what language is this?

Indeed, "tears" trips more than one reader up, though the serendipitous result of readers' stuttering is often an outburst of laughter. To some degree, laughter, or at least a bemused expression, is quite often the outcome of the 85 project experience. Huot & Majzels' highly controlled selection of eighty-five letters (informed by Oulipian principles of constraint) and the prescribed formal arrangement of letters in five columns forms a deliberately constructed, decidedly restrained interface, which potentially spirals out of control every time a reader encounters it. The potency of each 85 project retranslation lies in its potential, the potential each reader brings in losing control of the poem and finding a new reading by moving junctures. A "stuttering" occurs when readers repeatedly stumble over and re-pronounce sounded-out letters in their attempts to read the words; it also exists in the tension of this moment (these moments) when readers struggle/stutter to keep the words together. Fenollosa and Pound's ideogrammic eye, given legs, is unsure where to move, runs amok, producing new words as it scatters.

The displacement of the authorial subject, the "evacuation of the subject from the text [is seen as an] Oulipian constraint [that] engenders a form of automatism that eliminates subjectivity from the writing process, thus producing a form of chance" (James 111). By producing retranslations that rely on readers in order to activate the work, Huot & Majzels create environments that transpose the authorial subject from one reader to another reader, a mobile subjectivity, a transfer of authority. In this way, like Deleuze and Guattari who become "unrecognizable" or "imperceptible" (ATP 3) as writers of their book, Huot & Majzels write and retranslate not as individuals, nor as singular authors composing an uber-text, but a multiplicity. As each reader produces an individual vocalization, "the reader of an 85 becomes a writer who manipulates language in its materiality" (Huot & Majzels). The 85s are "small machines interrupting the flow of Anglo-American imperialism. The English language is theirs/ours, the puzzle is only 85 letters, and yet it refuses to operate smoothly. The user guide seems to have failed, produced a bad translation. Our points of reference, alas! fail to unlock the machine" (Wessels).

Like Deleuze and Guattari, Li Bai and Huot & Majzels become collective, "several." The 85 project uses technology to engage readers by making human vision and vocalization integral and essential to its retranslations. In fact, the poems work best when an audience can hear them read aloud by someone who has never read them before (Moyes, Huot & Majzels 14). By multiplying and transforming this Tang dynasty poem, the 85 project defamiliarizes the English language for Anglo-American readers and introduce new perspectives on canonical Classical Chinese poems, even if the reader/viewer is not entirely sure what just transpired.

By multiplying and transforming Ibykos and Li Bai, Carson and the 85 project destabilize the habitual identification of categories conventionally dictated by language. By hijacking authorial voices in a schizophrenic manner, are the 85 project and Carson's Ibykos doing harm to the original text or liberating it, territorializing or deterritorializing it? Venuti writes that "innovative translating may not only deviate from the structures and discourses of the translating language and culture, but criticize the foreign text by pointing toward interpretations and effects that the foreign author did not anticipate" (32).

When prescriptive charges are assigned, like the advice that translators "bow to the dictates of the dictionary, and not translate Catullus' passer ('swallow') by 'hippopotamus' " (Lefevere 101), what kind of theory of translation encompasses a retranslation that renders a Kydonian spring garden as fake chicken, and Eros as an uncrustable frozen pancake? What terms account for rendering Li Bai's Classical Chinese poem as multiple internet videos that present unique stuttering iterations created from the same arrangement and combination of letters? What does it mean that some readers, like Bronwyn Haslam in the last video, are able to sound out some individual words but seem unable to discern an overall semantic meaning? In this sense, the retranslation is experiential. The 85 project and Carson's Ibykos showcase the virtuosity of the translator, the productivity of literature, and the absurdity of stable aesthetic and cultural values in a post-information age. These works produce a database of multiple voices, bringing Ibykos together with Donne, Brecht, Beckett, et al. It brings together Li Bai's canonical text with poet Christian Bok and an 8-year old who pronounced "melancholy" as "chocolate." Rather than envision a source-target relationship between the Classical Chinese poem or ancient Greek fragment and their Anglo-American translations, or a relationship founded on the competitive usurpation of previous translations that have fallen into desuetude, the 85 project and Carson's Ibykos create an assemblage, a multiplicity of retranslations that changes the dimensions of the original text. These rhizomatic retranslations are bodies-without-organs, continuing to dismantle the organism of arborescent Translation Studies discourse. Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatic image proposes several enterprising ideas useful for examining Translation Studies discourse and developing a model for retranslation that accounts for the vicissitudes of a dynamic field.

Works Cited

Abel, Marc. "Speeding Across the Rhizome: Deleuze Meets Kerouac on the Road" Modern Fiction Studies 48:2, 2002. 227-256.

Ashcroft, Bill. "The rhizome of post-colonial discourse," Lockhurst, Roger and Peter Marks (eds.), Literature and the Contemporary: Fictions and Theories of the Present. New York, Pearson Education Ltd., 1999. 111-125.

Bensimon, Paul. "Presentation," fPalimpsestes 4 (1990) ix-xiii.

Berman, A. "La retraduction comme espace de la traduction," Palimpsestes 4 (1990) 1-7.

Bowra, CM. Greek Lyric Poetry: From Alcman to Simonides. Oxford: Oxford, 1935.

Brisset, Annie. "Retraduire ou le corps changeant de la connaissance. Sur l'historicie de la traduction," Palimpsestes 15, 2004. 39-67.

Brownlie, Siobhan. "Narrative Theory and Retranslation Theory," Across Languages and Cultures 7:2 (2006) 145-170.

Buchannan, Ian. "Deleuze and the Internet," Australian Humanities Review 43 (2007) n. pag. Web. <>

Carson, Anne. Nay Rather. London: Sylph Editions, 2013.

--"A Fragment of Ibykos Translated Six Ways," London Review of Books, Nov. 12, 2012.

--Interview. Suicide Girls. 31 July 2012. n. pag. Web.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1980.

Ferry, Luc. French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1990.

Gambier, Yves. "La Retraduction, retour et detour," Meta 39:3 (1994) 413-417.

Huot, Claire and Robert Majzels. "85. Experiments in the Reception of Chinese Poetry: A multimedia, trans-cultural approach," n.d. Web.

--with Claire Moyes. "The Public Reading is a Matter of the Public Reading: The 85 Project," Open Letter 13:7 (2008) 14-39.

James, Alison. Constraining Chance: George Perec and the Oulipo. Evanston: Northwestern, 2009.

Koerner, Michelle. The Uses of Literature: Gilles Deleuze's American Rhizome, diss. Duke University, 2010.

Kroll, Paul. "Poetry of the T'ang Dynasty" in Victor Mair (ed.) The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia, 2001. 274-313.

Lefevere, Andre. Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. New York:Routledge, 1992.

Les Figues Press. "The 85 Project: Poets Read." Youtube, 7 Aug. 2013. Online video clip. 13

Mar. 2015. <>.

Mair, Victor H. (ed.). The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia, 2001.

Ming, Lai. A History of Chinese Literature. New York: John Day, 1964.

Munday, Ian. "Roots and Rhizomes--Some Reflections on Contemporary Pedagogy," Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46:1 (2012) 42-59.

Newman, Alba. "Paterson: Poem as Rhizome," William Carlos Williams Review 26:1 (2006) 51-73.

The Official Website of Anhui Government. Web. 11 March 2015. <>

O'Sullivan, Simon. "Cultural Studies as Rhizome--Rhizomes in Cultural Studies," Stefan Herbrechter (ed.) Critical Studies, Cultural Studies: Interdisciplinarity and Translation. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002. 81-93(13).

Owen, Stephen and Chang, Kang-i Sun (eds.). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature Volume 1: To 1375. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2010.

Paloposki, Outi and Kaisa Koskinen. 2010a. "Reprocessing Texts: The Fine Line Between Retranslating and Revising," Across Languages and Cultures 11:1, pp. 29-49.

--2010b. "Retranslation," Handbook of Translation Studies, vol. 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 294-298.

--"A Thousand and One Translations: Revisiting Retranslation," Hansen, G., Malmkjaer, K. & Gile, D. (eds.) Claims, Changes and Challenges in Translation Studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004. 27-38.

Pisters, Patricia, (ed.). Micropolitics of Media Culture: Reading the Rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2001.

Semetsky, Inna. "Towards a semiotic theory of learning: Deleuze's philosophy and educational experience," Semiotica 164:1-4 (2007) 197-214.

Susam-Sarajeva, Sebnem. "Multiple-entry Visa to Travelling Theory: Retranslations of Literary and Cultural Theories," Target 5:1 (2006) 1-36.

Tymoczko, Maria. "Trajectories of Research in Translation Studies," Meta 50:4 (2005) 1082-1097.

Vanderschelden, Isabelle. "Why Retranslate the French Classics? The Impact of Retranslation on Quality," On Translating French Literature and Film II. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000. 1-18.

Venuti, Lawrence. "Retranslation: The Creation of Value," Faull, Katherine M. (ed.) Translation and Culture. Lewisburg: Bucknell University, 2004. 25-38.

Waley, Arthur. The Poetry and Career of Li Po. London/New York: George Allen and Unwin / Macmillan, 1950.

Wessels, Andrew. "Andrew Wessels with Claire Huot and Robert Majzels." The Conversant, n.d., n. pag. Web. <>.

Adrienne K.H. Rose


[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
COPYRIGHT 2015 Texas Tech University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rose, Adrienne K.H.
Date:Mar 22, 2015
Previous Article:Re-locating Plato: a Chinese Translation and Interpretation of Plato's Symposium.
Next Article:Reading Pierre Bourdieu after William Pietz.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters