Buried Letter Press May 2013 ©Buried Letter Press 2011-2013 Cover: ―Flapper‖ by Scotty Lees Design by Matthew C. Mackey
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“Flapper” Scotty Lees acrylic on canvas board 2013 Donated April 26th 2013 for The Speakeasy presented by Buried Letter Press Akron, Ohio
Buried Letter Press
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Buried Letter Press May 2013 Critical Collaborator: A Foray into Dramaturgy by Robert Miltner Just What Is It that Makes Thomas Kinkade So Different, So Appealing? by Heather Haden Translation as Activism: An Interview with Peter Thompson by Matthew C. Mackey A Short Essay on Reading and Writing: Occasioned by the Cleaning out and Subsequent Reorganization of My Bookshelf, the Condition of which Was Frankly Causing Me Anxiety by Joshua Graber Art Party Columbus: Artists in the Community by Beth Yoder-Balla
Critical Collaborator: A Foray into Dramaturgy by Robert Miltner
I I first heard the term dramaturg when I was an undergraduate at a small Midwest university. It had something to do with a person involved in the production of a play, but I wasn‘t certain what exactly a dramaturg did. I‘d seen ―Dramaturg‘s Notes‖ on an occasional play program, so I knew that much. Maybe there wasn‘t much more to it than that. You know, sort of like the guy who got to write liner notes on vinyl record jackets, like for Bob Dylan or Miles Davis. I used to read liner notes while I listened to old LP records, absorbing the insider language that added texture to the prose usually written by some reviewer or critic for Downbeat or Village Voice. Since I knew that much, I went with that and when someone asked me what a dramaturg did I would nod knowingly, lean toward the person sort of conspiratorially, and say in a low voice that, ―They write program notes. They do some other things, of course, but mostly that.‖ Since most people didn‘t know at all—most of my friends didn‘t go to plays, just rock concerts and maybe foreign films—and I knew at least this much, I felt like a genius. II Some time back, at the university where I now teach, my department hired one of the first nontenure track faculty. This fellow—who we can call Tom for the sake of anonymity—barely got his name out before he slipped the name Samuel Beckett into a conversation, either quoting Beckett or referring to something as being Beckett-esque. You know: he was a member of the Beckett Society; he‘d presented a paper on Beckett in London; once, in Dublin, he‘d been introduced to The Great Man himself, briefly of course, in a pub just before Beckett had to leave for a rehearsal of one of his plays. I probably used one of those academic slide lines of the time, like, Not too shabby (meaning meeting Beckett), and then Tom dropped the bomb: he was going to be the dramaturg for our campus theater. Great I said, so you‘re going to write a piece for the program for each play? No, no, no, he assured me, a dramaturg does far more things than that, but he never went into further detail because he just then glanced at his watch and said, Oh shit, I’m late for my class! and he and his tweed coat strode down the hall to the elevator and he pressed the Down button. Sometime later that semester, I ran into the theater director as he was talking with some of the senior members of the English department and I mentioned that I thought it was great that Tom was the new dramaturg at the campus. They looked at me, at each other, and burst out into raucous laughter, so much so, that just as they‘d be about finished, one of them would renew eye contact and the laughter would break out all over again. Then the herd of them moved along the hallway, guffawing and slapping each other on the back until they left the building. I stood alone in the hallway knowing I‘d witnessed the punch line without ever hearing the joke. Or hearing it in a language I didn‘t know, like Mongolian or Nigerian or German.
III Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was born in Saxony in 1729. A representative Enlightenment writer and intellectual, he took a Master‘s degree from Wittenberg in 1752. He worked in Berlin as an editor, art critic, publicist, philosopher, and writer of dramas and melodramas, as well as bourgeois comedies and tragedies, but left for Hamburg to work with the new German National Theater. While there, he penned Hamburg Dramaturgy which both introduced the term to the field of theater and served as a treatise on aesthetics and theory as well as a guide for practice. While the term dramaturg is rooted in the idea of writing plays, Lessing advocated for playwrights (dramaturgs) to be active in crafting their work not in isolation—like the later dark-clad Romantic poets, in cold garrets—but in the theater where they interacted with directors, actors, and everyone involved in the production, working more collaboratively toward shaping the final play that was to be staged. By doing so, Lessing laid the foundation for modern playwriting. IV This past academic year, I taught a class with my campus theater director: Devising Theater in the fall and Production and Dramaturgy this spring. The sixteen students we selected were actors and writers who wrote poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction in the fall, generating material to be turned into a script. Often the class would workshop on the theater stage, getting up and reading scenes and dialogue, quite unlike the way a typical creative writing class functions. These same students revised their portfolios over the holiday break, sometimes coming into the theater‘s green room to workshop on their own. The spring class was radically different from the one in the fall. Now that we had raw material, the focus shifted to how to stage the poems, stories, memoirs; adapt them; select the pieces that would create a theatrical conversation on the play‘s theme of domestic violence, bullying and abuse; organize the selected pieces into two interconnected acts that offered variety of approach, tone, style; create, with a graduate MFA intern, the script; cast the play; and continue to revise the material during rehearsal. My role in the devising of a student play continued to become more complex, require more time. My only previous theatrical experience was a small role in a Christopher Durang play in which I was an aphasiac who spoke unintelligibly and spent four scenes under a sheet before emerging as a different character, also an aphasiac; at the time, that role seemed so complicated, yet once I was the dramaturg for our play, titled Voices from Hurt Street, my past experience on stage seemed naïve. No longer just waiting off stage to come on for a line or scene, suddenly I seemed to be everywhere at once. Regardless, like the rest of the ―theatre rats‖ I was in the theater five or six nights a week, constantly suspended between exhilaration and exhaustion. It was as if I was learning a new language and struggling to communicate. As if I was getting the joke everyone had laughed at before, that Tom was as busy then as I felt now, or that perhaps the joke was the hadn‘t been, and was laughed at for pretending he had.
IV To be a successful dramaturg, one has to be a craftsperson with many varied tools in their toolbox, someone who has to have each tool, know what it is and can do, and know how to use it as required by multifaceted necessities. There was just so much to do to move all the elements of a play ―from imagination to embodiment,‖ as theater scholar Geoffrey Proehl observes. Tanya Palmer, dramaturg and literary manager for the Goodman Theatre, describes her position as one for which she wears many hats: she conducts historical and literary research, gives constructive criticism to new script development, and even creates display material for the theater lobby. Victory Gardens Theatre‘s Aaron Carver sees his role as a sounding board for the playwright, someone ―who listens well, and knows how to talk the play out‖ of the playwright, making him a kind of ―dramatic engineer.‖ Meghan Beals McCarthy of Northlight Theater sees herself as the ―information designer‖ who is part of a team of designers for lighting, set, and design. Others call themselves Green Room scholars, or even playwright whisperers. My sense was that a majority of what I became as a dramaturg during my experience with Voices from Hurt Street was more akin to the role of a Hollywood script doctor who edited and polished the rough work into a smooth script. I can attest that when the class and production were concluded, my tool box was far more hefty than in the fall when it all started. And yes, one of the things I did was write ―Dramaturg‘s Notes‖ for the play program.
Just What Is It that Makes Thomas Kinkade So Different, So Appealing? by Heather Haden
There is something so volatile about the very utterance, Kinkade. In my experience, it never fails to produce an interesting conversation. As a contemporary art historian, I will admit that, like many, I have thumbed my nose at the artist, yet without contributing the time to discover exactly why I have harbored what is perhaps a premature reaction. In my mind, prepositions make all the difference: why should I stop and consider the ―Painter of Light‖ when I can be bathed in the experiential installations of some of the contemporary ―Painters with Light‖ such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson? So I must beg the question, appropriating the title of the Pop Artist Richard Hamilton‘s 1956 collage: just what is it Fig. 1. Thomas Kinkade, Winter. that made (and perhaps still makes) Thomas Kinkade so different, so appealing? Does the simple answer only pay homage to Clement Greenberg‘s 1939 ―kitsch‖? While many have written about and tried to make sense of Kinkade‘s success, I aim to more firmly situate his phenomenon within a sociocultural context of concrete recent occurrences. It has been well over a century since the Academy faced off against the avant-gardes in the late 1800s for control over and against, respectively, the criteria of art. Today to deem photo-realistic painting as the only type of ―good‖ painting is outdated. Thus, my rubric of artist merit upon which to explore Kinkade intentionally does not address his formal abilities. On a technical level, few could disagree that Kinkade is a talented painter and businessman within his genre. He was clearly influenced by the commercial Currier and Ives but also the great masters of yore, including Turner‘s atmospheric light, as well as the the sfumato of DaVinci and the tenderness of Raphael. It is difficult for any contemporary artist to produce something entirely new without the chance comparison to artists of the marginal or master level. With his brush, Kinkade appropriated art historical developments into saccharine, cotton-candy utopias accessible to the imaginations of the masses. Yet, when it comes to the conceptual desires of an art audience, therein lays the great divide between those who respectively find Kinkade so appealing or so off-putting. Kinkade‘s audience desires immediacy, gossamer, sugar-coated panoramas that are true eye candy. While it may not be cerebral in the way that today‘s more abrasive art is, it reminds Kinkade‘s religious audience of their spiritual path through allusions to symbolic light. Using illumination to represent the presence of a higher power is not, after all, a new trope, but was used by the Ancient Egyptians‘ reflective-capped pyramids and the Byzantines‘ gold mosaic-lined interiors. The
Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia featured a dome that rested gracefully upon a circle of forty windows to appear to be suspended from the heavens. The late-16th-, early 17thcentury painter, Caravaggio, also used light to great effect to create visually intriguing compositions that similarly rested upon an armature of lightness and darkness. Artists throughout the ages have used light functionally throughout many media to spiritual, political, and secular ends. In Kinkade‘s painting, how does the intersection of light, landscape, and architecture function conceptually? His tripartite formula is one part pastoral iconography, one part religious symbolism, and one part light-infused pastel atmosphere. The execution of this formula involves mass production, creative product design, and commodity Fig. 2. Thomas Kinkade, Sunrise. placement in shopping malls, retirement communities, and museums, means unavailable to earlier artists to quite this scale and variety. Certainly many viewers feel transported by his idyllic landscapes. Many are attracted to his oneiric villas that offer affordable fairy tale visions in which to immerse themselves, and just as many find his religious affiliation to be different and appealing in contemporary art. Remember that in the Renaissance during which DaVinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio painted, for example, most art was still produced for religious, rather than secular, means. Artistic evolution has brought secular art to the fore today and religious art no longer comprises the majority of art production. Kinkadians find his art refreshing in its ability to offer an art that is pure, clean, and traditionally displayed amongst the increasingly gritty, raw, and intentionally shocking works that populate modern day museums, the urban sprawl, and the backs of public bathroom doors. The concept of place plays a large role in Kinkade‘s popularity. His paintings of signature cottages are the ideological locale of security and innocence, yet one that now offers a double illusion. Consider the aim of art critics who have contested the illusionistic anti-realism of the Albertian picture plane that creates an alternate reality expressed in two dimensions upon the painted surface. For all of the financially affordable illusions of Arcadia within Kinkadian painting, however, the possibility of owning a home such as his signature cottages is increasingly out of reach. With the mortgage and employment crises of late, the American Dream of white picket fences, life-sized dollhouses with Crayola-green lawns, and job security to finance such endeavors, is dying. As a result, Kinkade‘s work now more than ever situates dream-as-other, subverting the illusionistic accessibility his brush (or rather, his workshop and digital reproduction technology) sought to cement. Perhaps there is an inverse relationship between the doom of the housing market and the boom of the Kinkade brand. After all, the artist‘s trade was overtly one of large financial success, and if we look at the statistics, not only is he a household, apartment-hold, trailer park-hold name, but just before his death last year on April 6th, one in twenty dwellings laid claim to a Kinkade,
confirming his position as the highest grossing living artist. Yet within his life, Kinkade spawned from a broken home1 just as Generation-Y is living within the aftermath of a broken housing market that began its collapse in 2006. Interestingly, Kinkade‘s product line royalties grossed $50 million between 1997 and May 2005,2 just before the start of the subprime mortgage crisis. As the likelihood of owning a home continues to distance itself from the American public, I imagine that the posthumous artists‘ profits will only continue to rise as individuals cling to lost realities, mentally confining themselves within Kinkadian cottages, just as the naïve Erica was locked into the idyllic painting in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s The Witches. However, this trend too, has a half-life. While the trends in new, contemporary art may tend toward the provocative and gritty, remember that the people contributing to Kinkade‘s corporate success are more often than not older and exponentially more conservative. His audience is more often than not middle-aged and elderly women who often find most contemporary art to be offensive and vulgar, and this audience, thanks to scientific and technological miracles, is alive and well. Yet, this audience is a dying breed. Once Generation-Kinkade dies off, how relevant will his art be? Will Kinkade, Inc. be the new Urban Outfitters acquisition to compete with Shepard Ferry and Keith Haring licensed tees? With each passing year, with every elderly employee that is fired because their health insurance is costing the commercial sector too much money, with every home that is foreclosed, the Arcadian-Kinkadian image will become increasingly ironic and gradually a vision of the very alienation Kinkade advocates detest today.
Fig. 3: Film Still, The Witches, 1990.
Kim Christensen, ―Dark Portrait of a ‗Painter of ‗Light,‘‖ LA Times, March 5, 2006, http://articles.latimes.com/2006/mar/05/business/fi-kinkade5 2 Ibid. 1
Figure Sources: Figure 1: http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/23400000/Thomas-Kinkade-Winter-winter-23436551-1024771.jpg Figure 2: http://www.americanartshow.com/Large%20Prints/Kinkade/Sunrise_lrg.jpg Figure 3: The Witches, 1990, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbaE_gDLxCE, 3:22.
Translation as an Activism: An Interview with Peter Thompson by Matthew C. Mackey
Reading Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Neruda, Marquez, and others in English, I‘ve always been curious about translation. I knew that as I sat in odd coffee shops, dingy pubs, and dusty parks in Ohio, puffing a non-filter cigarette, as I imagined they did in France, my only access to these writers and their work was through translation. I had copies of Neruda‘s poetry written in both Spanish and English. I wondered about the space between and stared into the crease of the book, like one might stare into a reflecting pool. What happened in this distance? I wondered about what it was like to know Rimbaud as a young poet, traipsing around Paris. I wanted to know him. I wanted to know his Paris. I wanted to know how I was connected to all of this. At a summer writing program in Edinburgh, I was fortunate enough to get some of those ponderings answered. I made the acquaintance of Peter Thompson, Romance languages and literatures professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, who graciously agreed to talk with me about the phenomenon of translation. I recently caught up with him through email. This is what he had to say: Matthew: How would you define translation? Peter: I think of translation as moving. It‘s both moving yourself between two places, and moving a thing, a thing you want to share. I‘m being etymological, I think, when I say it‘s carrying something from one place (or one user, one consumer) to another. Think of bringing a new wine, elderberry wine, to a culture that has only known grape wine. There‘s the form—the making of the wine—and there‘s the content, which is everything you get out of drinking wine. And, as to both form and content, there are cultural components that are similar (between the two wine-drinking communities) and cultural things that are different, too. And if you think how people, in New England at least, used to make and drink elderberry wine more than they do now, you‘re not just carrying the wine from one culture to another, but also from one era to another. New enjoyments result, and new insights—in fact a whole adventure of novelty is part of what translation brings. An aesthetic of novelty. M: Would you say that translation is an art form? P: To me translation is an art form, although we can get a little hung up on ideas about form. Keep in mind that the original work of art is itself a translation, possibly from one form to another. From something visual to words, from something auditory (non-verbal) to words, from some impulse of the original artist to a final form. Is it a syllogism to say art is a translation, therefore all translation is art? I don‘t know. Certainly, literary translation‘s main job is to work between two (written) art forms, deriving from two languages (and two cultures, since culture creates the forms of language). (I mean, for the non-Whorfians and non-Chomskyans among us.) But it might be helpful to step away from the exactions of form for a minute.
Translation is an art because it does what art does: it mediates, and it mediates the same things in the same ways. It‘s easy to picture the tight-rope you are on as a translator, the balance you have to have, all the things you have to consider—but all art has these, or most of these, challenges. Any artist mediates between her sense of something and her audience‘s sense of it, or between the conventional sense and the revelatory sense, or between the mundane sunset and the rare extraordinary sunset, the real and the ideal, the divine and the secular. I am defining translation in this interview, but it‘s like defining art: the whole history of the latter definition has been the redefining of types of mediation. The translator is the most intense mediator of all. And let‘s stick to literature for a moment. The translator starts with art and then has to mediate further in all art‘s nuts and bolts— between the source language and the target language. Bit of jargon there. Now think of the elements that are mediated—tuned, adjusted—when you write a poem. The translator sets out to sense and to shape everything the original poet was mediating (to the extent that he or she grasps what the poet was trying to do) while at the same time toggling back and forth between the two languages. This takes some of the central processes of art and raises them to a very high intensity. M: Is language the main focus of the translator? What is translated beside language? P: The field of language, and the operations of literary translation, are so complex and all-absorbing that, for me, they are the main focus, they are the ball game. But it‘s really healthy and energizing to think about translation in other domains. Ekphrastic poetry, for one. If you describe a painting in words—or describe music—you are translating, especially if you do it evocatively and not analytically. And—as to your last question—yes, this is art, just as the original painting was art. I just put out a book of my own poetry, ekphrastic, and occasionally a reader says ―I wish the paintings were in the book too.‖ ―But they are, Madam, they are.” Sheesh. They‘re present, just translated. Let‘s think even bigger. I believe we all translate the world—its forms, movements, events—every day, into our construct of our position in the world. Another example. I think the people who love you translate you into something a bit different from what you are ( something better, in my case)—or is it mistranslate? Who can say?... but it‘s an ongoing translation. To really expand this, we can enlarge the notion of syntax. I have this notion that the way you walk down a street, you the individual, past people and objects, is a syntax. It‘s a structured, rhythmic flow of suggestions and significations. Now transport that movement, your way of walking down a street, to India or Switzerland. The stuff of this new street is translated, as you move, into your syntax. At the same time, the patterns and internal awarenesses that make up your syntax (your walking-down-a-street syntax) are translated—by the stuff of this new street—into a new kind of awareness. So, many things are translated. It might help to be Platonic about these possibilities. Maybe in the way that Mallarmé said philosophy was ―included‖ and ―latent‖ in his poetry! Or at least to be aware that forms (what our senses perceive) and their renderings in art (music, dance, painting, writing, any art) are never the turbulent soul of things. We have to be alert to what Wallace Stevens called the shift (and it‘s a translation) from substance to subtlety. M: What is the ―goal‖ or ―intention‖ of translation? What does a translator/artist hope to accomplish? P: In a pleasure-seeking way, non-utilitarian way (though it leads to a good translation), you hope to get closer to the original text. Some of this is a bit technical, or theoretical, so I don‘t know how
much you want to focus on that. But one thing that happens is that you get inside the text in a special way. In an ideal sense, it is what any reader wants (when it‘s material the reader loves, or that is very valuable to him or her in some way), and I would think it‘s what the original writer would want and expect. If the writer is an artist. Keep in mind what several people have said: The best reader a text will ever have is its translator. Of course, you hope to accomplish a social goal, allowing more people to enjoy a text that was previously closed to them. I don‘t know if that‘s something to develop here. But back to my selfish goals, my pleasure goals, I actually hope to accomplish a new text that‘s as rich and effective as the original. Or more so. There are examples of translations thought to be better than the originals. And Borges said ―The original is unfaithful to the translation.‖ That gives you an idea of how he thought of translation as art, what he thought the translator/artist can accomplish. M: Can you comment on the process of translation? What is revelatory about the process of translation for the translator, the reader? P: This actually gives us a chance to talk about the stranger and deeper aspects of translation. Though maybe what you want is the procedure, or my process; I don‘t think that‘s as interesting, and, in any case, translators vary so widely in how they go about it. A very big deal translator, Gregory Rabassa, doesn‘t even read the novel he is about to translate, that is, read it first—he just starts right in. That‘s an example. What I think is very interesting is what happens to us in the process, what happens to language, what happens to the original text. And, to answer your last question more philosophically, this is one of my goals—to get to a new place with language. It‘s really to get a new sense of the original text, while getting somehow outside of both the source (original) language and the target language. I‘ve said before that you get inside, but that‘s to mess with its nuts and bolts (this applies to the text, to the source language and to the target language). But in the end you dissolve, in a way, both languages and operate in a zone that is curiously outside of both. I‘ll explain what I mean. It‘s helpful to think (I do hope you agree!) how any work of art is inexact in many ways. It doesn‘t exactly convey what the artist thinks it does. Or it doesn‘t affect everyone in exactly the same way. Or it isn‘t exactly, in the end, the product that the artist started to construct. And this is aside from—though, really, it compounds!—the notion that a finished artistic product is ―dead‖ in some way, no longer viable the way it was before the last touch was applied. Though the translator will also be ―finished‖ at some point, and the translation may be ―dead‖ in this same way, he or she has at least shaken the original work alive again, rearranged its parts, gotten in amongst it at the stage where it was most viable. The translator has prolonged that stage. So, now, let‘s think about how language never really says exactly what we mean. We have to think widely here, think Wittgenstein. His questioning of how words mean anything at all—what it is to ―mean‖ something. We can think of how words die and become inadequate, too—think of the ready-mades that people like Ionesco and Robbe-Grillet make fun of, or the buzzing little routines and ―tropisms‖ (for Nathalie Sarraute) that our minds are full of. Or, to make words seem more alive, but in a perverse way, think of Wittgenstein‘s ―There is no such thing as the literal meaning.‖ The fun part, for me, is waking up all kinds of extended meanings. It‘s even fun to bust Robbe-Grillet, who detested metaphor, and discover that, when he‘s trying to be his most exacting, he says—I‘m sure without meaning to—that a wave ―unfurls.‖ Picture, for a second, the little fuzz-balls of ―meaning‖ swirling around words, then the larger fuzz-ball surrounding a text. Then, as translator, you bring the set of fuzz-balls from another language over next to this first group.
This is, roughly, what I meant by ―outside of language.‖ You are operating in, enjoying, the fuzzy space which is outside the settled, defined, frozen confines of an established text and its generally accepted ―meaning.‖ In a sense—in the Walter Benjamin sense, famously—you are operating in the space where language is most alive. Ideally, it is the space where the original artist was moving, before settling on certain forms. I‘ve probably said too much about this already, and it takes some reflection to get used to, perhaps. But it lets us move on to another set of terms that I find very helpful. We commonly think of translation as binary, with one text opposed to the separate text that results from translation. But, as we‘ve just said, it‘s more interesting to think of translation as existing in a third space between these two. (Certainly, the work of translation takes place here, before the second text is finally achieved.) Several people have described a ―third space,‖ some calling it a ―ghost space,‖ or a sort of penumbra between the two texts. I like William Frawley‘s term ―third code,‖ because I find his explanation a bit more concrete than some people‘s. He sees the first code as the settled language of the source (original) text. The second code is somewhat like (not exactly) the literal translation, or the most obvious translation of that, into the second language. It is sort of like an operation where the rules of language are in charge, more than the volition and good instincts of the translator. Think of it as the code of that second (target) language, its tendencies, tropes, its dead spots (hackneyed phrases), awkwardnesses, peculiar bits of syntax, strengths and weaknesses of vocabulary. The translator‘s job is to resist that code. This is part of the mediating that a translator does—mediating between the first and second codes. This effort is an attempt to evoke a third code, and to achieve a translation, a final product, as much as possible in that third code—in a language that seems as alive, recalcitrant, almost alien as the language the original artist was playing with while conceiving the original text. So, you asked what is revelatory. I hope, for people who have not thought much about translation, that this whole conversation is revelatory! I hope words are revelatory when one reads fine translation journals like Asymptote, Circumference or Ezra. In the end, for me, the successful translation is revelatory in the way that the beautiful original piece is (and perhaps you can see how it won‘t work unless you have the kind of mediating discipline we‘ve just been describing): you have these moments where you‘re just astonished, where you say ―I‘ve never seen that,‖ or ―I didn‘t know language could do that.‖ M: Many think of translation in the conventional sense of translating works of literary or informative value. Is translation only an academic, economic or political practice, or does it have a social function, possibly as a practice? Is translation socially relevant? P: Let‘s look at your phrase ―as a practice,‖ in social contexts. I mean, in many parts of the world, that question would not even be part of the interview, because translation is so much a social practice, so much a part of every day‘s rich social activity. Many Europeans view it this way, and it gets very interesting in the African context, too. We should look at that in a second. When you say ―only academic,‖ let‘s graft that onto what I‘ve said earlier, about literary translation, which will leave just your ―political‖ and ―economical‖ worlds to consider. In a place like Africa ―the language question‖ is tense, and largely political. Putting aside what‘s called identity politics, language still enters into real, hard, old fashioned politics. In Algeria, for example, the new ruling class is causing a huge exodus of intellectuals and writers, largely over language. In the worst days of the Islamization and Arabization movement, in the ‘90s, many who spoke French felt alienated and disenfranchised. It‘s not just that there was a class of educated people for whom French was one linguistic tool. These were writers who did their literary thinking, not just their writing, in French. They didn‘t want to be forcibly translated, one way or another, into Arabic. They
didn‘t like the ruling class, and, on top of all that, Arabic was not some kind of natural solution for them. Many of them were not Arabs, but Berbers. This controversy, with minor variations, is happening all over North Africa. It complicates the purely anti-colonial or post-colonial cast (more typical) of ―the language question‖ in sub-Saharan Africa. In the latter context, to turn to economics, Gayatri Spivak and Wangui wa Goro and others have started talking about issues of power and economics in translation. That is, the imbalance of power that can exist between the translated and the translator. It is interesting to work this into your thinking: not just the economics of what you choose to translate, how you publish or market it afterwards, but also an imbalance of economic situation as a backdrop, a subtle coloring, word by word, of your translating practice. So, to wrap up the socially relevant perspective, it‘s clear that, if this were your field of interest—and it will be a growing field—you could go on forever about issues related to what we‘ve just covered. In terms of aid agencies, political economics, education issues and so on—all on top of the well tramped field of language as a part of trans-cultured identity and identity politics. But there is a tremendously important final point to make about all this. The economics and politics are the social practice. In most parts of the world they are completely woven into the social practice of translation. So, instead of the practice merely having a social relevance, we have to see it as everywhere, and as a saving presence. Translation as an activism.
*** Peter Thompson currently teaches at Rogers Williams University in Rhode Island and works as the editor of Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation. Most recently, his own book of poetry, The Angle of Incidence has been published by Dálogos Books. His latest translation, The Belly, a collection of poems by Congolese poet Tchicaya u Tam‘si is due out this year from Phoenix International.
A Short Essay on Reading and Writing: Occasioned by the Cleaning out and Subsequent Reorganization of My Bookshelf, the Condition of which Was Frankly Causing Me Anxiety by Joshua Graber “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” –John Locke The previous organization of my books was a tenuous one: fiction sort of grouped together, poetry the same, and all non-fiction, religious texts, and miscellany thrown together. Since moving into a new apartment, this has been one of those things that caused me some stress, because finding a book became a bit of a process. So I sat on my floor with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and veggies and finally organized things alphabetically. This was a three-hour ordeal, but provided me a measure of satisfaction afterwards, in terms of simplifying my life, which has been an ongoing goal of late. Resultant also was the identification of connections between books that would otherwise have not been grouped together. Charles Dickens finds a home next to Emily Dickinson, for example, who are from the same general time period, but whose poetics could not have been more different. Side Effects, from Woody Allen sits next to Infinity Blues by Ryan Adams. The only connection between these books is that both authors are famous for artistry in something other than writing. Plato and Rajneesh‘s Book of the Secrets are next-door neighbors, a fact that makes me smile. Milan Kundera‘s work sits next to Jhumpa Lahiri‘s Interpreter of Maladies (an underrated short story collection, if my opinion is worth anything), and this makes me wonder what Kundera would think of Lahiri‘s work. He would approve, I think, based on the precise quality of the work and his soft spot for writers from parts of the world that have been subjugated. At the very end of the last shelf sit Virginia Woolf and Tom Wolfe‘s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: an odd pairing. About that I wonder if there are two twentieth century authors more stylistically divergent. Further up on that same shelf, we have a smattering of Mark Twain, followed by the Tao Te Ching, followed by Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, followed by a smattering of David Foster Wallace. This chain has pleasurable organizational logic; Twain, Vonnegut, and Wallace are all strung together with the common thread of satire, because of which the latter both owe the former a debt. Lao Tzu is disrupting the flow, but then I think of Wallace‘s eastern-influenced philosophy (and the general entry of eastern philosophical ideas into western parlance since Twain‘s day) and the logical chain remains (interestingly) in tact. I look more closely and there are other pairings that work well together. Dostoevsky and Dos Passos are similar in scope and ambition, Emerson is a poetical ancestor of Eliot, as Hawthorne is to Hemingway (sort of), and James snuggled up to Joyce snuggled up to Kafka creates a formidable triumvirate of modern fiction without which the genre would be vitally different today. The history3 of an art is its engine, and every new work adds a car to the train. It‘s the same train, but with every car that is added, it changes. Wendell Berry iterates a similar view: ―The past is 3
Assuming, for the sake of this essay, a linear model of history, rather than a cyclical one.
our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.‖4 Perhaps Doctorow was thinking something similar when he said that writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia; or Fitzgerald conscious of this weighty consideration when he claimed that writers aren‘t people, but that if they are any good, they are a lot of people trying to be one person. The train grows (and changes) with every beautiful car attached to it. In contemporary writing, the impulse may be to make things new, as Pound would say, or to forge new territory in the art. But the only way to make things new is to know what old is. Surely it is possible to write something imaginative and fresh without reading widely, but my thought is that that is a rare occurrence. Indeed, in attempting something new, I have often felt myself becoming self conscious, wondering whether I will finish the story only to read something from Barthelme or Saunders or Vonnegut that does exactly what I was trying to do, only in a better, purer way. Indeed that has happened before. So exist for me these two competing impulses: the attempt of formal and conceptual invention and the desire to be deeply steeped in my chosen art of fiction. Consider Kundera: Let us imagine a contemporary composer writing a sonata that in its form, its harmonies, its melodies resembles Beethoven‘s. Let‘s even imagine that this sonata is so masterfully made that, if it had actually been by Beethoven, it would count among his greatest works. And yet no matter how magnificent, signed by a contemporary composer it would be laughable. At best its author would be applauded as a virtuoso of pastiche… …No way around it: historical consciousness is so thoroughly inherent in our perception of art that this anachronism (a Beethoven piece written today) would be spontaneously (that is, without the least hypocrisy) felt to be ridiculous, false, incongruous, even monstrous. Our feeling for continuity is so strong that it enters into the perception of any work of art.5 When we speak of the lineage of an artist we respect, we speak of her influences – the artists that came before her that evidence themselves in her work – who have all in some manner defined and changed the art, the way she is defining and changing and paying homage to the art as she creates. When we speak of the lineage of an artist we find to be trite – or find to be a ―virtuoso of pastiche,‖ in Kundera‘s terminology – we might describe that artist‘s work as derivative of so-and-so‘s work, an accusation that carries an implied indictment of unoriginality. This is not to say that the artist is unengaged with the aesthetic history of his art, but to say that that engagement is more than likely limited to one artist or group of artists. The richness that is gained from reading widely and well is lost on the virtuoso of pastiche because he has convinced himself that one of his forerunners is the be-all-end-all of that art. Not only is he incapable of originality, his work will be quickly identified as laughable by those who, like Joyce, believe that great art springs from a deep life. It is these sorts of ―artists‖ and those who reject aesthetic history wholesale in favor of too much contemporaneity who are (at least part of) the cause of a modern situation in which ―reading is long, life is short, and literature is in the process of killing itself off through an insane proliferation.‖
Berry, Wendell. “The Specialization of Poetry”. The Poet’s Work: 29 Masters of 20 Century Poetry on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. Print. 139-156.
Kundera, Milan. The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. Trans. Linda Asher. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print. pp 4-5.
It is in an ever-pressing push forward that a dilution happens. As more artists produce historically ignorant or singularly homaged work, the global readership recognizes the value of an aesthetic history less. Returning to my bookshelf, I find there a certain depth of reading, but the relationship between my bookshelf and my ―books to buy‖ list brings to bear a certain amount of anxiety. I am embarrassed to have never read the entire Iliad and Odyssey, and only bits and pieces of The Divine Comedy. My engagement with Don Quixote is limited at best; I‘ve never read Baudelaire, Rabelais, Musil, Balzac or Broch. I‘ve read approximately 4.5 Shakespeare plays (I give myself the extra half point for reading Hamlet twice) and most of the sonnets, but his looming influence on art of the English language leaves me feeling inadequately read in that regard. I decided to read Wittgenstein and never got around to it. Hume is the same. I like to boast that I‘ve read the Qur’an, but have only read from it. Though I‘ve been reading the Bible for years, I doubt that I‘ve read the whole thing, and the Talmud has been lingering on my list for quite some time, though I have neither the space nor the money to buy all of its volumes. This tension is common, I find, among those few friends of mine who are also writers – at least those who have come to understand the hugeness of the aesthetic history they‘ve decided to enter into. We feel a significant discomfort at the compliments of friends who say we‘re well read, because we feel otherwise, knowing that if we were to read everything we feel we should, the books would take up storehouses. At the close of my organizational frenzy, I felt the pleasure of having finished something, which is rare for an artist of my temperament, but the realization also that my shelves contain only a partiality of the history and if I am to create anything worthy of attaching to that grand train, I‘m going to need a bigger bookshelf.
The Curtain, pp 96.
Art Party Columbus: Artists in the Community by Beth Yoder-Balla
Sitting in her living room, surrounded by artwork, Tona Pearson describes herself as the reluctant leader of Art Party Columbus, an artist and community outreach collective. "I wanted to do something with my friends that wasn't at a bar," she said. The idea started about four years ago, but took a year to develop. The first meeting ended up being less than a dozen people hanging out and making art at Tona's house. ―There was a potluck.‖ Eventually word spread and Tona realized this could become a "thing in the community." At first she fought against it and tried to have other people take over. "I am hideously introverted. I don't like being in leadership positions and had no desire to do that. I didn't want to take responsibility for all of the people that started coming." She laughed, Tona Pearson ―No one else wanted to do it, and it was still at my house, so people looked to me, and eventually, I just stepped into the role.‖ The group continued on, growing a presence in the community, attracting more people, and always making art. Officially founded in the spring of 2010 with a small group of friends, Art Party Columbus quickly developed into a flourishing community of like-minded artists who saw art as a means of social change. During their first anniversary show, they realized they could positively impact the community and inspire the people around them. If Ezra Pound believed Paradiso could be created by artists, he‘d have been happy to see the collective engaging the city of Columbus in meaningful and innovative ways, promoting harmony between artists and the world they live in. They've had a dedicated administrative team ever since. Consisting of about eight to ten people, anyone who has time, the team has established Art Party Columbus as an important part of the community, gaining support from businesses, local charities, and community centers. Art Party Columbus also does several shows a year. Last year they did eight shows, as well as organized some small festivals and sponsored a few larger ones. Tona and her husband, Randy, live in Clintonville, an area just north of the Ohio State University. Continually pushing for community involvement, here they‘ve set up their home base, taking part in and create many outlets and opportunities for artists and socially conscientious people to work together. "We have booths at the Clintonville Bicentennial Arts Festval and help with the Clintonville Resource Center Pumpkin Patch,‖ she said. ―We also help organize CrestFest and the Clintonville Art Crawls.‖ This month, they had a booth at the EcoChic Craftacular with Etsy Team Columbus, and many of the Art Partiers are gearing up to have work in the RURobot show on June 7th at Clay Space/Gallery 831. Art Party Columbus currently meets monthly in a free space provided by the Clintonville Resource Center. I asked how they started that relationship. "We got event crazy in our second year. We wanted a resource to tap to benefit the community. Getting art into places you wouldn't see it, out of the galleries and into our lives, so we decided to hold a benefit for the CRC. We raised $1,000, Tona Pearson’s work and we‘ve had a great relationship with them ever since." for the RURobot show
Art Party Columbus gets to use the CRC once a month for free and in return they show up to help with events, unload groceries, and take donations of clothing, books, and whatever else is needed. "They are the kindest, greatest people I've ever met," Tona said of the CRC coordinators. Toward the end of our talk, Tona told me about a dream Art Party Columbus has had for some time. The collective has always wanted to have a physical space to put their name on. "We are paying hundreds of dollars to use other galleries when we could have our own and charge others to use it." They currently can pay up to $250 for a four hour gallery show and around $25 per piece to put art in other shows. Ultimately, they would like to have a gallery with space for workshops, studio, and retail. Last month, this dream became a reality. Several long-time members signed a lease on a 375 square foot gallery space at 400 West Rich Street, Columbus, Ohio, studio 228. All members will have access to this space for showing and benefit from collaboration with non-members and community activists. The administrative team members include Tona Pearson, Randy Pearson, Jim Parker, DeDe The gallery space with Art Party members Parker, W. Ralph Walters, Ketrina Lee Roberts, and (left to right) Tona Pearson, DeDe Parker, Dave Unger. Jim Parker, and Randy Pearson. Art Party Columbus has committed to enhancing the relationship between artist and community, and through this new space, the collective will have the potential to reach, encourage, and develop artistic talent as well as create a meaningful position for artists in a relevant social context. *** For more information on Art Party Columbus, check them out at www.artpartycolumbus.com or on Facebook.
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