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We’re not really going to play a game, but I do want to talk about King’s College’s very cool project called “Translation Games“.

Translation Games is a research exhibit on the interactivity of the art of translation. Led by Ricarda Vidal (King’s College) and Jenny Chamarette (Queen Mary), this exhibit uses one piece of literary text as a catalyst for multiple translational interpretations. The opening was a July 31st and the exhibit has been open up until August 2.

Though the exhibit was in England, and I clearly couldn’t make it, I applaud those who participated, especially with the variety of ideas about translation that were showcased.

A bit of backstory, the Games exhibit had a literary text that was made available to the public; those who participated could interpret the piece as they saw fit. Within the fields of translation varied: translation via text, textile, video, or various forms of artwork were submitted. Like our version of Telephone (the brits call it “Chinese Whispers, oddly enough), each individual bases their interpretation on the one that precedes them.

For the “Translation Games”, two chains of Telephone were created: one in which the source text would be translated into various languages, one by one, and another chain in where textile designers and artists would base their work on the already translated text from the previous chain.

What I find most valuable about this project is it’s representation of translation. As I stated in an earlier post, translation today is moving gradually into the spotlight of theoretical and academic discussions. Its role in literature and particularly in the idea of multiculturalism is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Translation does not necessarily mean a transference of ideas from one language (or mode of communication) to another, but something more nuanced and varied. German theorist and literary critic Walter Benjamin (who also worked as a translator) believed translation should be more like a transparent sliding door; the work should have no hint of translation whatsoever and should in fact slide from one language to another without garnering attention from the reader. This idea takes the importance of literary scholarship quite literally… the work triumphs over language. Yet, today many translators and writers believe a translation should reflect not only the translators own thoughts and style, but also that of the culture and language it is being translated into.

“Translation Games” is taking that idea and running with it. A piece of work, whether literary or art, can only progress through translation (of course, only if the translators fully grasp and understand both the source and target cultures/languages).

My ideas are not yet fully formed… currently I am reading “In Translation: Translators on their work and what it means” by two of the most influential and present translators in the academic and literary world today, Susan Bernofsky (translates German) and Esther Allen (Spanish and French). This anthology on translation has essays from authors and translators who have devoted much of their careers to this field. It’s definitely worth a read!

Bravo to those at King’s College and Queen Mary’s for displaying a new focus on the art of translation!

I’ve been traveling all over the place these last few months and now that I’m getting settled I thought I’d revisit this lil’ ol’ blog of mine.

A quick update on where I’ve been so far: 

SPAIN >>> NYC >>> MIAMI >>> DENVER.

See? Quick. Now to the reason why I’m really here…

I’ve found some new sites floating around the Internet that I think are pretty good intros into world literature (one of my favorite topics of all time). I’m learning more and more about translation work and the world it’s created within the literary universe. It seems literary translation is gaining some well-deserved attention in publishing and book-selling circles. In particular, translators and authors are voicing their opinions about the importance of international publications, as well as the vital need for literary communication between cultures and languages all over.

Here’s a list of some blogs and online magazines dedicated to publishing today and in particular, translation. 

  • What I love about Words without Borders is their dedication to both international writers and translators. Periodically the site is updated with new poetry, essays and literary works from various places on the map, devoting space and time to writers who as of yet have had little to no voice in the American literary scene. Along with updating their site, WWB also publishes print editions that focus on the work of non-English speaking writers. Concerning the translators, the site places just as much attention on their ideas and interpretations as on the writers themselves.
  • Publishing Trendsetter interviews young people who have found a place within publishing, as well as authors and other contributors. I particularly like their top 5 lists. It’s a useful site for anyone interested in getting involved in publishing, or wanting to learn more about it.
  • Authors & Translators. This is such a fun website! The founder of the site, Cristina Vezzaro, is a translator herself who works with Italian authors. She created the blog to bring to light the very present relationship between authors and their translators. The site is full of interviews of authors from a multitude of language backgrounds who answer questions about working with translators and the necessity of the profession. Another great blogger listed her as a close friend and wrote a bit about the project here. The blog has grown organically, with translators and authors taking the reins and answering the question proposed by the site.
  • World Literature Today has insightful interviews and clever essays devoted to understanding the cultures and languages that make up world literature. It is a both online and published journal.
  • I like reading Publishing Perspectives; they are pretty devoted to finding the latest trends in publishing. Their articles range from e-publishing, translation, the state of bookstores and publishing companies, etc.
  • The Free Word Centre is located in London and devotes a large part of the site to promoting events across the pond, but it’s still great to find out how other non-American literary groups approach the various new difficulties in author and literacy promotion.

Check some of these out and let me know what you think!

This past week has been pretty hectic: I started looking for a new place and found one! So, I’ve been getting things ready to move… and I just started “Lost”. It’s pretty clear that I’ve had no time to write up a post.

I have, however, had time to read a few things online that I found to be really interesting! I’ll post them here.

  • So, this new book looks really cool! It compiles conversations between Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum and others on what else, but the Internet. Yay! Definitely want to get a hold of it soon.
  • Here’s a transcript of a talk Danah Boyd gave at the TechKnowledge conference. She touches on a few things that I find particularly interesting, like how youth groups use networking and ultimately change privacy norms to work for them.
  • Kartina Richardson’s great take on the film Django Unchained and the portrayal of slavery on film.
  • I don’t know about you, but I was always a fan of Gerard Depardieu.
  • Stop Calling It “Digital Humanities”
  • Black Mirror, I’m unsure if I should start this show instead of Lost…
  • Finally, Snoop Lion’s wordpress.

I’m always really excited to read any new essays on the discussion of technology and it’s implication/relationship with already “fully-formed” modes of expression. It seems that this particular controversy heavily divides people: technology can either be a bearer of progress or a strangler of creativity (though this certain viewpoint I always find pretty short-sighted). I’m aware that I’m treating technology as an outside force, anthropomorphizing it, but that’s only in order to quickly sum-up what I’ve seen as the two sides to this very multi-layered argument.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Sam Byers just completed a 4-part essay on the novel and it’s modern-day relationship to technology. He does an amazing job at dissecting the various protestations contemporary authors and journalists have against technology’s over-reaching grasp into all things human/ physical/ real. Byers at the end systematically flips all these protests and successfully discusses the potential of not only a successful use of technology within literature but also the creative force it can unlock within authors.
In Byer’s first part of his essay, he introduces Nathan Jurgenson’s idea of a Digital Dualism Fallacy. We, humans, always talk about “technology” or “the Internet” as if it were a force outside of ourselves (see above) and as an entity we do not entirely have the power to change or influence. When it was, indeed, created by humans to be used by us. If, the physical world we live in is the “real” world and the world we created via our Facebook accounts, Twitter and RSS feeds is solely created, manicured and delivered through “the Internet”, then yes, these two entities would be separate and distinctive. But this is simply not true. We bring nearly everything we do and perform online into our world offline. What we create: whether it be through our own identity-construction in our classrooms, live conversations, or human interactions and what we create digitally build the identity we construct within and for ourselves to present to the outside world.

I can only understand the argument that “literature is dead because of the rise of technology” only if our present situation as a society was that our physical world and our virtual world were indeed binaries, the two mutually exclusive,  and what is presented in our literatures was no longer relatable or applicable. But, as it is made abundantly clear in my “reality”, my technological identity and presence is just as much a part of my physical world as the very human interactions I take part in throughout my day. (Example: The teachers I work with spend most of their break-time going over the various indiscreet text messages sent in our What’sApp messaging group, “Did you watch that video??” “Can’t believe he sent that! How naugh-ty!”)

Byers goes on to tackle the “Internet makes us boring, mindless robots” concept wonderfully. Writer Toby Litt explains how his recent affair with WoW (World of Warcraft) left him truly believing that if he had WoW and the internet earlier in his life, he would’ve most likely never started writing. His writing grew out of a vital boredom. So, for Litt (and maybe other writers like him) boredom is an essential tool for creativity, and I can definitely see where he’s coming from. His idea of the internet, it’s utility and efficacy in our daily lives, again mirrors this perception that technology and humanity are separate. For Litt it is a preconfigured tool, one that serves the most vital purpose of entertainment, or more aptly, reality avoidance. He continues to say that no writer would ever want to write about our society today. Imagine a book consisting solely of people checking their emails, playing online games, scrolling aimlessly through Facebook. Indeed, boring, but I don’t know if that says more about the author than our society at large. Byers proves Litt’s observations false with a powerful digression of a story, detailing a frankly suspenseful and all-too real scenario of a young woman battling inner demons while impatiently waiting for a text from her love interest. It’s not necessarily the story that wins the audience, but the way it’s told.
The issue, ultimately, is that authors/novelists are simply unsure and afraid of how to continue their craft in such a “suddenly evolving atmosphere” (Because all this technology is just too fast!). No matter how much Jonathan Franzen whines and complains, at the end of the day he’ll still have to prove his literary creative prowess to us, society, regardless of our physical or virtual composition. A particularly valid point Byers makes (which I loved!) is that if the internet’s intentions are only to open lines of communication and knowledge sharing, then the very physical role of writer/critique/creator is absolutely tested and refigured. The Internet gives freedom, a voice and an audience to anyone willing to participate. A writer doesn’t necessarily need a publisher, or a team of publicists (or even a printer, for that matter) to speak out. Therein lies this fear propagated by so many writers: If people can just flock to the Internet to find their latest source on news, culture, literature, what’s going to make them keep listening to us? Furthermore, who’s going to tell them what’s good and what’s not? Culture and society won’t be muddled up by fakes and phonies; neither will mass culture (what is “good” culture?) be incomprehensible from muck and “bad” culture, but it will be more difficult to leave an impression or hold on to authority for a little bit longer. So, Jonathan Franzen, think you can handle that?

I talk about it often and though it’s in my past, I still learn many things from this one experience. My senior year of college was devoted to completing a thesis for my degree in German Literature. I knew it was a huge part of my college career; the school I went to drilled this fear and love of the thesis in all students, practically from the first day. So, yeah, I had plenty of years to deal with the impending final test that is the senior thesis, but I really never thought of the lasting effects this overglorified paper would have after I left college.

Nearly two years out and I still watch interviews of Herta Müller (the writer whose depressingly lyrical prose made up most my life that year) and read new articles on her writing. She’ll always be a part of me, I get it, and sometimes I think maybe I keep going back to this because it was one of the best things I did in college. What I mean by ‘best’ is of course, one of the assignments I spent most of my time on; it was something I actually cared about.

And so, when I started reading a new piece in The New Inquiry (I swear I read other magazines… TNI bloggers are just so great!) last week on a French literary movement from the 1960s I was immediately intrigued to learn more. I’m a pretty trusting person so my first stop is Wikipedia… then maybe Google Scholar before I do a quick email and facebook check (Dear GOD adult-ADD is real) and as I skimmed through the information I noticed that one of the more famous members of this group was a German-Romanian poet whose work helped me in many ways with some of the more technical analysis for my thesis. Without getting too deep into it, Oskar Pastior’s deconstructivist poetry deeply influenced Müller in her own exploration of dissociative vocabulary and style. Pastior and Müller were to work together on her 2009 novel Atemschaukel; unfortunately Pastior passed away in the beginning stages of research.

Having read Pastior’s work, it is easy to see his place within this group. One of Pastior’s techniques dealt with semantics. Using words twice-removed from their objects, he’d create open-ended mazes that allowed for the profundity of his work to resonate among his audience. This French literary group worked also wished to explore and experiment with certain technicalities in literature: from style of writing, to basic linguistic structure. The members of the Oulipo movement (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop of potential literature), from what I’ve gathered wrote to provoke and change the representation of reality in literature. Constrained by the history of literary writing, these writers deconstructed and rearranged every aspect of their work to create a new reality in which their writing could be sustained.

The one thing I find most interesting of the Oulipo movement is precisely this idea that one can control style in order to bend, strain, and break the rules of writing. Yuka Igarashi writes on the republication of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style in “Exorcisms in Style”: “Though it’s tempting to see Exercises in Style as a showcase, a dazzling display of the many ways to tell a story, the truth is that most of these exercises don’t make very good versions of the story at all. Either they’re plain incomprehensible or they’re forced and awkward.” Precisely through this breakdown of the story and subsequent tinkering and restructuring Queneau creates completely new stories, and yet – we know that it’s all the same story. Style very much dictates what can and cannot be used in a story, and yet with these various stories in Exercises in Style, Queneau just as easily proves that the content itself can find its way through any form of style and inevitably leave an impression.
Igarashi agrees.

…the book’s ad nauseam variations mount a challenge to the primacy of style and the preciousness of language. The crucial word in the title is not “style” but “exercise,” with its connotations of both the physical and educational drill. It suggests that you can throw on and throw off a multitude of styles, or that you might cycle through a host of them to give the writing a workout. For Queneau, language is meant to be pushed around and played with, stretched and bent and chopped and tested.

The story cannot survive in an alien style. Though it’s valuable for a writer to experiment and practice new writing styles, it’s equally as important for the writer to understand the content of her writing and be exclusive to what works. Queneau’s Exercises in Style explains the essence of the Oulipo movement, an attempt to reconfigure the ideals of the literary tradition. There is nothing wrong in these exercises in style, on the contrary, his work brings to light the importance of experimentation.

 

**This review has SPOILERS. 🙂

Michael Haneke’s film “Amour” has been gaining much attention since it’s release, more through it’s facility for interpretation than it’s incredible beauty. Though the story is simple Haneke’s direction of the film simultaneously brings the audience into the story while reinforcing the position (both physical and metaphorical) of the audience/viewer quite clear. Moments of connection and understanding sprinkle the film and yet, certain actions remind the viewer of their definite place outside of the story.

The film follows the lives of a decades-long married couple, Georges and Anne. The story starts at the end, with the death and conclusion of both Anne’s life and the life of the couple. In Malcolm Harris’ review on “Amour”, he delves into the idea of love and the representation of that specific love – as an emotion and as a function for society – to which humans connect. In the film, Georges nurses Anne through the last moment of life, that slow process of dying and ending. Georges, along with the audience, is present for those first signs of deterioration, when Anne’s mental faculties lapse and leave her temporarily disconnected from their reality. From the beginning he is cooperative to her care and, finally, when she is void of voice and movement, places a pillow over her head and holds it firmly down until he ends her life. What happens later can only be seen as the subsequent downfall of Georges himself. As if a couple’s is created and sustained with the binding of two individuals; if you remove one of those individuals, break the bond, the other can no longer continue in the role of ‘couple’. As Harris writes in his review, “If love has the power to legally and semantically meld two people into one, then dying leaves a monstrous remnant.” It is clear that Anne and Georges have been together, emotionally and legally, as a couple for many years. While watching the film the viewer can feel their connection, which stems from not only the kind of love we all hope to find but also from the simple fact of having spent decades side-by-side. The ultimate testament to this love comes with Anne’s illness and at this point it is clear that nothing the couple has encountered in the years of being together can prepare them for this final sacrifice of individual freedome to the couple.

When the audience is introduced to Anne, she is lying dead on her bed, in her best outfit, with flowers delicately placed around her head and in her hands. Seconds earlier, a group of police officers break down the door of the couple’s apartment and go in search of what we can only assume is the body. It’s a different kind of crime scene, one that only offers the end of a story instead of the reason for it. Because Anne is placed so formally in her bed and because of her age, the idea of foul play, of something going against nature is not the leading thought, but rather that this was suppose to happen, a natural conclusion to what we as of yet do not know.

The next scene shows people seating themselves in a theater. As the viewer focuses on the people presented to them, it is not immediately obvious for whom the focus is attached. There are young people, some couples, older individuals and their families and somewhere in this group are Georges and Anne. The musical performance begins and for a few seconds the viewer is left alone in the empty theater watching another audience as they settle in their seats and begin to watch a performance. The feeling is absolutely chilling. Seconds after the audience on the screen quiets down, both the screen-audience and the real-audience sit in silence, watching each other. Not only does this scene recreate the role of the viewer on screen, it also brings that role to the forefront, making it all too aware to the real-audience. As the seconds pass, an uneasiness falls over the audience, we are staring into the eyes of screen-audience, watching them become the voyeurs that we already are. This connection through sight is a false one. Though we are ultra-aware of what is happening to this audience (because we ourselves are living it) we are also confronted with the very real situation of watching a screen. Those on the screen, this alternate reality, cannot connect with us. The daughter of Anne and Georges, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, visits her parents throughout the film, at first depending on her father’s assessment of her mother, then quickly realizing the separation between her reality and that of her parent’s, she becomes anxious and frustrated with the path her parents are heading, one of seclusion and ending. In an interview with Salon Magazine, Huppert states “ …there is this unbearable feeling that her own parents are in an unreachable place, a world apart from hers, and they cannot communicate; they are at the end of their lives and she is still in life.”  We are at once a part of their world and far from it. The struggle in identification permeates throughout the film with George’s subsequent reactions and decisions when it comes to his wife, Anne.

After Anne’s first stroke, which leaves her immobile on one side, she tells Georges to never take her to a hospital again. Georges, who is no more his own self that he is a part of this union, grudgingly accepts Anne’s decision and attempts to care for her at home. As she worsens: losing mobility, becoming frustrated and depressed at her own inability, and finally, losing her voice, the audience is made even more aware of the circumstances Georges is in. The burden of being a couple into old age is so simply captured; Haneke adds to the feeling of discomfort and sadness he first created with the audience. The viewer is shown what comes of the kind of love and devotion society idealizes through stories and law. Harris writes “…The love-is-death story is so common we could do nothing but list sentence-long summaries of examples for weeks. In its lasting depictions, love is a way to die more often than a way to live. In Amour, Georges leaves home for the last time following a vision of Anne (Into dementia? Into death?), and it’s hard to imagine he has much time left in front of him. True love, we’ve learned, is a death sentence.” Georges is connected to Anne not only through an emotional love or a familial love (the love a father could have for the mother of his children), but by a love that goes beyond; it is a love that does away with the individual and instead feeds on the sustaining of the couple as one. Georges must and will do what Anne says because what is left for either of them?

Before the end, in the last moments depicting a bedridden Anne, Georges’ life is dictating by Anne’s bodily functions. No longer the owner of her own self, Georges becomes Anne’s motor skills. The body of Anne remains and Georges is only allowed precious moments with the fleeting soul of his true love. But to continue that relationship, Georges must sacrifice everything to that body; he must continue the facade of ‘couple’. Though the soul and the mind is rapidly dying, the very tangible body of Anne is a reminder to Georges that his duty is to remain with the body, to respect the bond of couple.

Georges’ final conversation with Anne comes at the end of her life; he sits down with her and recounts a story from his childhood. As he finishes, he quietly looks at her and slowly grabs a pillow and ends her life. Anne fights back for a few moments and dies. The last scenes of the film are of Georges in a surreal state, ending with him leaving the apartment with a vision of Anne of before: full of life, active and still a part of his world.

Why is it that Georges kills Anne in this way? Earlier in the film she asks to be euthanized; she talks about how her life has already ended and that she no longer wants to live. Though Georges actions are murderous. By placing a pillow over Anne’s face and constricting her ability to breath, Georges encapsulates the horror placed upon any one individual who finds themselves in the situation of caretaker of a loved one. No longer a couple, where decisions are decided, carried out and faced together, Georges must accept Anne’s decision and be the sole bearer of it’s action. It’s a hideous act; it’s an act in which two people are a part of it but only one comes out, fully burdened by the decision. Haneke makes this brutal because it is brutal; as Harris writes in his review “…Coupling gives narratives the appearance of a clean finality, the establishment of a bipartite they that allows for happily ever after. People hope to end up together and grow old. But the end in end up together usually refers to just an intermediate stage. Love is everlasting, but bodies are not. How do Prince Charming and the Princess die?” Haneke depicts what exactly happens after the fairytale ends, after the book is put down and the big bad wolf has been vanquished. It seems that all we’re destined to be left with is a photo album full of beautiful memories and a sad realization that in the end the idea of “couple” is too sad for just one person to bear.

I read an article a few days ago about “e-literature”; what caught me about this phrase was its specificity. While some people are condemning the current state of bookselling and publishing (you know, because the kindle and the iPad are destroying the literary world as we know it), this article looked at the future of literature from the view of a digital humanist, which to me is very exciting. This new “e-literature”, according to the author, is reinventing the standards of fiction so as to open new avenues of interpretation. Through this literature, authors can not only represent their work in multiple formats, literally bringing readers outside of the book and forcing them to look at the work differently, but also create a fluidity between the real world of the Internet and the world of literature.

The digital humanities is a popular field right now in academia. There’s a growing interest and definitely a growing demand from some of the top schools for individuals who can tackle the issue of the humanities and where it stands in our tech-driven society. Digital humanists create new avenues of investigation and creation by incorporating and using the new technologies of today. The responsibility of digital humanists is quite profound. To find a place for the humanities in this evolving, electronic society means a restructuring of not only the presentation of the humanities but also a new analysis of it. Right now, the humanities are in need of that new outlet, a new form of expression that will invigorate the field and bring back some much needed attention to these departments. But there is still much hesitation and doubt of this potentially positive relationship: to change the structure of analysis and investigation, digital humanists would need to prove the necessity and advantages of this new form.

Though, as a former coworker of mine once said, ‘Academia is always pretty behind when it comes to technology’, the Internet is proving, once again, to be the ultimate channel for this new creative form of fiction.

As is stated in the article, It isn’t enough to call ebooks a new form of literature. In it’s basic structure, ebooks have the same general narrative form as the novels of the past 500 years. The linearity of the novel has remained intact, albeit for a few exceptions in which text space and representation have been manipulated. E-literature creates a completely new world for literature and its representation of the real world. Amy Marcott’s piece “Flying the Coop” was written in the form of a forum discussion. Save the blank page it finds itself on, the text uses screennames, time stamps, text response space. The conversation among the characters centers around the people affected by loved ones with Alzheimer’ Disease (AD). Markott does a great job at focusing on the dynamics within a forum, and how personalities can be conveyed in such a limited setting as the Internet. Sure, online people can create completely new identities, new representations of themselves or hide behind anonymity, but even these actions shine light on distinct personality traits: of who we are as individuals and who we become when given an opportunity for expression in a free landscape.

What strikes me as most interesting about this emergent literature is its true capability in mirroring real life. Whereas with a novel, you buy a book, you sit down, you open the book and begin reading, with e-literature you can so easily stumble upon the website, jump out of a non-fiction piece (like an article) and into a new work of fiction. That vital part of the experience of reading is gone. E-literature does not demand any different form of attention from its readers; its an adaptation of literature. Now whether this new evolutionary trait is one that will win out in the end, is highly doubtful. But it is nonetheless an exciting new approach to fiction. By incorporating it into an online format, it brings the literary world one step closer to the reality of everyday life.
There are some issues with an altogether too realistic form of literature. What if Marcott’s piece was designed to look like a forum, with a clear banner at the top, sections colored in various tones of green to provide distinction. What if someone truly did stumble upon this site and began reading the piece not as literature but as a forum for individuals with loved ones with AD? The idea of literature becoming indistinguishable is much easier to believe when its format can be so easily manipulated. The possibilities for e-literature are truly incredible: it can bring fiction from a once isolated instance of thought distributed to readers to an ever evolving, interactive piece of the human experience.