Reviewed by Jason Oliver Chang
The tenth issue of Chain, TRANSLUCINACION, will attract new readers of this annual publication and strengthen the admiration of readers that ordinarily enjoy the magazine’s brilliance. Editors Jena Osman and Juliana Spahr, along with Thalia Field and Cecilia Vicuna, have rallied artists to grapple with an idea from Andres Ajens, “describ[ing] how translation is a form of reading and writing that creates new work, [and] new conversations.” This is the definition of TRANSLUCINACION, which, like the topic of the previous issue (Dialogue), is also about “cross-cultural encounters [that are] loaded with hope and yet always in danger of doing wrong.” The writers found here show an honest apprehension of translation yet are willing to challenge the limitations of such an apprehension which present exciting results. This exploration into the politics, power, and experience of moving texts through cultural, cognitive, and lingual filters not only brings this creative work into a space of critical imagining, but elevates the dialogue about what can happen with the act of translation. This issue is so rich, that every time I return to it something curious and exciting (re)emerges. This volume offers a trans-disciplinary perspective with many points of access for the unfamiliar reader and immense depth for the experienced.
There are ‘tests’ of poetry moving from Chinese to English to Portuguese to Finnish to Spanish and to French (Charles Bernstein, Haroldo de Campos, Leevi Lehto, Ersto Livon-Grosman, & Traduction Collective A Royaumont). Other tests put the translators of Chuang-Tzu through the Tao of contextual translations; through the noise of the shower, from a cell phone on the street or in a Check-Cashing Office (Allison Cobb & Jen Coleman).
Michael Cueva and Perry Mamaril “Invoke:Evoke” three ancient Philippine verbs, a noun and an adjective with pictures of their beautiful amulets symbolizing secret prayers that encourage the reader, ‘to remember, to endure, nationality (ethnicity), to endure (to be able to), strong.’
Others use the tools of translation as creative partners, like a ‘Teach Yourself Swahili’ text (Albert Flynn Desilver) and ViaVoice software for the Mac (Nada Gordon). The Canadian Erin Moure rewires herself when she translates the Chilean Ajens with an English modeled on Ajens’s sense of resistance to assimilation. Rainer Ganahl translates the cognitive process of learning Arabic into an impressive materiality; or in his words, ‘trying to show what cannot be shown and create some kind of informational congestion where there is really nothing to see ... [representing] the biased and “impossible” task of representing others.’ He also includes a short but dense reference list, which I really appreciated.
One-third through the issue you will find Monica de la Torre bouncing off of Paul Hoover’s poems of performed Spanish authorship. She beautifully (re)inscribes Hoover’s poems into Spanish in order to relinquish them to loose associations to lines from texts by Spanish language authors revealing a poem located within the Spanish language imaginary.
I was glad to find several entries from Hawai‘i including, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele Destroys the Mo‘o Pana‘ewa. I appreciated the use of “informal” Hawai‘i Creole English by Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui in her defiant translation of a traditional Hawaiian tale of female heroism, thus separating herself from Hawaiian language purists. (Ho‘omanawanui is an editor for Oiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal.) Her translation is accompanied by a painting from Matt Kaleiali‘i Ka‘opio depicting Hi‘iaka battling the evil Mo‘o, a depiction that, for me, represents Ho‘omanawanui facing the cultural stigmas of translating Hawaiian.
Jill Magi offers evidence of a “translation event” connecting her work with that of her Estonian father in excerpts from Threads. Majnun Songs, Sections 1-3 by Qays Ibn Al-Mulawwah, Alla Borzova, Denis Hoppe, Michail Kurganstev, and Ann E. Michael show us the translation of nomadic, oral-tradition, Arabic poems into English-language cantata using a Russian mediator. This work constitutes a re-translation that follows a historical geography that contextualizes the composition, “yet [strives] to maintain the tone and content of the Arabic original.” Similarly, Mahwash Shoaib translates a few sections of Kishwar Naheed’s Composition of a Scorched Heart with the aggravations of the “lack of radically embodied translations of her work.” The various drafts illustrate a kind of wandering through the translation experience in an attempt to end up at the beginning. This notion is echoed in Padcha Tuntha-Obas’s Translation in Six Steps: Thai to English. Conversely, Ammiel Alcalay writes of Shimon Ballas’s Outcast in which he reconstructs himself in the politics of translation into something new. With evolution in mind, Adam Degraff and Pamela Lu translate painting into poetry with Thomas Scheibitz’s Judith & Maria.
My two favorite entries are “Imigrayson / Immigration / L’immigration / Immgarasion” (Michel-Rolph Trouillot, A. Isadora Del Vecchio, Abdourahman Idrissa, Kiran Jayaram, and Karen Ohnesorge) and “Translation as Matricide (the Sequel!)” (Heriberto Yepez). I was enthralled with the manner in which the former demonstrated a critique of U.S. immigration policy’s attempt to categorize ‘outsiders’ in relation to ‘insider’ politics. The process of translating Trouillot’s poems was both engaging and rigorously conducted. The latter concludes TRANSLUCINACION with a poetic narrative of the historical coloniality of translation. The non-standard form Yepez uses reflects tonal afterthoughts of his critical narrative and locates the reader within a logic of translation that Chain #10 spends more than 200 pages refuting.