Translations emit. They pull us in and push at us at once. Emit, that curious word: it’s time spelt backward. Translation makes time go backward.
Translation’s process … helps me see better what a reader adds and how the reader enacts that “third space” between original, translation, and the reader’s body.
—from Erin Moure’s “Emit” in Planetary Noise
I am always soothed by Johannes G?ransson’s posts (anywhere at all, informal, formal, in full-essay-form, in fragments) about translation, expertise, aesthetics, excess(iveness)—in part because my own knowledge (expertise/level of sophistication) grows both slowly and strangely; the gaps and lacks afford me a kind of na?ve pleasure and at other times severely limit my brain-tongue’s movement through an articulation of the thing I have experienced. I usually resort to a kind of washing-over reading: reading as hedonism, as relaxation, as tinkering, as writing, as—and this is a notion I’m still developing but to which I’m absolutely devoted—as conflation.
I seek to implement an occult practice comparable, perhaps, to the theory put forth in Laura Ellen Joyce’s Luminol Theory. “Luminal theory is a textual reading strategy that mimics the excavatory, illuminating function of luminol [the chemical used at crime scenes to detect where blood has been made temporarily invisible through clean-up] analysis. Like luminol, the theory operates by illuminating in flashes.” Perhaps I read like I’m flashing a torch in a cave, revealing secret histories and violence?
G?ransson and Joyelle McSweeney and Sophie Collins and Action Books and Asymptote and Two Lines Press (and others I’m missing here, certainly and accidentally) have made me aware of the urgent, perhaps moral need to stop erasing the translator.
Things we should be afraid of: anything that presents itself as “pure” / as a clean transmission, anything that attempts to make invisible a medium through which it moves. G?ransson writes, “I would like to think of translation as a wound through which media enters into a textual body.” And McSweeney: “[Contemporary discussions of translation call for] a well trained servant’s invisibility, ‘transparentness,’ tastefulness, a knowing what is required.” Aditi Machado writes, in her “Translator’s Afterword” to Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia (Action Books, 2016):
I am curious about translators who report feelings of egolessness when they translate. Because I have an ego. It is always interfering … Maybe it is one facet of my translatorly practice to find metaphors for translation in texts that purportedly have nothing to do with translation. Maybe it is essential that a part of my mind hover above the exercise of translation, commenting on that exercise, finding its critical lexicon in the text itself. I think I cherish that space where the source text gets mixed up with my own thinking.
I do that, too—as a mere reader. I absolutely cherish the sexy muck, the swampy space, wherein the text and I are mingled in self-ness. I am not even sure I would know how to separate.
Ann J?derlund’s Which once had been a meadow (Black Square Editions, 2017), translated by G?ransson, is poetry as invitation: to gaze at settings rendered miniature by the act of writing them, to move through arterial space (the literal and metaphoric human “heart” and leaves/pages), to see the meanwhile/previously/usually hidden (to unseal the hermetic/to use luminol to see traces of blood, maybe), to don a “you”-costume and play at “you” on a stage/in a meadow, to look under a scab and find “you” in a mirror, to trace a finger’s path across skin/page. It is poetry as longing. It’s a Julee Cruise song. It’s interiority and sadness and delight and threat. Stages. Vision as palimpsest. Palimpsest as longing. Playing.
I know, though, as I now write out the things that occurred to me while reading, that I am misrepresenting the text. And not.
This text is particularly plastic; I mean: it’s so very available for mingling with/into one’s self-muck. Is this G?ransson’s style or J?derlund’s or both? I suspect both. And it is mine, too.
The veil does not conceal me now
The monologue does not conceal me
One should close the gates
The material does not conceal it
A cutting contrast
The cloud cannot conceal me
It does not glide away
There is slumber
There are shadows in the kingdom
You cannot conceal me
This is poetry as the terrorizing thrill of exposure in play! Until this book forced me into thinking it, it had not occurred to me that one of the central themes of my experience of the world is to have my alone-ness interrupted, a force at once exhilarating and violently dominating, rupturing my play/stage/diorama.
Have I been happy in a garden
The grass is raked
And everywhere thousandbeauties lift up
Their small pink faces
Since I am not alone here
In J?derlund I feel I am not reading. Or: I am “reading” a kind of self. Oh! all these feelings: of zeal for the project of this book, of kinship, of intellectual delight, of wondering. I am not quite sharp enough to say it all clean. But I have so much to say and feel. Not only is one of the book’s overt themes “self and solitude and exposure and hiding,” but it actually happens as you read. You feel it happening.
This feel-it-happening effect is startling, uncanny, Surrealist. It’s achieved by setting and a sense of simultaneity/meanwhile-ness. “It is the same with me as it is with the garden.” “Now I have forgotten you forever/ Now I remember you.” This “meanwhile” effect (see the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks; see Deleuze’s “all the meanwhiles;” see the derivative and too-easy but kind of charming German show Dark’s portrayal of time-travel as a comment on the plasticity of television-soap-opera-memory) might be understood through J?derlund’s examination of miniatures—all things at once, inside/outside, the impossible precious delight of it all:
It is toward the heart you will go
And up in the throat
Everything here on this earth is so strange to me
All the splendor from the inaccessible
Whaaaat? I love it so much. There are all these overlapping leaves and hearts and fingers & there is seemingly unrequited love (maybe!—who the fuck cares when it can all be settings and gestures, anyway?) & this sense of a speaker/a reader/a viewer emerging sometimes from a diorama/stage/tableau (no, wait: never a tableau unless it is one already ruptured; the poetry is too concerned with simultaneity to allow for the delicate stasis of tableau) & stuff about the inherent sadness of the miniature & the longing generated by gazing at the miniature (oh how awfully and eternally I feel this)…
Upon hearing some of my reaction to the J?derlund text, G?ransson recommended Susan Stewart’s On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. It turns out that this book, like Which once, speaks to the intersection of meanwhile-ness, longing, and miniatures that can be seen butter-ishly (by which I think I mean richly and like a smear) in Stewart. “The location of desire,” she writes, “or more particularly, the direction of force in the desiring narrative, is always a future-past.” And also:
A house within a house, the dollhouse not only presents the house’s articulation of the tensions between the inner and outer spheres, of exteriority and interiority—it also represents the tension between two modes of interiority. Occupying a space within an enclosed space, the dollhouse’s aptest analogy is the locket or the secret recesses of the heart: center within center, within within within.
J?derlund makes these same wondrous turns of gaze, these flips in scale and perspective. She is dealing in miniatures, in scenes, in textual rendering as an auto-miniature, but she’s always undercutting that, too. Everything can happen simultaneously & so all scales are happening at once—and are threatening the stability of other scales. Often, it feels like that which might be read as unrequited love (mostly, I’d say, as a gesture of trope that serves to fuel a girlish-ballad/diary entry-tone—I probably need not mention that such a move is inherently feminist, as in Maggie Nelson’s considerations of Sei Shonagon, collections, and sadness in Bluets) is often flipping into an anxiety of an iteration of the self (untrue to the self’s “within within within”) that might show up in someone else’s miniatures-scene (what I also feel is abstractly articulated as a kind of snowglobe, which I identify with girlish longing).
Every time I look at a moon
I feel how his muscle moves
In my inner
It is the moon in the inner
It is the same moon Corona
Above your street
There was a street
Will I always move inside your house?
Every evening I see how I walk
Beneath a window:
Who wants my cutout heart
Can you hear how it rattles
Can you hear the metals, what cold
I search only for you
It is likely obvious, reader, that this is never overtly communicated in the text, this heartbreak-y phobia about how one’s self/image/iteration might appear/gestate in another’s diorama/scene/(doll)house.
But I feel it so deeply.
This discomfiting concern about representation might appear anywhere on the timeline, of course (scales threaten other scales). The way it feels to have your parent see in front of them some distant version of yourself, someone you’ve long ago swallowed. The way it is to be worried over your sex in someone else’s after-narrative. To feel that someone is snickering as you leave the room. To feel that you’ve been misquoted, misunderstood, mis-remembered, mis-dolled. To know that no one can ever get the doll right.
“Will I always move inside your house?” What flash of readerly chemical interactions might reveal the violent palimpsest that renders that representation (of “you”) that someone else manhandles and pushes around their little scene?
When I started taking notes for this review, I had just (and finally) watched Get Out. (I had also recently listened to colleague Ryan Poll’s paper on the film, and so I owe my thinking here to what he said.) The “sunken place” miniaturizes/dolls the victim of the hypnosis—and here there is the larger horror of explicitly racist control—and on the outside-inside of the pseudo-plantation, the victim becomes merely a representation and a toxic-nostalgic laborer, while on the “inside” he is made into a tiny doll in a darkened self-display (alone-ness itself forever ruptured by this violence). I thought as well of Jay Besemer’s Crybaby City; but in the considerations of the miniature, here, there is security in the controllable realm of one’s own aesthetic and domestic pleasures/one’s own domain: “I hold my/ painted/ armies/ and towns/ and/ own the/ king.” At home, one has a “face in a teacup/ living within language/ across mirrored guess.” (I’m cheeky enough to note, too, that Besemer’s last poem is called “Out In The Meadow With Strangers”—more meadows as stages!) I thought of T. S. Eliot (J?derlund/G?ransson writes: “I am the border/ The girl’s hyacinth/ And who is rocked by God a boy/ I am the Girl God a Boy”). I thought of Georg Trakl:
Today you died as if yesterday
I saw it in the box
The little chestnut child had shriveled
Or was it brown
Was it green did it hurt
It was the soul’s curious mine
Did the blood run up it never came back
And I thought of the feeling I get inside of Barbara Comyn’s and Margaret Drabble’s novels, and even one of Iris Murdoch’s. I felt like listening to Mazzy Starr. I sometimes thought of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites and British Psychedelia:
??????????? Why do you crimp my hair
Every memory is a pearl
Then the pearls disappear
There was a street
The girl’s boneframe did not want
To have anything to do with the knight
One merely adds a little red
To the tender greenery
Why do you crimp my hair
Chamomile does not need light women’s hair
Now it is brown
I remembered Porochista Khakpour’s Bookforum review of Leonora Carrington’s work, in which she quotes Carrington: “I warn you, I refuse to be an object.” I thought of Dolores Dorantes’ (and Jen Hofer’s) notion of “style” in Estilo/Style.
Can there be a way of understanding literature as a constellation of interior and exterior gestures? “Maybe it is one facet of my translatorly practice to find metaphors for translation in texts that purportedly have nothing to do with translation,” and maybe it is one facet of my readerly practice to find in everything I read all the other things I read, as a way of miniaturizing my practice. Did you ever want desperately to be able to climb, with magical facility, into your dollhouse? Mirror: what is more a little representation of self than a scab?
Can there be a way of reading as pleasure-based rupture of alone-ness? An inflecting of the setting in which a thing is read? “All the splendor from the inaccessible”? A way of reading that sees as authoritative the mingling of the text with breath and body? Layli Long Soldier writes, “I perform best to the music in-between the rise and fall of the voice.” A way of play that is simply tinkering with the hermetic?
In Amina Cain’s CREATURE, a narrator says, “My memory is bad, and I’m also ashamed of what I think about literature—I can only open up to a few people in this way.” How I felt this moment so badly when I read it in my apartment last summer, in the glorious never-ending afternoon. I am embarrassed that I read in the same way I write and write, read: scattershot, longingly in such a manner that seems like lazily, looking around at my favorite tablecloth, my watch, maybe at the window—feeling a bit smug in my pleasures. What about a way of reading that is this loose? “There is a meadow in the meadow’s beautiful flesh.”
Image: detail from the cover of?Ann J?derlund’s?Which once had been a meadow
Olivia Cronk is the author of Louise and Louise and Louise (The Lettered Streets Press, 2016) and Skin Horse (Action Books, 2012), and, with Philip Sorenson, edits The Journal Petra.