Sea change: displaced bodies and disembodied voices

We have produced a short animation on the theme and experience of otherness for the OthernessProject (Representations of the Other: Language, Body and Space in Cross-cultural Performances).

Thinking and imagining otherness as metamorphosis, we took as point of reference for the video Ariel’s song in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Water becomes both death-bringer and transformance.  Here the voice, disembodied from the text, speaks from the possible perspective of the (alleged) drowning man, who becomes other, while sounds, music, and ideas of change are explored  at different levels. You can see our animation and the other projects here. (Scroll down to Otherness Stories for the video clip titled ‘Sea Change Movie’).

Manuela & Eugenia

Translating Tarchetti

We continue with our theme of avant-garde and our focus on Italian writer and poet Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. As previously discussed, Tarchetti was an exponent of the Scapigliatura movement, which developed in the North of Italy at the end of the nineteenth century, in particular among the cultural and literary circles of a sprawling, increasingly wealthy Milan. While despising the provincialism of some aspects of the Italian literature of the time, and polemicising the ways and values of the bourgeoisie, the scapigliati led bohème lives and sought to explore in their writings and artwork an alternative reality. Tarchetti, together with Cletto Arrighi, Arturo Graf, Giuseppe Rovani and Emilio Praga, among others, became influenced by the German Romantics, by the French symbolists, and by foreign gothic fiction. In this sense they proposed a fresh outlook to the domestic literature and culture. Their work, and in particular Tarchetti’s novels and poems, are concerned with death, illness (physical and psychological), deformities, pathologies, and the bizarre. The aspect of the ‘fantastic’ in Tarchetti’s works, as well his relationship through translation to the foreign gothic, have been extensively discussed by Lawrence Venuti, who sees Tarchetti’s own translation and adaptation practice as foregnising and dissident (2008, pp.125ff).

IMG_3123The next poem by Tarchetti which has been translated for this blog is number VII, also taken from his Disjecta collection.  The poem, picturing the poet and a female companion sitting on the bank of a river, ‘alone’ physically and mentally, contemplating  fate and death, is full of ambiguity and despair, as they seem to be attracted at once to the flowing, free waters of the river, and yet grieving for what lies beyond.

The translation is in the form of a filmic poem. In a previous post ‘Notes on the art of text making‘ I have discussed how filmic or cinematic poetry  (or indeed poetry-film) experiments with different media to express different textual layers and narratives. Filmic poetry – both as a literary genre and an art-form – has been pioneered by the modern American and European avant-garde, who sought to create a new genre, where the verbal and the visual text together would produce meaning in a poetic form, in the sense of creating metaphors, associations, new connotations (see Wees 1984).

The use of the moving image is also apt in the translation of avant-garde texts (and in the avant-garde mode of translation of texts) as movements such as Surrealism were experimenting with the then new and exciting medium of film making, playing with, and subverting it.

You can read more about the translation of Disjecta VII, and view the translation, in our page Translations and other writings.


Venuti, Lawrence (2008) The Translator’s Invisibility, A History of Translation. Routledge

Wees, William (1984) “The Poetry Film” in Wees, William & Dorland, Michael (eds) Words and Moving Images, Mediatexte Publications.

Translating the Italian ‘Scapigliatura’ and Iginio Ugo Tarchetti


After a long break we are back to offer you some translations on the theme of surrealism and avant-garde.

The Italian writer we are working on at the moment is Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. He was born in San Salvatore Monferrato, in Piemonte, in 1839 and later lived in Milan where he joined the ‘Scapigliatura’, an artistic movement equivalent to the French bohème. Literally, ‘scapigliati’ means ‘dishevelled’, ‘unkempt’, and its members shared a spirit of rebellion against traditional values and the artistic and literary canon of the time. Tarchetti published short stories, novels and poems. He was called the Italian Edgard Allan Poe as the atmosphere of his Fantastic Tales echoes the gothic obsession with the morbid.

Tarchetti was born too early (and indeed died too early at the age of 29) to be part of any twentieth-century avant-garde movement. However, his rebellious spirit and his sense of the ‘fantastic’ flows into a series of images which are originally surreal and therefore his writing well lends itself to experimental translation.

We have decided to translate a couple of his poems from a collection called ‘Disjecta’. The first poem we present is number VIII. To read and view the translations go to Translation and Other Writings.

As always we look forward to having your comments.

Guest Post: Translation and Avant-garde: Beyond National Literatures

By Clive Scott

For me, the notion of avant-garde in relation to literary translation means three things. First, it means that a translation must always be ahead of its original, not merely in the sense of updating it, but in the sense of projecting it deep into possible futures, imagining its formal and expressive potentialities. Second, in order to make that projection, translation must draw on all those graphic, typographic, dispositional, multi-medial innovations that avant-gardes have made available as expressive resources over the last century and more, and which ‘standard’ literature tends to eschew. Third, and consequently, translation must seek to be avant-garde in relation to national literatures. In other words, translation must not be afraid to create a literature of its own, a literature which challenges national literatures to look outwards, beyond their own linguistic frontiers, and to adopt those universal languages already referred to, I mean the languages of image, of lay-out, of typeface and font, of graphism, of acoustics. By way of indicating what I mean, I attach two translations, one a modern musical account of Goethe’s ‘Über allen Gipfeln’ (written 1780) (Fig. 1) and the other a photo-poem, that is, a photographic transcription of lines 71-76 of Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ (1913) [Now you’re walking in Paris among the milling crowds/Herds of lowing omnibus drive by close to you/Love’s pains contract around your throat/As if you were bound never to be loved again/If these were days gone by you’d join the brotherhood of monks/Shame takes a grip when you catch yourself in prayer] (Fig. 2). This photo-poem is designed not only to suggest the content of the lines, but also their original French rhythms.

(To view the translations click here)

© (Clive Scott) 2014

Guest post: Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov – the First Chairmain of the World – and a translation challenge for you!

Are futurist poets notoriously untranslatable?

Russian translator Veronika Bowker has shared with us the translations of two poems by futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov, which you can read in the Translations & other writing page.

This is the way she introduces Khlebnikov:

“In their early pamphlet ‘Slap in the Face of Public Opinion’ Russian futurists called themselves chairmen of the world. They unanimously considered Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov (1885-1922) to be the first among them. This was a person who not only created art of and for the future but lived the life of a futurist. Khlebnikov came to literature through natural sciences and painting. Throughout his short life he was formulating universal laws of history which would demonstrate the futility of all wars. Osip Mandelstam called him a ‘citizen of all history’ (‘гражданин всей истории’).  He was also creating a language which would transcend surface meanings and enable all people on the planet to understand each other. He called it ‘заумь’ [zaum’ – za/beyond + um/ intelligence] – a supraconscious language.

In view of the above Khlebnikov is notoriously difficult to translate and often is considered untranslatable. Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English (2000) edited by Olive Classe doesn’t even mention his name (though it doesn’t mention Mayakovsky either). Probably the best Khlebnikov in English can be found in R. Chandler’s translation in his forthcoming Anthology of Russian Poetry for Penguin.

Comparison with more well known futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky may give the translator an idea of the formal features of Khlebnikov’s writing. Initially Khlebnikov learnt a lot from Mayakovsky’s verse form, later Mayakovsky was influenced by the way Khlebnikov appropriated it. His language of ‘zaum’ developed into a complex and diverse phenomemnon rooted, on the one hand, in linguistic and literary sense (combination of folklore and neologisms), and in historical and ideological perception of the world (reconstructing future), on the other. Whilst Mayakovsky dealing with epic themes remains a deeply lyrical poet, Khlebnikov is epic even in a very short poem. Zaum is always a constituent part of any of his texts, it defines the context of a poem and places it in the universal context of  the whole human reading experience.”

Veronika Bowker


A translation challenge for you, our reader!

Back to our initial question ‘are futurist poets notoriously untranslatable?’ We invite you to take up the challenge to translate the following poem by Khlebnikov. You don’t need to know Russian to do it. Veronika Bowker has provided a word-for-word translation and a transliteration. We encourage you to be as creative as possible and defy the untranslatability belief. Finally, we would be delighted to receive your translations and post them on our blog. Please email your translation(s) as attachments to 


Khlebnikov, 1913

О достоевскиймо бегущей тучи!

О пушкиноты млеющего полдня!

Ночь смотрится, как Тютчев,

Замерное безмерным полня.


Word-for-word translation

Oh, dostoyevskijmo (Dostoyevsky + pismo/writing) of running cloud!

Oh, pushkinoty (Pushkin + krasoty/beauty) of melting midday!

Night looks (at itself) like Tyutchev*,

Filling immeasurable (beyond measure) with immense (unmeasured).

© (Veronika Bowker) 2014

Transliteration  (stressed vowels are unerlined)

O dostoyevskijmo begushej tuchi!

O pushkinoty mleyushevo poldnya!

Noch smotritsa kak Tyutchiv*,

Zamernoje bezmernym polnya.


*(Fyodor Tyutchev (Федор Тютчев) (1803-1873) – Russian poet, worked as a diplomat in Germany and Italy.

Veronika Bowker says more about this poem:

“The first two lines demonstrate Khlebnikov’s typical method of creating neologisms which he explained through the method of pointilist painting when ‘two pure colours applied next to each other from the distance create a shimmering sense of a third one’.

This is a portrait of Russian literature represented by the names of its most important figures against the landscape of a fleeting change of early morning, midday and twilight/ night in the space of one day. Literary figures and parts of the day give meanig and light to each other: Dostoevsky with his ‘White Nights’, Pushkin – ‘the Sun of Russian poetry’, Tyutchev and his theme of twilight of life…

The last line places this portrait/landscape within the context of immense art enriching  the eternal universe.

This an early poem.  Russian futurism strongly denied symbolism but at its early stage in many aspects continued its legacy. Tyutchev and Verlaine were two sacred names for Russian symbolists.

It is intersting to see the parallels between Khlebnikov’s poem and an extract from Verlaine’s ‘Art poétique’:

C’est des beaux yeux derrière des voiles,
C’est le grand jour tremblant de midi,
C’est par un ciel d’automne attiédi,
Le bleu fouillis des claires étoiles!

My English version above is just an explication of the inner workings of the original. I would be interested and grateful if anybody would like to take it as a challenge and offer their own reading and possible version/s in English”.

Guest Post: Between Opacity and Transparency: Surrealism in Translation

By Elise Aru

What is Surrealism? These key words that spring to my mind are: the unconscious, dreams, free associations, collage, marvellous, psychoanalysis, the exquisite corpse game and André Breton. For the past few years, I have mainly been working on the translation of Surrealist poetry including poems by André Breton, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, and Joyce Mansour.

What I particularly enjoy when working with Surrealism is the variety of practices involved in their production, some of which display the most extraordinary associations of verbal and non verbal elements. I am interested in ludic practices, games played to initiate Surrealist writing, the practice of collage derived from automatism and free association, and their numerous displacements of phrases, objects and works of art, all of which have encouraged me to adopt an experimental approach to translating Surrealist works.

To illustrate my approach to translating Surrealism, I decided to present here my translation of one of André Breton’s dreams, ‘Rêve II’.[i]

Surrealist poets, many of whom studied medicine, often under parental pressure, were influenced by the emerging field of psychoanalysis, particularly by Sigmund Freud’s theories and publications including Pierre Janet’s L’automatisme psychologique (1889). At the time, Freud was not yet translated into French which means that many Surrealists discovered his work through references in the work of others, for instance in the summary of his theories put together by Dr Régis in his Précis de psychiatrie.

Psychoanalysis was a rich resource for the Surrealist poets and artists who wanted to be free from reason and have access to the unconscious. The definition that they gave to Surrealism states:

SURREALISME, n. m. Automatisme psychique pur par lequel on se propose d’exprimer, soit verbalement, soit par écrit, soit de toute autre manière, le fonctionnement réel de la pensée. Dictée de la pensée, en l’absence de tout contrôle exercé par la raison, en dehors de toute préoccupation esthétique ou morale.

[SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.] [ii]

This definition was initially published in the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924 and outlined the group’s activities and practices. In an interview with Judith Jasmin on 27th February 1961, André Breton explained that the definition of Surrealism had not changed since the day it was first formulated.[iii]

Derived from psychoanalysis and its use of dream material, dreams for Breton are key poetic resources – an idea which he explores, argues and demonstrates in Les Vases communicants. Dreams infuse the Surrealist poetic language through marvellous and unexpected word association. Breton acknowledges Freud’s influence, but explains how his approach is different by suggesting that dreams act as a bridge between the unconscious and reality as the Surrealists see it. The ‘surreality’ results from the interpenetration of dreams and the ordinary reality. [iv]

Below is a GIF file presenting my translation, which is made up of a rectangular vase measuring 19,5cmx14,5cmx9,5cm inside of which there is a rolled up 16mx10cm pharmaceuticals cotton crepe bandage. On the vase, a white sticker reads ‘Rêve II/Dream II’, André Breton. What I propose here is not only an interlingual translation but also an intersemiotic translation: I provide a new medium for the poem.

Rêve II GIF - Elise Aru

The text is entirely translated from French into English and is written with a blue felt pen on the cotton crepe bandage. I was not able to write but rather I had to stain the text onto the bandage. These stains in the shape of letters and words will be the remaining traces of the experience that dreaming is. Recounting a dream consists of rendering not exactly the dream but the memory of the dream that remains with the dreamer in the morning.

Readers must put their hand in the vase to seize the rolled up bandage. While they gradually unfold the strip of bandage, the narrative of the dream unravels and reveals itself. After having translated the text, the setting of the glass vase and the bandage cloth quickly sprung to my mind and I drew it in the notebook I use for my translations. I only made sense of these materials when I started reflecting on dreams and their fascinating multiple layers of meaning.

The glass refers to the first layer of a dream’s meaning, which is accessible to all. With this dream, the narrative is easy to follow: André Breton is sitting on the Parisian metro where a woman addresses him with this unexpected phrase, “vegetative life”. He decides to follow her and at the top of stairs finds himself in a meadow, with another troubling character. A football player talks to the woman who then disappears. The football game starts again, Breton tries to catch the ball but he is not very successful.

The rolled up bandage refers to the subsequent layers which nobody will ever be able to fully grasp. Indeed, first of all there is no context and no footnote. It is the account of an experience a posteriori: a moment during which Breton most certainly organised his dream, and this is clearly visible in his abundant use of punctuation for instance. In the section of ‘Notes et variantes’, Marguerite Bonnet reflects on the possibility of analysing the dreams published in Clair de Terre and reminds us of Freud’s reply when Breton asked him to contribute to Trajectoire du rêve (1938). On the 8th December 1937: “Un recueil de rêves sans associations jointes, sans connaissance des circonstances dans laquelle on a rêvé, ne me dit rien, et je peux avec peine me représenter ce qu’il peut dire à d’autres.” [A collection of dreams, without the connected free association, without knowledge of the circumstances under which one had these dreams, does not mean anything to me, and I can barely imagine what they can mean to others].[vi] Thus, several dimensions of meaning remain obscure.

While for some literary texts, analysis and interpretation are crucial elements in the understanding and transcribing processes of the translator’s work, with this text, I was more interested in reflecting on the text type, dream, which is also its title. The collocations with the word ‘dream’ vary from language to language: you say “to have a dream” in English, “faire un rêve” [to make a dream] in French, and [to see a dream] in the Japanese phrase “Yume wo miru” (Romanji) 夢を見る”. These various verbs used in conjunction with the term ‘dream’ attest to the difficulty of verbalising the manifestation of the dream, as well as to the cultural differences in expressing this experience. Do we have a dream, make it or see it? The readers of Breton’s dream do not have, make, or see this dream, but they receive it.

In my translation, before the readers start reading the dream, the rolled up bandage is very manageable, it can be held in one’s hand. As the reader unfolds the cloth and reads the dream, the dream takes more and more space; it is a 16 meter long strip of cloth. After finishing reading, the reader does not know what to do either with the cloth or with the dream. The dream remains a poetic moment, an excursion into someone else’s world without being able to remain there. Indeed, this dream in the source text is inserted in a short section with four others before a poetry collection. The dream stops at the end of the bandage and the readers are sent back to their own dreams and ‘surreality’.

© (Elise Aru) 2013

[i] André Breton, ‘Rêve II’, in the section ‘Cinq rêves’, Clair de terre, in Œuvres complètes, edited by Marguerite Bonnet, volume I, (Paris : Gallimard La Pléiade, 1988), p.150

[ii] André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme in Œuvres complètes, volume I, p. 328

The translation is from: André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism trans. by Richard Seaver and Helen R Lane (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1972), p.26

[iii] ‘André Breton, pionnier du surréalisme’, interview with Judith Jasmin, 27/02/1961, can be found on YouTube:

[iv] Breton’s approach is also anchored on Marxist theories on social protest which I will not describe here. André Breton, Les Vases communicants, in Œuvres complètes, vol. II pp. 101-215.

[vi] André Breton, Œuvres Complètes, volume I, p. 1192. The following extract from Freud’s letter is published in ‘Notes et Variantes’ of Trajectoire du rêve. The French translation is by Etienne Alain-Hubert, the English translation is mine.

Elise has been translating for several years. She completed an MA in Applied Translation Studies at the University of East Anglia in 2007. She then started her Ph.D. at University College London, focusing on the creative and ludic translation of Surrealist poetry, which she completed in 2012. In 2010, she published an article in Opticon1826 on a ludic approach to translation titled ‘When translating becomes a ludic activity’. In November 2013, her article ‘The Ludic in Surrealism and in Translation’ was published in Essays in French Literature and Culture. Elise also co-published, with Delphine Grass, several translations of Delphine’s poems in A Verse (autumn 2010, spring 2012). She is currently working on the publication of a monograph which will present several of her translations.


LES TOURNEURS DE LANGAGES – a translation project from Quebec

We would like to publicise a new intriguing translation project launched by a Quebecois artist, exploring the construction of meaning traversing more than one language. Josiane Roberge is inviting translators to embark on this translational journey. Here is her invitation.

trans proj


Dear translators,
I am a Quebec artist currently on a creation residency at the artist center LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE. I am working on a project revolving mainly around the notions of interpretation and translation. I am asking the following questions: will a message formulated in a specific language, keep it’s meaning after being translated in many other languages? And if the message is transformedthrough out the many interpretations, what exactly is the nature of these?

In recent months, I have developed a website as an artistic proposal around these questions. My wish is to create a space allowing for short texts from Quebec (short-stories, parts of novels etc.)to get in contact with different languages so their poetry is in constant change over thetranslations. My proposal is for each of these texts to be translated between five to fifteen times (e.g.: French to German, German to Czech, Czech to Russian, Russian to Mandarin, etc.) by several professional translators and finally translated back into their original language; French. This project is a way to discover what emerges from the transformation of these sentences passing through us and traveling throughout our different cultures and our individuality.

Obviously, the project is based on the collaboration of enthusiastic literary translators willing toparticipate in this experience! I therefore appeal to your beautiful community to breath life intothis idea by bringing together motivated people. You are invited to communicate your interestat: (the sooner the better. It will allow me to start mapping linguistic itineraries). Please, do not hesitate to communicate with me if you have questions!

I seek to create or reveal privileged experiences between individuals, through a humanist and artistic approach. I would be honoured to have you collaborate in this project.

Josiane Roberge