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


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