My Fall Vacation (Atrocity Kitsch)

by on Oct.24, 2010

I’m writing this from Philadelphia where I went for my fall break to attend the annual conference of American Literary Translator’s Association (ALTA)… Joyelle and I were on an 830 am panel on “the border of translation” which was about works that uses translation in some way… I talked about corpses in translation. How they pile up if you read critics writings about translation. From Dryden, the German Romantics, Pound, Valery and on, translation has been theorized as a corpse. I thought about this in part through Daniel Tiffany’s wonderful book Radio Corpse, where he identifies Pound’s aesthetics as necrophilic. Pound: “I had to raise a man from the dead.” He does this through what Philip Lewis much later calls “abusive fidelity” – homophonic translation and other such practices. And I also invoked Joyelle’s discussion of “the body possessed by media” and the wounds – from her essay on Lady Gaga – as a site of multi-media art. Is the vortex a wound? I talked about Carolyn Forche’s atrocity kitsch in Against Forgetting – how the introduction begins with the coroner’s report of the Hungarian poet Radnoti, which makes it seem like the wounds had leaked the poems into his book while buried in mass grave – body possessed by media! – and how Forche seems to both want to invoke the body possessed by media and these wounds and feels the need to defend against this – it’s witness, literal, merely reporting. Then I talked about Christian Hawkey’s new book, Ventrakl, which takes Pound all the way – translation by shotgun blast! But what interests me a lot about Hawkey’s book of translation is the prevalence of wounds, including “word wound.” And how he writes about a “ghostly” and “ecstatic” space of translation as seance. And then I talked a little about Aase Berg’s book Dark Matter (Mork materia), which is a kind of “translation” of Harry Martinsson’s canonical Aniara. In this book wounds are everywhere – oil shafts, chasms, wounds, drillings etc. work almost like piercing weapons, making holes in grotesque bodies, but the wholes reveal not an interior but almost always lead to a larger landscape of pillars and oil rigs etc, while the outside world is spectacularly anatomical. How the text invokes all these wounds of foreign languages, how the Swedish becomes foreign, sites like wounds… though in retrospect I should have talked about her “Forsla fett” (transfer fat) about the transfer of fatty translation material (dark matter?), the poem and body as conduit, or as in Joyelle’s phrase, “medium.” It’s a poem full of holes… Also I should have talked about it because Joyelle’s talk was about multi-media “translations” such as Matthew Barney’s use of blubber or Kara Walker’s use of silhouettes. Very good talk…. Maybe we’ll post some of the papers here… I also talked about Action Books with representatives of Ugly Duckling, New Directions and Paris Review… Went to a panel that features Lawrence Venuti but I found it very conservative. Venuti’s idea of foreigness seemed strangely tied to typical immigrant icons of authenticity (Ricotta should not be translated as “cream cheese”, tagliatale should not be translated as “noodles”) and another speaker talked about the need to make translation more “dignified.” I asked why it’s so important to emphasize authenticity and dignity but nobody seemed to want to reply then Joyelle’s hearing aid went out and she couldn’t hear anything so we left and later someone claimed we had “stormed out” of the room because we had supposedly been so disgusted by the goings-on. Funny… Then by accident we ran into a brilliant installation by Ryan Trecartin in the Fabric Museum. Teenage girls babbling mureerously at high speed into the camera or cell phones. Amazing use of atrocity kitsch: chalk outlines, zombie girls smashing mirrors, Jon Benet Ramsey figures interacting with would be daddy-killers. I have always thought that the weird part about JonBenet Ramsey was the way the images of her pageantry was seen as evidence of the parents’ guilt, how the artifice, the blending of ages, was seen as a kind of violence agianst her innocent body. And here Trecartin picks up on this – the murderous threat of artifice and kitsch… Charlie Manson meets the Internet meets Joseph Beuys… In fact the installation made several nods toward Beuys and Barney, for example a kind of Nazi-like cross on a wall… I have more to say about this later… For now I will only say that on the train ride home I read Cheley Minnis’s Poemland and it made such brilliant synergetic sense with the stuff i had been thinking about in Berg and Hawkey and also what I had seen in Trecartin’s installation… How the ornamental is constantly generating a kind of violence in her work…

Here’s a poem I really love:

Oh, I walk in the red wool corset dress and carry the machete…

I have the cigarette in my mouth as I walk down the hallway…

Poetry is my fondest stunt… like standing on my hands in a dress…

There are no reasons to hang from beams!

I love the way red outfit and the B-movie weapons/cigarette pose gives way to a poetry that makes her a child with a ludicrously innocent sexuality. And also the way the space seems to contact and expand seems similar to Trecartin’s use of space… I’ve got to go, will post more later…

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