by Lara Glenum on Sep.04, 2012
[Note: I should mention that I’ve moved this post/convo to MV after I originally posted it on my fb page, where there are oodles of interesting responses.]
In an interview at The Measure, Paul Legault discusses his new project, The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems. In the interview, Paul describes Dickinson’s work as “extremely dry comedy—like a taxidermic clown left out in the sun,” which is completely lovely & awesome. Like Paul himself.
This passage troubles me, tho: “Why Emily Dickinson? For any American poet, Emily Dickinson is sort of a monolith… Why Dickinson? I guess she was asking for it.”
I want to read this generously. But. Our one (?) female monolith. Was “asking for it.” For me, this plugs into all kinds of cultural language about the humiliation, violation, & punishment of women.
Help me out. Montevidayans, you know my deep disorientation around these things. How I vomit out alarm bells. And also how fond I am of Paul & want to be a generous (not paranoid) reader.
If this project is supposed to be a performative act of violence, I’m conceptually ok with that in many ways (though I wonder, as ever, about the gender dynamics). But the book appears to be being passed off as homage or zany, occasional humor or contemporary remixing. It’s not exactly being marketed as a fucked-up compulsion to rewrite/erase ED–which would be ultra-fascinating indeed!
Help me wrap my brain around this! I find Paul a very generous & compelling person, poet, and presence in the poetry world, and I suspect there may be a lot of interesting things to unpack around his thinking/feelings around this project. And about translation in general. In particular, I’m thinking of translation as an act of cannibalism (Haraldo de Campos), with all of its radical connotations.