Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pierre Joris: "Why do I translate?"

Pierre Joris, globetrotter

The Nomadics blog of Pierre Joris is one of those truly rare things on the internet these days, a delight to read on a regular basis. The author, teacher, and translator (not necessarily in that particular order) has interesting things to write on many topics, from linguistics to melting Arctic ice, with a global perspective welcome in America's ever-more-parochial age.

He also, very obviously, enjoys writing in many different forms. From his own biography, Joris has written more than forty books (poetry, essays and translations) while also teaching at SUNY Albany. He's translated Picasso and Kurt Schwitters into English, Kerouac and Corso, Pete Townshend and Sam Shepard into French. Forthcoming in late 2010/2011 arePaul Celan: The Meridian (Stanford University Press), Exile is my Trade: The Habib Tengour Reader (Black Widow Press), and The Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems).

And, of course, he blogs. Here's a recent post showing that even a polymath ransacks his files looking for material and occasionally finds something that illuminates not only his writing but his personality as well. By way of introduction to his entertaining blog, here's an excerpt from "Seven minutes on translation" which is worth a mention.

Why do I translate?

Because it pleases me.

Because it beats watching television, except when the Mets are on, but they play so lousily much of the time that I avert my eyes & continue to translate looking up only to check the score.

Because, to be frank, I want to know what the poets in Ghana are up to.

Because I am foolish enough to believe the 16th C philosopher & poet Giordano Bruno who said that all science has its origin in translation, and was burned at the stake for that and a few other peccadilloes in 1600 on the Campo Fioro in Rome. Bruno is of course the patron saint of translators.

Because by accident of birth I was blessed or damned with a batch of different languages and a perverse pleasure of pitting them and their different musics against each other.

Because I can.

Because I love doing it.

Because I have to because if I and everybody else don’t translate the world will be a way shittier place than it already is. ...

Because I speak with many-forked tongue and always wanted to be a Mescalero Apache healer.

Because the congealed mass of anglo-‘merican ugliness, greed & basic Christian fascism will continue to blow up the people & libraries & homes & museums of a hundred Baghdads unless we can make enough American citizens realize the beauty of the other, of the poetry of the other, of the speech of all the others. ...

Because, although I gave up translating into French a number of years ago, last year I could not resist saying yes to translating 25 pages of Allen Ginsberg’s poems for a French version of Philip Glass’ opera Hydrogen Jukebox, given that the last time I saw Allen in Paris he asked be to be involved with the translations of his work, something I had neglected to do until now when the occasion to pay back my dues presented itself out of the blue.

Because the Mets are losing again.

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