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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2006

E 395M • The Poetics of Translation

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34050 MW
11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Course Description

Probably the poet Charles Tomlinson has been the most insistent proponent of the idea that the history of English poetry is the history of translation practice. To paraphrase Pound, every "first heave" into whatever any historical period understood as its own "modernity" was always accompanied by a burst of translation. There were two such bursts in the twentieth centuryone circa 1910, leading to the development of high modernism (see, for example, Stephen Yao's recently published Translation and the Languages of Modernism); the other circa 1960, leading to what I have called "postlyric poetry."

In the last thirty years or so, we have also seen an escalation in the quantity and quality of "translation theory." Such theorizing has ingested important nutrients from advances in artificial intelligence research and from interdisciplinary thinking about the socioeconomic and political relationships between disparate cultures. Still, it must be said that the history of translation practice, at least at the level of poetry, has usually been a seat-of-the-pants affair, not driven by an explicit theory or by any system at all but merely an effect of trial and error. One of the intriguing theoretical questions that largely remains unasked, however, is why certain texts get translated over and over again, and others not at all. Why is Dante so relentlessly translated, Tasso almost never? Why so much Rilke, so little Goethe? How many Argentine poets are substantially translated into English? This course will inspect the history of translation practice as regards mainly modern/contemporary poetry. It will be useful for students to have fluency of some sort in one language other than English, but, for the sake of this course, the common ground is English. We are interested in how to translate into English, not how to translate in the abstract, although, like Douglas Hofstadter (see Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language [1997]), I believe that translation is not merely lingual but occurs when a harpsichord piece, say, is transposed to piano or when the typescript of a play becomes a performing text. So, we will be primarily interested in the problematics of creativity with particular emphasis, in the context of poetic translation, on the constraints imposed by the English language.

The aim of the course will be for each student to produce a body of poetic translations, hopefully of a poet who has been insufficiently translated before, as well as a theoretical essay that explains the problems inherent in his or her particular project and the solutions proposed. I hope this course will be valuable to both Ph.D-bound students in English and Comp. Lit. as well as to creative writing students.

The course will be held in conjunction with the visit of several notable translators to the University in a series of lectures sponsored by the Ransom Center.


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