To explain what CipherJournal aims to achieve in showcasing creative translation, we would like to list a number of literary works that we wish we could have published, if only we’d had the chance.
Foremost is any translation that has been the object of dispute. The spiritual godfather of this kind of translation is Ezra Pound, whose “Homage to Sextus Propertius” and Chinese translations in Cathay—among other works, from Cavalcanti to “The Seafarer”—gave birth to a new attention to translation, as well as to debate about the true nature of “fidelity”.
Since then translation has also been the subject of literary works, specifically Robert Lowell’s Imitations, which owes a debt as well to William Butler Yeats’s rendition of Ronsard’s “Quand vous serez bien vielle, au soir à la chandelle” as “When you are old and grey and full of sleep”. Whether presented as translations or as originals, these works contain a background bass-line from another language we do not want to ignore.
Writers who have translated have rarely been able to retain a clear division in their methods; a grand example of this is Octavio Paz’s output, whose Renga—a collaboration with Charles Tomlinson, Jacques Roubaud, and Edoardo Sanguineti—imitates a traditional Japanese poetic form in four European languages. Paz’s poetry is particularly noted for its translation from the Indian traditions; East Slope, particularly the long poem “Blanco”, introduced India to the Spanish-speaking world in a way that a simple translation of The Baghavad Gita could not.
Paz’s poetic bridge between India and Mexico was equalled by the bridge between China and France in the writings of Victor Segalen. Specifically in the series Stèles, where Chinese inscriptions form an invisible partner to verses written in French, Segalen’s poetry proves that translation can exist even when a foreign language is left inaccessible.
Perhaps one of the greatest efforts at reimagining translation is from Louis Zukofsky, whose Catullus enacts the echoes of Latin sounds in English even if the meaning is skewed. Perhaps no better example exists of blending the invisibility of the translator with the identity of the artist.
But not all literature that emphasizes translation is in poetry. Anthony Burgess could carve into English with more deftness than nearly any other novelist, and many of his works revolve around translation: A Clockwork Orange, for instance, demands that the reader translate while reading. Nor are all examples from the modern era; Cervantes presented himself as translator of Don Quixote, a “manuscript” made into Spanish after the original Arabic texts.
But to be sure, such a strand of literature has been strongest since World War I. Even non-translated works have been able to portray themselves as translations. For some reason Japan seems to be the imaginary homeland of this style of writing: Kenneth Rexroth’s Love Poems of Marichiko pretends to come from the archipelago, just as the “hoax” poems of Araki Yasusada wished to be written by a Hiroshima bombing survivor.
This is only a partial list, of course. Many other writers in many other languages and traditions have written works that pivot around translation. CipherJournal centers itself in that tradition, and we are looking for your contribution as readers and as writers. Please look at our submission page for guidelines.