Non-arrival flights: A Digital Remapping of Linguistic Borders

What happens when three engineers and two humanists who speak Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and Russian get together? They make a digital interactive poem using automated Bing translation engine (Google Translate makes you pay for their API) that explores issues of untranslatability, cultural universalism, and our (frequently unjustified) technological optimism.

“Non-arrival flights” (read the poem here) is a group project that superficially adopts the ethos of universal translatability and accessibility upheld by popular online translation engines. Then, it gradually subverts this ethos by translating and re-translating culturally specific expressions (proverbs, idioms, and folk sayings) in and out of the five core languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Hindi, Russian) until the reader is confronted with good-natured nonsense and distorted “maps” of familiar nation-state outlines, resembling the “lost in translation” moments familiar to many non-virtual travelers.

To find out more about how the poem and find out how it “works,” you can read the artist statement. However, it might be more appropriate to the spirit of the poem to simply start exploring it’s unstable linguistic, geographic, and national borders, and figure it out on your own.

I share the credit for whatever confusion, pleasure, or illumination the experience of “reading” this digital poem brings equally with my colleagues at the University of Florida Department of English and Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering.

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“Pseudotranslation” now has a Wikipedia page

Wikipedia “Pseudotranslation” page that I created in May 2015 is finally getting some much-needed traffic. A few weeks after its birth some vigilante editor tried to take it down, citing “original research,” but other editors rallied to the rescue. I am very much pleased that this overlooked phenomenon is receiving some cred.

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Pseudotranslation as discourse?

Texts discussed:

Michel Foucault “What Is Author?” in The Foucault Reader ed. Paul Rabinow, New York: Pantheon, 1984. pp. 101-120. Print.

Marcel Proust. The Lemoine Affair. Tr. Charlotte Mandell. Brooklyn: Melville House Books, 2008. Print.

Paolo Rambelli “Pseudotranslations, Authorship and Novelists in Eighteenth-Century Italy” in Translating Others ed. Theo Hermans. St. Jerome, 2006. pp. 181-194. Print.

Paolo Rambelli presents an interesting case study of the 18th-century Italian pseudotranslations from English and French, a phenomenon that was originally motivated by the changing economic conditions (dissolution of the patronage system) and the social stigma attached to the writing of novels. Using Anton Popovic’s 1976 description of pseudotranslation as a point of departure, Rambelli examines how the Italian translations fit into this description and what it meant for the domestic publishing industry. Popovic writes that:

An author may publish his original work as a fictitious translation in order to win a wide public, thus making use of the reader’s expectation. The author tries to utilize the ‘translation’ boom in order to realize his own literary program. From the standpoint of theory, the fictitious translation may be defined as the so-called quasi metatext, i.e. a text that is to be accepted as a metatext. The fictional translations are often motivated subjectively. (1976:20)

Continue reading

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Integration vs. Dissolution of the self: translating yogic philosophy for the West

Texts discussed:

Daniel Raveh. “Lost in Translation: shifts of self and identity in the English versions of Patañjali’s Yogasūtras. Translating Selves. Ed. Nicolaou and Kyritsi. Continuum, 2008. Print.

Mark Singleton. Yoga Body: the origins of modern posture practice. Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Much has been made of translating Western philosophical texts, especially by such giants as Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and much of it is still relatively inaccessible to the popular readership. The translation of Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, is a booming industry in the West that spawned not only countless translations original works like Bhagavad Ghita and Tao Te Ching, but also plenty of accessible commentaries qua bestsellers (for example, the wildly successful Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Tao of Pooh. Not surprisingly, the current yoga rend in the West (Huffington Post reports that it is now a 27-billion dollar industry) spawned several translations of Patañjali’s Yogasūtras, the 4th century A.D. text that is now widely recognized as the philosophical companion in modern physical practice. Daniel Raveh reviews several translations and argues that English translations, for the most part, distort the original aim of yoga practice — “toning it down” for the Western practitioners and providing confusing interpretations of key concepts. Continue reading

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The line that goes out for a walk

Tim Ingold. Lines: a brief history. Routledge, 2007. Print.

An ecology of life, in short, must be one of threads and traces, not of nodes and connectors. And its subject of inquiry must consist not of the relations between organisms and their external environments but of the relations along their severally enmeshed ways of life. Ecology, in short, is the study of the life of lines.  (103)

Tim Ingold’s fascinating study focuses on the way we live our lives according to lines (both actual and imaginary) and how it relates to current reading and composition practice. It is an assault on the already crumbling institution of linearity (a misleading term, according to him, since lines are not necessarily straight or sequential) and an homage to the meandering, wayfaring, veering, and exploratory journeys along the line. To use Paul Klee’s expression, he is into lines that develop freely and on their own time, lines that “go out for a walk” (73). Continue reading

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Translation in the Digital Age

Michael Cronin. Translation in the Digital Age. Routledge, 2012. E-book.

Strangely, there is a shortage of full-length academic works dedicated to the implications and practice of translation in the age of near-ubiquitous computing. Michael Cronin’s is the only recently published book that focuses on the global interactions of digital technology and the techne of translation that I found so far. Continue reading

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Schleiermacher and Benjamin, in new translation

Friedrich Schleiermacher. “On the Different Methods of Translation.” Translated by Susan Bernofsky. Translation Studies Reader. 3rd ed. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. Routledge: 2012. Print.

Walter Benjamin. “The Translator’s Task.” Translated by Steven Rendall. Translation Studies Reader. 3rd. ed. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. Routledge: 2012. Print.

I first heard of Friedrich Schleiermacher only last year, from reading Susan Bernofsky’s blog. If what Bernofsky says is true: “Goethe ripped off his ideas (on the basis of which Walter Benjamin decided Goethe was the man when it came to early 19th century translation theory),” then the fact that the name of the person who revolutionalized the way we are thinking about translation is not well known is hardly surprising. The new translation by Bernofsky appears in Routledge Translation Studies Reader (2nd and 3rd editions) and I just finished reading the essay this morning. My sympathies to the translator — the sentences are longish, even by 19th century standards, which must have required extra mental gymnastics to get to that much awaited German verb at the end. However, despite this long-winded style, it is clear to me why Schleiermacher inspired so many later translation theorists and practitioners, and why his ideas are so relevant in the 21st century. Continue reading

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