Translation from Spanish by Joseph Mulligan

The following is excerpted from C. Vallejo, Against Professional Secrets, ISBN: 9781931824422, Pages: 100, Price: $14.95, available from Roof Books and Small Press Distribution]


An animal is led or is pushed. Man is accompanied in parallel.


There exist questions without answers, which fill the spirit of science and common sense with uneasiness. There exist answers without questions, which are the spirit of art and the dialectic consciousness of things.


Facing the stones of Darwinian risk that compose the Tuileries palace, Potstam, Peterhof, Quirinal, the White House and Buckingham, I suffer the pain of a megatherium, who meditated standing upright, the hind legs on the head of Hegel and the front legs on the head of Marx.


In reality, the sky isn’t far from or near the land. In reality, death isn’t far from or close to life. We are always before the river of Heraclitus.


There are people who are interested in Rome, Athens, Florence, Toledo and other ancient cities, not because of their past––static and immobile––but because of their present––lively and dynamic. For these people, the world of El Greco, the green and yellow robes of his apostles, his house, his kitchen, his crockery, are not very interesting. What do they care about the cathedral of Toledo, with its five doors, its seven centuries, its refreshing cloisters, its silver choir and its enchanting Mozarab chapel? What do they care about the Inn of Blood, where Cervantes was to write The Illustrious Kitchen Maid...? What do they care about the Palace of Carlos V, all of its stone and its distinguished coffered ceiling? The celebrated Castle of San Servando on the other side of the ravine might as well disappear in broad daylight. The tombs of the heroes and cardinals of the cathedral might as well disappear. The Munitions Factory in Toledo––what do they care!? The Tránsito Mosque, constructed in the XIV century by the Jew Samuel Levi––what do they care!? These passersby are utterly indifferent to history in a text, in a legend, in a painting, in architecture, in tradition.

While the guide explains the date and political circumstances of its construction on the Bridge of Alcántara, I note that one of the tourists becomes a disengaged schoolboy and stares at an old Toledan, who is just arriving home on the back of his donkey. The old man laboriously gets down, in the middle of his receiving room. “Ah...!” the old man snorts and begins to loudly call to the watchmen on the corner, so that they help him remove the donkey’s saddle. This happens on the street that bears the name Sponge Cake Oven Way or on that slightly rougher one called Don Pedro’s Path to the Chicken Coop.

These are the scenes that interest certain people: the historical present of Toledo; not its past. They want to submerge in the fleeting present, which in the end recasts and crystallizes the essentials of past history. That old man, seated atop a donkey, summarizes in his snort El Greco, the Cathedral, the Palace, the Mosque, the Munitions Factory. It is a living and transitory scene of the moment, synthesizing, like a flower, Toledo’s uproar and defunct deeds.

The same can be said of all the ancient cities, historical ruins and treasures of the world. One does not narrate history, or see it or hear it or touch it. One lives history and feels it live.


Parallels exist neither in the spirit nor in the reality of the universe. It is but an abstract supposition of geometry. There is no room for a parallelism within the single and linear continuity of life. History and nature unfold linearly and, in this single, solitary line, human events and natural phenomena occur, one after another, successively and never simultaneously.

The parallelism of a railroad does not have a greater living reality than that of two lines drawn on a chalkboard. Two trees or two children born at the same instant do not constitute an effective parallelism either. In all these cases, the geometrical illusion does not sustain objective events, but participates in the nature of so many other fictions of the senses or abstractions of intelligence, like when we see, from a train in motion, that the houses are on parade or when, a burning stick is moving in a circle (see Pascal), we believe that we see and affirm an arc of fire, etc.

Life is a succession and not simultaneity. The apparent parallels of a railroad do not develop at once, but one after another. Men do not live together, but they occur one after another. Towns do not live together either, but occur. Plurality is a phenomenon of time and not of space. The number 1 is solitary of place. The number 2 and the subsequent single or compound numbers do not exist as objective reality, but as abstract suppositions of thought.

Life does not play out in various forms at once. But in various successive forms. A planet does not have a destiny different from that of other planets, but the same and unique end that all the others have managed to carry out. A stone meets a destiny identical to that of a mollusk, and it goes before or after a man, but not at the same time as he. If one could depict the evolution of life, it would be represented by a line of beings and things, with one at the end. In abstract terrain, beings and things unfold with an apparent myriad character. But this is not substantive reality. Beneath the illusory simultaneity of things and beings, reality, at the end, is solely a succession in the movement of the universe. The masses are more a parade than a crowd. The asyndeton surging from history is more a line than a point.


The monument to Baudelaire is one of the most beautiful headstones in Paris, an authentic cathedral tombstone. The sculptor took a lapidary block, split it in two and fashioned a compass. Such is the frame of the monument. A compass. An airplane, one of whose wings drags on the ground, due to its great size, just like the symbolic albatross. The other half is raised perpendicularly to the first and presents in its upper half a giant bat with outstretched wings. Above this creature, alive and floating, there is a gargoyle, whose jutting, vigilant and aggressive chin rests and does not rest upon its hands.

Another sculptor might have chiseled the heraldic cat of the bard, so groped by the critics. He, who worked this stone, however, delved deeper and chose the bat, this zoological binomial––between mammal and bird––that ethical image––between Lucifer and angel––who embodies the spirit of Baudelaire so well. And this, because the author of The Flowers of Evil was not diabolical, in the Catholic sense of the word, but diabolical in a lay and simply human sense, a natural coefficient of rebellion and innocence. Rebellion is not possible without innocence. Only children and angels rebel. Malice never rebels. An old man can only become spiteful and grow bitter. Hence, Voltaire. Rebellion is the fruit of an innocent spirit. And the cat carries malice in each of its paws. On the other hand, the bat––that airborne mouse of the mausoleums, that hybrid specimen of the cornices––has a knack for height and the shadows. It is a native of the kingdom of darkness and also a dweller of the cupolas. Due to its dual nature of flight and darkness, it possesses wisdom in shadows and, as in heroic acts, performs the upward fall.


After publishing two major poetry collections, The Black Heralds (1918) & Trilce (1922), as well as the exceptional & under-celebrated book of prose, Scales (1923), César Vallejo headed for Europe, where he would immerse himself in the world of journalism. His three trips to an interwar Soviet Union, his innumerable personal interviews with a broad demographic, his more than two hundred articles (ranging from sports to theater, from archeology to modern marvels, from labor issues to judicial proceedings)—all this is in concert with his eventual socialist turn. Against Professional Secrets, written during his early years in Europe, is the product of Vallejo’s search for an integral poetics. The schools that were then flourishing in Europe & being imported to Latin America, for him, proved problematic in their search for social change by way of forming exclusive oppositional groups, open only to initiates.

Against Professional Secrets is indeed a critique (of what Vallejo saw as a pose in the European schools & as insincerity in Latin American poetry); yet it is also a proposal, & this I think is what makes his curious “book of thoughts” so compelling. Readers, who revere his indigenism in The Black Heralds, gawk at his experimentalism in Trilce, & hear his resounding call for solidarity in Poemas humanos, will find, amid his many well-employed metaphors, the stunning presence of chromophores (i.e. language matter absorbing light at specific frequencies & thereby imparting color onto its surface). It is due to chromophores that certain chameleons have the ability to adopt the appearance of their surroundings.

Vallejo’s writing in Against Professional Secrets is chromophoric in the sense that it adopts the very modalities that it has set out to critique. It creeps unnoticed like a chameleon through the European literature of the late 19th & early 20th centuries, taking on its likeness & surreptitiously proposing that the content of modern poetry should supersede its form. While at first this may seem contradictory, since in Vallejo’s writing there appears to be a certain preoccupation with technique, a close reading will show that, by including himself within the mark of his own critique, his proposal is one of an integral poetics instead of the conventional oppositional polemics.

—Joseph Mulligan

[Joseph Mulligan, poet and translator, was born in Batavia, NY. His translations include Trilce and Scales by César Vallejo, as well as major works by Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Oliverio Girondo and Alejandra Pizarnik. He lives in New York and Lima. He regularly publishes poetry, translations & essays on his blog The Smelting Process.]

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On April 5th Diane Rothenberg and I will be leaving San Diego for a new round of travels & readings in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. My public schedule, for any who may be in the vicinity, is:

April 6, 7:30 p.m.: Reading, Woodward Line Poetry Series, Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth Street, Detroit.

April 7, 7:00 p.m. Reading, The Gwenn Frostic Reading Series (Western Michigan University) & Kalamazoo College, K College Chapel, Kalamazoo.

April 8, 6:00 p.m.: Talk & reading , “Toward a Global Poetry,” Baker Nord Center, Clark Hall Room 309, Case Western Reserve University, 11130 Bellflower Road, Cleveland.

April 11, 7:30 p.m.: Reading, Peirce Lounge, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.

April 12, 5:30 p.m.: Talk, “The Anthology as Collage & Manifesto”;
7:30 p.m: Reading, Miami University of Ohio, 501 East High Street, Oxford, Ohio.

April 13, 7:30 p.m.: Reading, Xavier University and Hebrew Union College, at Conaton Board Room, 2nd floor, Schmidt Hall, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio.

April 14, 7:30 p.m.: Reading, Bingham Poetry Room, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

April 15, 7:00 p.m.: Reading & talk, “The Practice of Othering as Translation and Composition,” Copper Colored Mountain Arts, 7101 Liberty Street, Ann Arbor. Return date to San Diego is April 17, after which we’re at home until a visit to Spain in early May, courtesy of the Barcelona International Poetry Festival.

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Heriberto Yépez: Text, Lies and Role-playing (Part Two)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:10 AM 0 comments
[Continued from posting on February 28, 2011]

Every text is a pre-text. Every text must be altered in order to become what it must be. The new purpose of translation is not to make a second text which is as close as possible to the first, but to create another text which is uneven, divergent, conflictive, or even non-compatible with the first. How might we do that? In many ways: for instance, by translating ethnographical interviews into chants (translation from one genre to another, and/or recycling and re-organizing data, as Ed Sanders does in his investigative poetry), or by transforming long poems into drawings (applying re-visualization or radical typographical resources, as in Dennis Tedlock’s translations of Zuni narratives, or line re-disposal in the concrete poets’ translations of canonical authors). Other neo-translation techniques can include fragmenting the original text (and even perhaps introducing random selections of a text) and then putting it through a (possibly experimental) translation process, or using translation as part of one’s own writing, or employing hermeneutics to rewrite a rigidly “established” text (like Heidegger’s or Horst Matthai’s profound re-translations of the presocratics), adaptations like La hija de Rappaccini (Octavio Paz’s translation/reconstruction of Nathaniel Hawthorne) or Jacques and his Master, Milan Kundera’s re-imagination of Diderot. We can locate this shift in literary paradigms in the second half of the 20th Century simply in the tricky claims made by certain authors — like the Argentinean poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who presented her novella La condesa sangrienta as a translation. Isn’t it clear, then, that translation games are becoming a favorite paradigm in language play?


Neo-translation techniques, in any case, are linked also to a change in the way we view criticism, which is currently in the process of becoming a more delirious dialogue with its object, in what we might call fictive-criticism (crítica-ficción), the purpose of which is no longer to encourage the critic to attempt to reveal the real meanings of a text, but rather to permit her or him to recreate them freely (paralexia), conducting the original text towards its delusional meanings or secretly altering the piece of writing one analyzes — mock criticism in general — or drawing the text towards its more extreme absurdities.

In recent years, I have been involved in translation-criticism experiments involving certain types of critical fantasies in which I mix real interpretation with secret self-parody or even readers’/editors’ deliberate deceptions. I have succeeded, for example, in getting non-real “criticisms” (heteronomy) or supposed translations published in major magazines, or in simply developing concepts or applying points of view in which I don’t actually believe, systematically attributing false quotes to real authors or manipulating data, mixing unknown fictional authors in with canonical ones — in short, considering criticism, at every point, to be fictional prose. I write fictive and parodic translation-criticism (crítica-ficción) without revealing it to the readers of the books or magazines that have published those essays or pseudo-translations. In many cases my use of fiction is simply indistinguishable from my true beliefs. Even though most of the time you wouldn’t know it from reading my texts, I always write criticism from an insincere point of view, as a way to destroy the confidence and authority we give to the critic as a literary subject or a credible voice. Of course this technique has already been suggested: by some of Laura Riding’s ideas (in, for example, Anarchism is not Enough); in Borges’ analytical short stories and use of style as a mask; in Sévero Sarduy’s “Ahora Góngora,” a magnificent talk on Góngora written as a neo-baroque grotesque parody of hermeneutics and psychoanalysis applied to poetry; through Barthes’ position on the equivalence of criticism and literature and his exhausting theories on the Death of the Author; or in Derrida’s notions of grammatology and dissemination. This realm of post-critical dialogic space opens to us further in the confessions of authors like Lyotard and Harold Pinter: the former, when he reveals that he made up some perspectives and didn’t actually read all the documents he quoted or referenced in the now canonical pages of The Postmodern Condition, the latter when he notes that some of the (rare) oral or written explanations he has provided about his own plays have been nothing but jokes. “Take reviews as the worst case of black humor.” After the 20th century, discourse-construction cannot be taken as a serious task .

Though I rarely, if ever, make my various games with criticism evident in my writings, I feel comfortable revealing these comical and fictional resources in my “serious” prose because in the U.S. nobody is going to read my other work (for instance, perhaps I am lying even here and I have actually never performed any of these tricks and experiments, but by claiming I have, I end up writing crítica-ficción after all). American readers do not care about my literary hijinx, even though in the majority of these games I refer to English-language writers, which makes my task easier thanks to the incredible ignorance about American literature in Mexico: it’s pretty easy to invent American writers and references, or alter people’s writing subtly, or even radically, without anyone’s paying particular notice. This is also a part of a larger project I am developing, which involves building communication between our two cultures through imaginary entities and lies. I don’t want to provide too many details of my fictive criticism and neo-translation projects, but I can simply say that my work is part of a diálogo diablo (to use Groussac’s image) on the periphery of Latin America, a devilish dialogue or diabolical dialogue, a sort of wanna-be experimental cross-cultural setup which I feel can accomplish much more than more serious academic approaches. In many ways, the most significant aspects of my literary career depend on a mutual lack of interest and intercommunication between the literary scenes on both sides of the Colorado River. If, therefore, an American reader were to tell my Mexican editors and literary acquaintances that I have lied to them on certain occasions, I would be ruined and would have to go back to a boring life of only telling the truth.

Literary dialogue between Mexico and the U.S. is so reduced that I am certain no reader or editor in Mexico will read these confessions I am making in English. (This is an example, once again, of how English can often be a better medium for Spanish-language writers — we can say in English what we cannot say in our native tongue).

In addition to the fact that I love private jokes (my favorite form of dialogue), another reason I choose not to go public with my fictive criticism techniques is my suspicion that if I do I might inspire other people, as well, to use my techniques in a systematic way, and I would hate that. As Quiroga said, “Telling the truth is never amusing.” Openly telling readers that I am playing with them and myself would mean taking all the fun out of my stupid anti-discourse antics.

Well, to tell you the truth, I am lying again. I have never played such childish literary games. But I intend to do so as soon as I can.

A fictional dialogic strategy is useful for more than just criticism and translation. I have also used it in poetry. My first book of poems was designed to represent a “case” of Mexican “border” poetry. One day I simply sat down and designed a plan piloto for a poetry book which could be read as representing that notion, as constructed in the Mexican literary imaginary. Thus I wrote a series of poems on urban violence, border images of despair, ethnopoetic experiments with border Indians, and translations from English; I also included photos of visual poems I hung on Tijuana streets, a rewriting of the Mayan Book of the Dead, and even a kind of manifesto for a new type of poetry I am ostensibly “defending” within the circus of new Mexican contemporary literature. (I even gave it a name, “norteado” poetry, poetry both lost and disoriented, and at the same time Northern [or Northified], close to American Literature and to Mexican Northern popular culture). Of course, I do not actually identify myself as a text-producer within the style I used (forged) in that book, or the others I have designed as experiments in constructing literary styles, tendencies or subjective poetics. I have always written from within the knowledge that I am just a liar (an obsessive-compulsive graphomaniac) who acts as if his books were a faithful rendering of his true literary tastes or ideas. I don’t, in fact, think such rendering is possible. There is no longer any potential for seriousness in language. I have chosen to speak for (as) others, playing roles for them, leading them to portray an “original” and “true” position only to leave them behind for my next mask. I must confess, again, that I do not believe even one word of my own work.

From “my” poems to “my” essays, none of my words/permutations/practices has anything to do with my real beliefs. (Do I have such things as real beliefs?) My poems and my short stories are nothing but calculated and insincere discourse games designed to enact secret interplay with other discourses, so I might establish a parody of literary dialogue based on fulfilling or undermining certain stereotypical expectations, performing a kind of role-playing as an author within a specific culture (in this case, the Mexican “Republic of Letters”). In each book I take myself as a character: “Urban Experimental Poet,” “Polemical Anti-Mexico City Young Critic,” “Translator and Interpreter of American Counterpoetics,” “Short Story Teller of Border Lives,” and in this essay for Chain, “Mexican Writer Sympathetic to Postmodernism Telling Us (U.S.) the Real Truth Behind his Lies.” (It goes without saying that I am now lying, but to tell you the truth I do believe I am part of a larger socio-cultural phenomenon called the Norteado Generation, and yes, it’s true, most of the ideas I write are ones I feel, like or believe. Sorry. Most of the time I write what I find natural — oh, such a beautiful, comforting, concept, “what I find natural.” I apologize, again, for being such a liar.)

All this role-playing is utterly nihilistic and boring, I know, but I truly believe there is currently no other alternative. I think that in the future, writing — post-everything writing — is going to move in a direction where we consider our position as author as nothing more than a humoristic fictitious entity, no more real than a character in a novel. You can’t give any credit to a writer. He is nobody. She is just a player. Our books are never a personal account of anything, nor are they a trustworthy intellectual autobiography. A book is a fiction in every conceivable aspect. Dialogue around poetic language can only really begin when we admit to and further radicalize our role-playing as designers of discourses who are ourselves invented by our texts, as much as we are inventors of them.

What is a writer who still clings to the notion of using his work as a means to represent his true intentions? — somebody still trapped in that primitive and naïve period of humanity called Modernity.

Poor little fellow.

Translated by Heriberto Yépez and slicked down by Jen Hofer

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Then I saw a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided at its summit as if into many tongues. And there stood in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, before whom what seemed like a screen of translucent crystal had been placed, reaching from their breasts to their feet. And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lay on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long, which aroused an indescribable sense of horror and rage. On its left stood a kind of market-place, which displayed human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise; and some people were running through it very fast and not buying anything, while others were walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy. Now that worm was black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules, and it was divided into five regions from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes. One was green, one white, one red, one yellow and one black; and they were full of deadly poison. But its head had been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone was dislocated. Its eyes were bloody on the surface and burning within; its ears were round and bristly : its nose and mouth were those of a viper, its hands human, its feet a viper's feet, and its tail short and horrible.

And around its neck a chain was riveted, which also bound its hands and feet and this chain was firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it could not move about as its wicked will desired. Many flames came forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts: One part ascended to the clouds, another breathed forth among secular people, another among spiritual people, and the last descended into the abyss. And the flame that sought the clouds was opposing the people who wanted to get to Heaven And I saw three groups of these. One was close to the clouds, one in the middle space between the clouds and the earth, and one moved along near the earth; and all were shouting repeatedly, "Let us get to Heaven!" But they were whirled hither and thither by that flame; some did not waver, some barely kept their balance and some fell to the earth but then rose again and started toward Heaven. The flame that breathed forth among secular people burned some of them so that they were hideously blackened and others it transfixed so that it could move them anywhere it wanted. Some escaped from the flame and moved toward those who sought Heaven, reiterating shouts of "O you faithful, give us help!" But others remained transfixed.

Meanwhile, the flame that breathed forth among spiritual people concealed them in obscurity; but I saw them in six categories. For some of them were cruelly injured by the flame's fury; but when it could not injure one of them, it burningly breathed on them the deadly poison that flowed from the worm's head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black. But the flame that sought the abyss contained in itself diverse torments for those who had worshipped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith. And I saw sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth, and black smoke exhaling from its breast, and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, and a hot whirlwind blowing from its navel, and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels; all of which affected human beings with grave disquiet. And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that came out of it infected many people with its own perversity. But behold, a great multitude of people came, shining brightly; they forcefully trod the worm underfoot and severely tormented it, but could not be injured by its flames or its poison. And I heard again the voice from Heaven, saying to me: God strengthens the faithful so that the Devil cannot conquer them.

[A NOTE ON THE PRECEDING. Of her initiatory visions, Hildegard (1098-1179) wrote later: “Up to my fifteenth year I saw much, and related some of the things seen to others, who would inquire with astonishment, whence such things might come. I also wondered and during my sickness I asked one of my nurses whether she also saw similar things. When she answered no, a great fear befell me. Frequently, in my conversation, I would relate future things, which I saw as if present, but, noting the amazement of my listeners, I became more reticent.” In the vision & the resultant withdrawal, her experience resembles, however much drawn into the church’s center, those of shamans, seers (voyants) & poets, wherever & however situated. Like the great outsiders too, her life & writings show a range of new inventions: music & verses that come down to us in their recent revival; what may have been the first European ”morality play” before there were commonly performed morality plays; an erratic & innovative use of Latin as her language of choice; the creation of a new alphabet & language (= lingua ignota = unknown language, litterae ignotae = unknown writing); & the translation of visions into three visual-verbal sets or books – a mixture in her case of visions & self-exegesis. Those books called Scivias (= Scito vias [Domini] = Know the Ways [of the Lord]), a mix of words & visual illuminations, possibly of her own making, are a sure sign of how vision & language may intersect. (J.R.)]

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Göran Sonnevi (b. 1939) is not merely the leading poet of his generation writing in Swedish and arguably one of Sweden’s greatest living poets, he has served as a political conscience for the nation. Esteemed authors and critics in Scandinavia have described his work as a single long poem, a commentary on everything that comes within range of his language, comparing him to Lucretius – part scientist, part philosopher. I think of him as many poets in one: poet of nature and the natural sciences, of politics between individuals and nations, of language, of love, of human possibilities. He is a poet who does not hesitate to confront the unknown; indeed, he courts it – historically, philosophically, linguistically. His voice is European; it cannot be compared with that of any one American poet, although his natural descriptions and scientific leanings at times resemble those of A. R. Ammons. If he were like any American poet, I don't think we would need him so much in English. While unavoidably conscious of its European and Swedish points of view, in his poetry Sonnevi has always looked toward the world in its entirety. Among those he has translated into Swedish are Pound, Celan, and Mandelstam.

I have been translating Sonnevi’s work since 1984 – more than a quarter of a century now. Princeton published my selection of his poems from 1971-1989 as A Child Is Not a Knife (1993), and Yale published his 190-page meditative/visionary poem Mozart’s Third Brain in 2009. The basic concerns of poetic translation are always present: fidelity vs. freedom, translating form with an approximation of the same form or the creation of another. Additionally and most crucially – for Sonnevi stutters when he speaks but almost never when he reads his poems aloud – translating for a living voice that sings in a very special way. I have translated Sonnevi’s poems so that he can read them aloud in English, and so that I or we can read them as well.

If I had never heard Sonnevi read from his work in Swedish, I may never have translated him. For in the mid-1970s I had read some of his poems and regarded them as tracts on mathematics, politics, linguistics, nature, or eros that simply trickled down page after page hugging the left margin. In 1982, however, at the Guggenheim Museum I heard him read in Swedish the poem “Koster, 1973,” composed largely in short lines, but which tied a number of those thematic strands together. The words, the voice – not melodramatic, not grandiose, not incantatory, but fluent, singing – went through me like a knife through water. The stress on each word was extraordinary. At the end of each enjambed and often brief line his voice rose; the stress on the first word of a new line even more extraordinary. There were pauses of different durations, beautiful silences.

We took long walks and had long talks the next day and have repeated this pattern all the years since. We both had some experience of playing the piano and studying the natural sciences. Most important, however, was that we agreed the most crucial thing to get across in translating poetry was speech rhythm. When asked to write or talk about translating his work (the title of one such piece I published in 1989, in Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth, edited by Daniel Weissbort, was “Voice; Landscape; Violence: Sonnevi into English in Helsinki”) I always come back to the shock of hearing him read aloud the first time. What was it? Some kind of recognition? Something vaguely erotic? Astonishment, I think, at the sheer beauty of the music. What the uncharitable often claim, reading silently to themselves, is lost in translation. Maybe I deceive myself in following that voice as a guiding light. Maybe it’s just a will-o-the-wisp. Before there were cheap international telephone rates, I would ask Göran to read the poems I was working on into tapes for me. Over the years I have internalized his reading voice.

For Reuben A. Brower’s classic collection of essays On Translation (1959) John Hollander wrote one entitled “Versions, Interpretations, and Performances.” Hollander covers all the bases or splits all the hairs in search of the authoritative what-I-once-insisted-on-calling rendition of a text. In heeding Sonnevi’s voice and making what will doubtless be merely the first English versions, I try to keep interpretive and performance variations in mind, in both languages. We must ever bear in mind that a literary translation is simply a record of a reading. Every reading is a new act of creation, a variation on the original, at first a private act that may or may not become a public performance. Another great (alas dead) Swedish poet I have translated, Gunnar Ekelöf, put it this way (more or less):
There shall be an empty setting at the ready-laid table; it belongs to the reader.

At the start of his wonderful manual Rhyme’s Reason, Hollander reminds us: “. . . that all poetry was originally oral. It was sung or chanted; poetic scheme and musical pattern coincided or were sometimes identical. Poetic form as we know it is an abstraction from or residue of, musical form, from which it came to be divorced when writing replaced memory as a way of preserving poetic utterance in narrative, prayer, spell, and the like. The ghost of oral poetry never vanishes, even though the conventions and patterns of writing reach out across time and silence all actual voices.” That is my reason or excuse – one and the same word, skäl, in Swedish – my defense of semantic translation by musical ear.

In 1988 Tomas Tranströmer asked how my work with Göran was going. I reluctantly admitted, “Pretty well, we haven’t killed each other yet.” He replied, with a grin: “I can just see it: two pedants, one on either side of the table, that must be why you two get along!”

Here are samples of one short- and two long-lined poems by Göran Sonnevi in my translation. Know that I read them at about twice the rate that Göran does in either language.

I said to you,
I am not human
And you
looked at me
and said, no
perhaps you
are not

Then I began to vanish
dissolving from within
until not even
my shell remained
Not even
my skin, the human
And you
touched me
as if I
did not exist

And inside,
inside me
night streaming, streaming night
and starless Not
a single
human star

When I touched you
with my fingers of night
you, too, dissolved
you were
between my fingers

[From A Child Is Not a Knife: Selected Poems of Göran Sonnevi, Princeton University Press, 1993, translated and edited by Rika Lesser. Original Swedish in Dikter utan ordning (Poems with no order), 1983.]


from MOZART’S THIRD BRAIN by Göran Sonnevi


Returning We are in the city of memory It is creation's
first morning A great tit is singing I go out to
the trees, the houses, get the paper from the mailbox, lightly
rimed with frost The sun rises behind the houses
over the snow, over human beings That's how it always is
The brimstone butterfly and the orange underwing flew The snow
already melting quickly, but still there in the shade Then
I also saw a peacock butterfly, a small tortoise-shell, and a comma
Out of the abyss of politics I think Almost nothing is
what it seems to be The screens are called deception, self-
deception, individual or collective Hell's
forms move Verily we shall be with one another
in Paradise I finish reading the book on Shostakovich; it
presents a crushed man; except when in deep concentration,
where he is in music, in his ultimate seriousness, despair
I think about the forms of the hippocampus, the art of fixing memories That
new thoughts are as dreams; if they are not quickly ob-
jectified, they disappear I touch the blinding sound
I try to phone my mother, who has pneumonia
but there's a busy signal I understand, that in the great listening
I shall hear voices, the voice ahead of me Even if listening
is simultaneous through all time About music and violence; in this
impossibility Everything simultaneous; in this love Now
the voices are summed Even the voices of the dead come from in front, as from
an infinite absence But all music comes out of this infinity
Listening-receiving Total reality such as it comes to me
The unheard-of, potential, imaginary world of sound Of which
mathematics is only a small part Or vice versa There is no
difference We are listening-inward That which comes into actuality
comes with its blinding Or with its satisfaction, its delight


Once again
the sea shall leap up, from the highest point Where
we imagine the limit to be, precisely where we tran-
scend The sea roars below the cliffs; the diabase veins
protrude like spines We are their
rhythms, also, in the greater rhythmic system; in our
provisional attempt at counterpoint
I, too, play the second voice; in colors;
in transformations; also in the transformations of fear
The sea of fear and the sea of joy; identical; in the play of light
of valuations, beneath wandering clouds, their
shadows, lightning, oblique downpours
I walk into the wind; its pressure against my face
See the islands, the heights, the rocks The city,
in the upper corner of the bay, shrouded in smoke
I was also part of its chemistry; when I was defined
The transformations just go on
The islands of poverty and social decay
need not be embedded
in some overriding imperial or economic structure,
I understood, yesterday, since long ago Refugees come
wearing their veils, their darkness, their colors
We are part of this transformation, we act, the trans-
mutations in what is humanity will
go on; then we will pay the price;
or else everything is already worthless, gold . . .

If song will again be possible is not for us to decide –

[From Göran Sonnevi, Mozart’s Third Brain, Yale University Press, 2009, translated by Rika Lesser.]

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A paper presented at a conference about translation held in Dongguk University, Seoul, November 29, 2008.

This paper is largely inspired by an essay written in French and delivered in Germany in 1996 by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, published in English after his death with the title ‘Translation as challenge and source of happiness’ (In: Paul Ricoeur, On Translation. Routledge. 2006). He proposes to elaborate on what Walter Benjamin long ago called ‘the translator’s task’ by referring to two notions drawn from Freud, the ‘work of remembering’ and the ‘work of mourning.’ He refers to the title of an essay by a French translator and theorist, the late Antoine Berman (1942-1991), ‘The Trials (or tests) of the Foreign,’ as he explains that, in translation, ‘work is advanced with some salvaging, some acceptance of loss. Salvaging of what? Loss of what? That is the question that the term ‘foreign’ poses in Berman’s title. In reality, two partners are connected through the act of translating, the foreign—a term that covers the work, the author, his language—and the reader.’ Ricoeur next mentions the German Jewish thinker and biblical translator Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), who said that the translator has ‘to serve two masters: the foreigner with his work, the reader with his desire for appropriation,’ before indicating that translation represents a paradox and a problematic: ‘doubly sanctioned by a vow of faithfulness and a suspicion of betrayal.’ Earlier, the German philosopher Schleiermacher (1768-1834), Ricoeur says, had broken the paradox into two phrases: ‘bringing the reader to the author,’ and ‘bringing the author to the reader.’ The work of the translator is situated between the two: the work of remembering the original in another language, the work of mourning what in the original can never be said in any other language.

In other words, we might think, the translator seems doomed to failure no matter what s/he does, since from the point of view of the source culture, a translator will usually be seen as the potential agent of a transmission as nearly complete as possible of the original in all its complexity of reputation, its style and resonance; from the point of view of the target culture, a translator is expected to serve as the agent of an appropriation and adaptation by which a literary text from elsewhere is transmuted into a work that will be attractively exotic, perhaps, but not too disconcertingly foreign in its new context and language. Neither expectation can ever be fully satisfied.

In a paper I gave this summer, I elaborated on the nature of the foreignness of Korean literature, and the resulting test for the translator. During my presentation today, I will repeat portions of that reflection, returning to Ricoeur from time to time.

Generally speaking, people in Korea seem to think that works of Korean poetry and fiction can be ‘globalized’ or ‘universalized’ simply by replacing their Korean language with the corresponding words and grammar of other languages. However, the features making a work of literature specifically ‘Korean’ go far beyond the language in which it is composed; rather they depend on the specific space, geographic and historic or cultural, in which it was written, published, read and received.

We need to remember that whenever a literary work from one culture or nation is refashioned into another language and published in another cultural space, it leaves its home context and reputation behind and undergoes an entirely new process of reading and reception in that new space and context. If the transfer succeeds, the translated work will have become part of that target nation’s literature. If some of the essential characteristics of a nation’s literature resist attempts to ‘export’ them, that is often a result of the ‘foreignness’ of the literary space in which the work arose in relation to the target space.

Korean poets naturally exploit the resources of the vocabulary, grammar and rhetoric, rhythm and style of the Korean language to create works that will be accessible to a Korean readership. They produce poems designed to evoke situations and emotions which they expect Korean readers to respond to readily. The subject of Korean literature is almost always an experience of Korean reality; that reality is normally located in a Korean space, in Korean geography and history. Where the setting of a work lies outside of Korea, the narrator and main characters are still almost always Korean.

We must remember that before any work, written in any language, can be viewed as ‘an achieved work of literature,’ it has to undergo multiple processes beyond being written. What turns a raw text, be it play, novel, or poem, into a ‘work of literature’ is not the mere fact of having been written. It has also to be published, distributed, read and received. Without publication and reception, it is nothing more than a latent ‘textual object,’ rather similar to an embryo in the womb. These things are true of every nation’s literature. Most works of literature are written first of all for reception within a specific space, a national, or even local, regional context and ‘culture.’ So although a very few languages, English or Spanish, especially, are spoken and written in more than one country or continent, usually even works of literature written in such languages have deep roots in a specific culture, history, geography, and in a particular national or regional identity, which is far more than a matter of language.

One corollary of this is that there is and can be no such thing as unconditioned ‘universality’ in literature. Living works of literature are bound to be limited, rooted in specific particularities of national space, in place and time. A particular space can never claim to be universal, its experienced history can never be considered universal, and so, too, its literature can never be universal. The fact that English is used in more countries than most languages does not make any real difference to the limited, regional referentiality of most of what is written in it. An Irish writer (for example) is usually clearly writing within an Irish space, and to that extent remains distinct from a British, an Australian, or a Canadian writer. Where the readers who identify with a given space can say ‘this is our story,’ every other reader will have to say ‘this is their story.’

We may now return to Ricoeur’s meditation. He focuses particularly on the difficulty of translating philosophical texts, where the ‘great primary words’ are ‘summaries of long textuality where whole contexts are mirrored. (. . .) Not only are the semantic fields not superimposed on one another, but the syntaxes are not equivalent, the turns of phrase do not serve as a vehicle for the same cultural legacies, and what is to be said about the half-silent connotations, which alter the best-defined denotations of the original vocabulary. (. . .) It is to this heterogeneity that the foreign text owes its resistance to translation and, in this sense, its intermittent untranslatability.’ The problem is that it is impossible to say exactly the same thing in two languages, simply because they are different. Therefore, Ricoeur urges us to ‘give up the ideal of the perfect translation. This renunciation alone makes it possible to take on the two supposedly conflicting tasks of ‘bringing the author to the reader’ and ‘bringing the reader to the author’.’

He explains that the dream of the perfect translation is in fact equivalent to dreaming of a single, perfect, universal language capable of expressing ‘a rationality fully released from cultural constraints and community restrictions.’ This dream is equivalent to ‘the wish that translation would gain, gain without losing. It is this gain without loss that we must mourn until we reach an acceptance of the impassable difference of the peculiar and the foreign.’ With great wisdom, Ricoeur ends by establishing a new harmony: ‘it is this mourning for the absolute translation that produces the happiness associated with translating. (. . .) When the translator acknowledges and assumes the irreducibility of the pair, the peculiar and the foreign, he finds his reward in the recognition of the impassable status of the dialogicality of the act of translating as the reasonable horizon of the desire to translate. In spite of the agonistics that make a drama of the translator’s task, he can find his happiness in what I would like to call linguistic hospitality.

‘So its scheme is definitely that of a correspondence without adequacy. (. . .) just as in the act of telling a story, we can translate differently, without hope of filling the gap between equivalence and total adequacy. Linguistic hospitality, then, where the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house.’
I will now return briefly to my reflections on the reception after translation of works created in foreign literary spaces:

A poem written in another culture, if it is simply translated ‘word by word,’ very often bewilders foreign readers, who cannot hear what it is saying because it is not talking to them. This is the heart of the problem of mutually incomprehending spaces that I have been addressing. This is the untranslatability of poetry. There is hope, however. Those non-Korean readers who have learned to read Korean poetry in translation, not looking for the thrill of exotic novelty, for quick pleasure, or for magical entertainment, but intent on discovering the specifically Korean experience and vision of human life expressed there, and familiar with recent Korean history, soon learn to recognize the significance of the poems’ concerns, and the humane sensitivity of the poets. To that extent, at least, such readers are able, by their informed imagination and power of human sympathy, to enter the Korean poetic space. Convinced that we are all members of one human family, they readily understand that the pain through which history has drawn the Korean nation during the past 120 or more years has given birth to a poetry that frequently explores ways of expressing the unspeakable, the intolerable and the perpetually repeated loss of significance the Korean people have had to endure.
[To be continued]

[A NOTE ON BROTHER ANTHONY OF TAIZE. Born in Truro (Cornwall, U. K.) in 1942, he studied Medieval and Modern Languages at The Queen's College, in the University of Oxford, from 1960 until 1969. In 1969 he joined the monastic Community of Taizé (France), to which he made a Life Commitment at Easter 1974. He came to Korea in May 1980, and since then he has continued to live in Seoul with other Brothers from Taizé. Over that time he has both taught medieval and renaissance English literature and culture at Sogang University and become one of our principal translators of modern Korean literature into English, most notably through his well known translations of the poems and fiction of Ko Un. Naturalized as a Korean citizen in 1994 with the Korean name An Sonjae, he is now emeritus professor at Sogang University, chair-professor at Dankook University, and President of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch. In 2008 he was awarded the Korean government's Order of Merit for Culture. His well-stocked web site can be found by clicking here.]

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She take me along. Gar mamma I hear me I cry: where way we are going?
......Ho she is laugh laugh laugh. You now you are to see the world. Gar mamma I say what is world? what (gar mamma) is world?
......She take me along. She me not tell of this thing: world. Are young too young she doubtless are think.
......I were young by lot I guess when she are take me along.
......She are doubtless think that.
......I are run along in back of the head of her. She me not see I are think. Are laughing am I. Ha and ha and ha for long time for I are as before I was. I are now young.
......We are go in bigger than where I are sleep in dark room with bunches of people who are walk in ones and threes all around. Gar. I are see food in benches like they am there sit. Me guess that the eyes of me are pop doubtless out from the head of myself as I are look at this thing. Gar doubtless.
......She take me the hand (my child she say) and me she drag and at what bench she like she buy or this or that or if not she like she spit (pheh) and not she buy.
......Ho and I are laugh laugh laugh. My heart of my body he are so happy he are jump with joy of so happy to be.
......Gar mama I hear me to her I say. Am happy happy ha ha ha. She are say: good.
......We then (in order) we are return to street to sun to sky with white of cloud like pussy tail. Oh I are smell the air of lovely street. The air is smell so lovely.
......I know I are in love though doubtless young. Gar I say I are in love mamma I are in love. Ha ha ha.
......Ho she is laugh laugh laugh. Are you with what in love to be?
......Ha I are smile smile smile. I are in love with sun and sky and also cloud like fluffy pussy tail I are in love. I are in love to smell how good are smell the smell of these I are in love with.
......Gar I are cry Gar oh gar oh gar. I are in love though doubtless young.
......She take my hand of me and hold it strong. I see she are in laughing.
......I think I are laugh also for the mouth of me it are in smile.

[The preceding goes back to first teen-age discovery of language as a vehicle open to change & personal control, something that already existed in my mind as an indication of what poetry was or might come to be. Born & bred in New York I had come into English a little belatedly, but by 1947 I already felt in full possession & free to change the rules of engagement in minor or major ways, however I thought it pleased me. A few years later, William Carlos Williams, visiting City College in New York, told a group of us, most of whom were like him the children of immigrants & the speakers of strange tongues, that language & poetry were ours to deconstruct & then to start anew: Smash it to hell! You have a right to it! I never published what I had written those years before, but I kept it with me & waited for a time when the means of publication were in my hands, to let it fly. In the age of the internet that work would not have been without its timely publication. (J.R.)]

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[Chris Tanasescu is an active & highly regarded poet, critic, translator, and performer, writing in both Romanian and English. His poetry-performance/action-painting rock band Margento won the 2008 Romanian Gold Disc, & his most recent book in Romanian & English, The Book from the Court and 9 Other Topologies (Cartea de la Curtea) was published by Vinea Publishing, Bucharest, in 2010. His writing continues in a line from earlier Romanian poets like Tristan Tzara and Gellu Naum.]

Graphs are ways to understand and (re)generate language, society, and biochemical structures or entities. They literally are ways, paths that connect vertices. Vortexes. Overt axes.

Every poem, that is, every person, is a graph – of instincts, beliefs, phrases, and so forth (news everybody knows but wants to receive proof of) – and yet they may be read and then involved as a (set of) point(s) to start networks from or to connect through.

Even throughout the most remote hamlets of Romania, folk verse abounds in sea-related stories. From hundreds of miles away, through a network of memory and metaphor, the sea iridesces irrepressibly. Its dynamics permeate the language by means of the mathematical sublime.

At the physical limit of the infinity within the poem infinitely stands a person. A poem. A person. Persons are networks of language, and therefore poems, while poems are networks of people, and therefore persons.

Şi pasu-n urma-ţi zboară c-o tainică mânie, / Ca un smintit ce cată cu ochiu-ngălbenit, / Cu fruntea-nvineţită, cu faţa cenuşie / Icoana ce-a iubit... (Eminescu, “Amorul unei marmore”)
My flighty steps now follow you, all manic, stealthy, / Just like a mad man searching with his jaundiced stare, / His forehead bruised, his haggard cheeks gone pale as ashes, / The icon once revered…
(Eminescu, “Loving a Heart of Marble”)

Graphs are present in Simona Popescu’s reading of Gellu Naum’s oeuvre as a live network and in Deric Corlew’s neuroscientific approach to William Carlos Williams’s poems, where ideas are to be found only in things, indeed, since the latter themselves are part of an encompassing life-enmeshing reticule of nerves and synapses.

In my experiments with Margento I have explored a “groundbreaking” discovery that actually has always worked as confirmation of things ancient but perpetually common – namely that a poem ramifies by nature into music and painting/video and vice versa, and the graph thus growing generates a syntax of (artistic) language(s) and relationships, which can be then enriched into (cross-)cultural meaning, just as an abstract semantic graph can be constructed from a given abstract syntactic tree.

Yet such abstractions also have a heart and blood; their blood, each art’s specific language and means of expression, their heart, creative and interpersonal love.

[Note: In the fragments below the graph ramifications are marked by * and a variable number of ~ signs]

(from the longer sequence Europe. A Gypsy Epithalamium)

I passed the cathedral slowly heading to per
gammon – per-Mammon, as Tom loves to call it –
and noticed at last the oak trees there:
gigantic, thickets thick as tall as the spires, roaring;

They snatched me... here, my brains still rattle with their rustle.
Oh, but not exactly Ionesco’s childhood [*~]
experience of sudden luminosity,
I guess, said Tom, although he also felt
a sensation of floating off the ground…

Oh, no, replied Grigore, rather a pulsing
darkness... The milky light in the German
skies that came down sifting through the foliage elect
Ro-cuted me: a dream suddenly resuscitated glistened [*~ ~]
from behind my memory like a lake deep in my brains,
sucking me back into the museum, and slowly drowning me
through the branches into the market gate of Miletus…

Part I

The Image of the world of the great mystics
is the same above and beyond every
century and above and beyond all geo
graphical location. One single in
tuition…Will I see France again next year?...

It is necessary to emphasize what makes us
identical, not what separates us. [19
67: That depends; sometimes the differ
(esse)nces are more interesting than the re-sem-
blanches. This is true, for example, in the case
of works of art.]
The brightest light, the light
of Italy, the purest sky of Scandina [*~ ~ ~]
via in the month of June is only a half-light
when one compares it to the light of childhood…
Even the nights were blue.
Too late.
In what depths
can this buried light be sought? Several life cycles
have gone by since then. Centuries and centuries.
Centuries separate me from myself.

[*~ ~]
(From the longer sequence “How Was Ion Iliescu NOT Assassinated”)

There once was a gifted girl, but a bit homely / a bit of sucker, a bit of a stutterer, called / Romania, and one day she woke up to find something / growing on her forehead, and it kept growing today / and tomorrow when the pimple became / a boil, and began to move, taking on life / becoming a little man stuck there / an beauty mark named Ilyich (Iliescu), and then the old / cancer relapses, infecting / the brain. Today, tomorrow, she endured /
pitiful girl—shouldn’t be pitied! / But finally she finds the courage and goes / one day to see the surgeon. There, / Ilyich (Iliescu): good doctor, look what’s grown out of my ass!

[*~ ~ ~]

They say Eric the Red called it Greenland
to entice more colonists; “‘They’ being
the Vinland Sagas,” bantered our vocals.
This is the land of wine I thought almost

drunk on the thought. Dreamlike vineyards under the ice. / We get off the plane and I’m bashed / by memories of Basho, all of a sudden so cold: / Winter solitude – in a world of one
color, one sound, the wind. The heart
says Tove the waitress, the seal heart –
eat it raw and you will live long.
The frozen mouth fills up with hearty blood
from animals that animate the blood clots in your voice.
Nothing dies here, everything gets eaten alive by the living.

We’re going to strike roots, said Ralu, / when she saw another round of Greenland / brown ale coming. Yet Tom replies: At least that’s the bright side
of this global warming thing, they brew the beer with water taken / from the melting Arctic ice cap, 180,000 / years old! Indeed, but that doesn’t mean / we should spend the same number of years drinking here. Of course / not, we’ll do it in a flash: millennia drunk up in just one night…
Still, how could anyone grow roots in ice, / their mouth dead frozen, and dead frozen limbs?
And we all leaned on the bar like a clump / of Rosenvinge pine trees, ourselves also planted
here a century ago, from Europe.
Neruda: I can’t tell lips from roots…

“Unruly Neruda / under stones under snows / in the damp hole / look, there is no dead man
Pablo the child with Chilean voodoo / raised the coffin, whose coffin? / his father’s – he thought – up from the grave, / but out of the box there poured water, more water…”
I kept whispering into your ear but you couldn’t hear me / in the hell that had broken loose around us
Margento chimed in a conch shell held up to the frostbitten ear / like a glass bell full of the water we’d drunk back in Bucharest.
Outside – the glacier, and the winds screeching stuck in it… Inuit… / We get to be of the same blood – as we slowly chew the seal heart, half asleep.

[All of the above were written and/or translated into English by the author, except for “Envoi” – translated from the Romanian by Martin Woodside]

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University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 9780226020969 Published March 2011
Paper $25.00 ISBN: 9780226027364
Published March 2011

“We got to talking”—so David Antin begins the introduction to Radical Coherency, embarking on the pursuit that has marked much of his breathless, brilliantly conversational work. For the past forty years, whether spoken under the guise of performance artist or poet, cultural explorer or literary critic, Antin’s innovative observations have helped us to better understand everything from Pop to Postmodernism.

Intimately wedded to the worlds of conceptual art and poetics, Radical Coherency collects Antin’s influential critical essays and spontaneous, performed lectures (or “talk pieces”) for the very first time, capturing one of the most distinctive perspectives in contemporary literature. The essays presented here range from the first serious assessment of Andy Warhol published in a major art journal, as well as Antin’s provocative take on Clement Greenberg’s theory of Modernism, to frontline interventions in present debates on poetics and fugitive pieces from the ’60s and ’70s that still sparkle today—and represent a gold mine for art historians of the period. From John Cage to Allan Kaprow, Mark Rothko to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Antin takes the reader on an idiosyncratic, personal journey through twentieth-century culture with his trademark antiformalist panache—one that will be welcomed by any fan of this consummate trailblazer.

“A decade before he became the seminal ‘talk poet’ we all know, David Antin was already writing some of the best art criticism in America. In the waning days of Abstract Expressionism, Antin introduced other ways of thinking about art that looked ahead to twenty-first-century modes of conceptualism, performance, and digital poetics. This superb selection from his writings, which brings together essays—some of them already classics—and a number of talk pieces from the last forty years, is a real treasure: there is something here for anyone who cares about the arts today.”—Marjorie Perloff

“Was Descartes the first (and best) novelist? Why is the most durable art the most indigestible (Duchamp, for example)? In what sense was Ezra Pound provincial and T. S. Eliot a snobbish butler? How did W. H. Auden become a blight upon the land? Why does good video art have to be boring? Do artists own their ideas? (Answer: No!) David Antin’s writing sparkles with bold, surprising judgments, dazzling transitions, precise observations, and hilarious wisecracks. His book is essential reading for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the debates over art and literature in the postmodern era, as narrated by one of its most brilliant and independent voices. Radical Coherency offers more pleasure per page than most of what passes for criticism today.”—W. J. T. Mitchell



Art Essays

Warhol: The Silver Tenement
Alex Katz and the Tactics of Representation
Jean Tinguely’s New Machine
Lead Kindly Blight
“It Reaches a Desert in which Nothing Can Be Perceived but Feeling”
Art and the Corporations
Video, the Distinctive Features of the Medium
Have Mind, Will Travel
the existential allegory of the rothko chapel
Duchamp: The Meal and the Remainder
Allan at Work

Literary Essays

Modernism and Postmodernism: Approaching the Present in Modern American Poetry
Some Questions about Modernism
radical coherency
The Stranger at the Door
The Beggar and the King
“the death of the hired man”
Wittgenstein among the Poets
john cage uncaged is still cagey

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