Monday, 5 January 2015

Do poets dream of electric ideas sleeping furiously?

CMCR Research Seminar

Friday 16 January, 1.30pm
Studio 55, Keyworth Centre
Keyworth Street SE1

Do poets dream of electric ideas sleeping furiously? Translating digital poetry in the digital age

Karlien van den Beukel

In the networked age, new digital translation tools – automatic online translation, crowdsourcing and translation apps – provide transparency to source texts in other languages, even as they assign to language an instrumental function, a purposive immediacy. As ‘frictionless, instantaneously convertible, simplified speech’ allows for easier translatability, devolved costs and efficacy of apps, corporate promotion of controlled versions of English in particular increase its global capacity as a service language.

Running ‘a Rilke poem through an online translation system would be inviting trouble’, as Michael Cronin puts it. The service language, in its unintelligible rendition of the poem, can only reveal the absence of the culture language, the dense semantic and historical specificity of language which supports ‘thoughts, imagination and dreams’. Poetry, especially post-romantic poetry, then, is seen to throw a spanner in the technocratic works, even as specialist humanities knowledge, or at least a local human, is required to translate it into English.

Yet what happens when poets use digital technologies to compose poems? Do they get the idea from media technology, or does it emerge from literary culture? Does a digital poem composed in another language require translation into the culture language – with English, localised cultural identities – or is it readily appreciated as a conceptual media work? Does digital poetry demand its own translation methods, and what are they?

This paper presents preliminarily findings of my practice-based research, translating the digital poems by the Dutch poet Tonnus Oosterhoff, contextualised both through avant-garde poetics and recent digital translation theory.