To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, March 24, 2011

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

[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


victor immature said...

" 'postmodern, postmodern' the next time you hear someone axe 'em what do that mean, jim?"
amiri baraka

fictive criticism is kind of like the whole rosicrucian thing, which is interesting, if enough people do it, it may become a new school without intending to

i thought ed sanders' "investigative poetry" in the original city lights, extra large edition, was the best thing he ever did on the page....

i enjoy translating poems from a languages i know vaguely, and then making up associations on the fly...

WAS said...

I relish the way you expose the degree of how much has been lost (and can be reclaimed) in the convolved cooptation process of experimental and outsider poetic techniques. Applying that eye to translation (as this wonderful post-modern picaro does here), my first response is “I’m still waiting for my 40 acres and a mule.” What impelled my foray into translation – to which I’ve expended quite a bit of energy over the years – was the at best useless at worse corrupted nature of what too often passes for poetic translation in this intercepted age. Is the solution to the fallacy of “innocent translation” “calculated and insincere discourse games”? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not comfortable saying (at least out of the context of border confusion – crossings legal and illegal) we “can’t translate the Other so we need to reinvent.” Such efforts, as you eloquently put it in PotM2 in relation to the language poets, forces you at some point to brush up against the real.

I still believe in a flame of understanding that passes between the living and the dead that keeps the bonfire alive – I think the problem is that conventional translators give up on this too easily, and revert to their own viewpoints because it’s too terrifying to be absorbed into the time-space simulacrum of another. We’ve all had the experience (as I did when I tried to take on the Bengali of Jibanananda Das) of having to give up on fealty and finding virtues in the consequent freedom, but (as the whole Landinsky/Hafiz drama reveals), there is actually (somewhere) a border between an artist’s right to expression/wisdom/Chockmah and the reader’s right to accuracy/understanding/Binah. Borges’ Pierre Menard proved heroically the primacy of reader over text, but he failed miserably at his central task of re-creating the text (reminding me of Balzac’s point about humans failing to make the distinction between analyzing diamonds and making them). Maybe it’s just that “dialogo diablo” works, like the death of author, best in Romantic languages, without English’s relentless relationships between objects.

Al Kover(t) said...

Hear, hear! "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."
Yes, the Muse of the Cleft-Palate is at issue here. How can one write what one wants to write when what one does not want to write is actually it? Jack Spicer received radio emissions in the form of dictations from deep space. The Outside is a yogi-bogey box made into a crystal radio set. Spicer was translating his idiolect into the habits of speech tripping over the furniture Outside.