Saturday, February 17, 2007


When Robert Pinsky reads poetry I feel a little dirty. The pleasure he seems to take in his corpulent voice borders on lascivious. But it is the slightly pompous, deeply luxuriating, intellectual lather that one revels in whenever Pinsky rolls his tongue around a poem.

In reading aloud parts of his translation of Dante, Pinsky reveled in Dante's imagery. The lunch was a mixture of passages read aloud and a Q&A session. I think part of me wishes he jUSt read the whole time. Questions seem so much more about the person asking the question self-advertising their mediocre thought du jour than about the person you are speaking to--my own questions included. For the most part the questions from the audience were insipid, and Pinsky's answers, tepid.

That said, bathing in Pinksy's version of Ugolino spiked the interest of everyone. The sinner of sinners and his story of eating his own sons, his children of his own flesh and blood as re-told by Pinsky flooded me with imagery. I had Rodin's Ugolino, the black bronzes, held distinct in my mind, but I also had a long litany of poems I'd read over the years, poems by poets reproducing their own story of the savagery alluded to in Dante.

Here is Wikipedia on Ugolino:

This triggered a series of ideas about the complications of translation, the irreproducibility of a work of art in one language to the next, and yet the seemingly unending attempts at "reproduction." So when the Q&A session restarted, I asked my own dumb question.

Pinsky was Tart and to the point. And I paraphrase here: ...I'll give you my theory of translation...there is no such thing as translation. Of all the translations of Dante only Longfellow's is a work of art...and for me I translate in an attempt to make visible the original work of art in the best way I can in English. The only and best version of Dante is in is the best of itself and is the divine reflection of that work of art...when translated into Swedish, or French, or Hindi or Urdu or whatever...the expansion of the original sublimity (the reflection of the divine) becomes furthered, further dispersed, further explored, further made beautiful and meaningful, because of its translation into that langauge...and the better that transformation of the original into the target language the more abundant and clear the rays of the divine reflection...

I think CAT video recorded Robert so my paraphrase should not stand as testimony. If anyone has access to the video and desires to capture Pinsky's "theory of tranlsation" more accurately I would encourage you to do so. My paraphrase does his comment little justice.

The reading was inspiring and I think it gave me a deeper feeling for why I choose to translate what I do. As Pinsky said, he translates this or that "because I felt like it." and "Because I thought I could." And while these reasons might seem the most superficial or flip of answers--and in a certain way they are--they are also the only reason any artist need do anything!

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