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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


When I was little kid they told me that this little island called Formosa (a big island, but still, just an island) was "China." I asked what this huge country in Asia was that had no label at all on it. "Oh," said the teacher, that is "Red China." It was an early moment of skepticism. I don't know how old I was, but I'm sure it was before Nixon's opening of China in 1972.    

Dámaso on San Juan

Nada que pudiera explicar esa constante sensación de frescura, de virginalidad y originalidad que nos produce la poesía del Santo y que es como un delicioso oreo cuando a ella pasamos desde las de otros poetas, aún de los mayores de nuestro Siglo de Oro. 

Wag the Dog

All your obsessions, complexes, fetishes, syndromes, dogmas, rituals and habits, self-definitions, specializations, investments, ranks and insignias, isms, everything you are attached to, everything you think necessary to position yourself in the world, to gain an edge, to get others to see in in a certain way: all of this is a dog wagging you. You are the tail being wagged around by this dog. It's no wonder you feel helpless and unfree most of the time. It's been a lot of work to accumulate and keep track of all this baggage, so you won't willingly part with any of it.   

This is a paraphrase of what I told myself today while meditating.  I usually try not to think when I'm meditating, but I am out of practice so I could not prevent  it, and I think it is a useful insight, for me if not for you.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Gold Mine

I got a fund-raising letter from the University of California Study Abroad Programs:  Dear Jonathan, it has been 38 years since you studied abroad. That means that I have been a Hispanist for 38 years, in that I began a very systematic study of Spanish poetry at that point (really, before that, since I learned Spanish for this express purpose). I still remember poems from memory that I memorized at this point: "El alma tenías / tan clara y abierta / que yo nunca pude / entrarme en tu alma."  Yes, I was a babe in the woods. It was a junior year program but I was a year younger, since I started college at 17. I turned 19 in Spain, right after we had arrived in a group flight that went non-stop from LAX.

I am sitting atop the proverbial gold mine. I've found a vehicle, the study of translation, with an automatically generated archive: you simply have to find the translations, which isn't hard to do. There is a sophisticated body of theory that allows you to look at this material critically, and the project has a historical sweep to it, both in the original texts, and in the translations. I don't have to be an expert in every original text, either. I can rely on accidental erudition and on a store house of ideas I have been developing since before graduate school, including two papers I wrote in grad school.


I realize I am not necessarily like other people.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dream of the Anti-Aphorism

There was a new genre discovered, in this dream. It was called scheherazade [phonetic approximation?], and I was investigating it / trying to explain it somehow.  Though short, it differed from the aphorism in that it was delicate and non-obtrusive rather than heavy-handed, axiomatic, and sententious. Most examples were much shorter than aphorisms. When I awoke I realized I myself was the main expert in this genre, because it was my dream.  I cannot quote you any examples.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Religious Differences, A Poem

Stoics and Epicureans

may not be as different as you think

We associate one group with suffering pain without too much complaint

the other with seeking pleasure

Neither group was Christian, and

Christians too have had their ideas about pain and pleasure

neither Stoical nor Epicurean

Protestants and Catholics used to be thought very different from each other too

now they live side by side in the suburbs

undisturbing each other with theological controversy

They fought horrific wars in Europe for decades or maybe centuries

I'll have to look that up

even in the 1970s there was religious war

going on

and not between factions of stoics  

Friday, May 26, 2017


An article in the CHE: a student comes into the professor's office with an official accommodation letter about panic attacks. The professor says that not showing up for an exam for a panic attack will not be very good for a number of reasons, and then asks the student what sh/e does normally to calm self in such a situation.  They have a conversation and the student ends up doing well in the class and never missing an exam for a panic attack.  

Then some disabilities specialists write another opinion piece in the CHE saying how this first article perpetuates "myths."  Like the myth of resilience, that a person can do things to manage their disability better. The professor who wrote op-ed 1 is arrogant, non-compliant with disability act (ADA), etc...

I have an anxiety disorder, let's say (I actually do), which is not PTSD or panic disorder, but something called General Anxiety Disorder.  (I've had only two or three panic attacks in my life, two that I remember buts let's say I don't remember everything.)  The best thing someone can tell you is to take steps to manage it, which I've done. So asking someone what they normally do is perfectly fine.  If the student did have the panic attack and the prof. did not accommodate, then she would be in violation, of course, but recommending coping mechanisms as first resort is nothing bad.

I've read up on these disorders, and what actually works is not avoidance of the stressors, but the realization that a panic attack is survivable and that anxiety, in general, is something normal rather than something wholly intolerable. Since no human being can avoid all anxiety in all situations in life, the anxiety sufferer goes to extraordinary lengths to do the impossible and ends up being slave to various anxiety avoidance techniques, which often end up being life avoidance techniques. The treatment ends up being much worse than the original problem. I am not embarrassed to say I have done this, because having anxiety in and of itself is not the disorder. Everyone feels it, along with the other normal range of human affect.

Resilience is basic axis of human personality. Some have more or less, but it is there, the same with other axes like the ability to introspect, to understand others, to enjoy one's personal triumphs, etc... There is no reason to believe that disabled people have more or less of this, but in general most people think it's better to more of it. Except these disability busy-bodies.


Although Borges praises one line Roy Campbell's translation, or actually just one part of a line ("when all my house was hushed") the rest of it does not live up to a high standard. Consider this:

¿Por qué, pues has llagado
A aqueste corazón, no le sanaste?
Y pues me le has robado,
¿Por qué así le dejaste
Y no tomas el robo que robaste?

Why then did you so pierce
my heart, nor heal it with your touch sublime?
Why, like a robber fierce,
Desert me every time
And not enjoy the plunder of your crime?

This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.  The fourth line does not even seem grammatical, and I've italicized some stuff that not only does not appear in the original, but creates a wholly false tone. Notice how the original stanza has no adjectives!    

It might be better, though, than John Frederick Nims:

Unready yet to mend
the havoc in this heart--so quick to break it?
Possess and not intend
ever to take it?
Have it by force and forceably forsake it? (1959)

Nims revised his translation years later and came up with something equally risible:

And wounds to show. You'd cleave
clean to the heart, and never think of healing?
Steal it, and when you leave
leave it? What sort of dealing
to steal and never keep, and yet keep stealing?  (1979).

This is St. John of the Cross as translated by Dr. Seuss.  With apologies to the great children's author.

A Spanish 101 student understands the original more easily than either version by Nims.  Aside from the word "aqueste," which would now be "este," the language is transparent.

So-called feminine rhymes in English have a comic quality, associated with Gilbert and Sullivan, tin pan alley, and Dr. Seuss. I guess even before that with Byron.

The wretchedness of so much translation is a great mystery.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Juan de Yepes

I've solved half of the mystery of Saint John of the Cross.  I'd always assumed that he was always a canonical figure, but he was not. I've found a dissertation (Recepción de la obra literaria de San Juan de la Cruz en España : (siglos XVII, XVIII Y XIX) / Antonio José Mialdea Baena) that shows that he hardly registered at all in literary terms and only enters the literary canon in the late 19th century with Menéndez Pelayo. So he wasn't a figure influencing any of the baroque poets, and was even more eclipsed in 18th century poetics. This explains why he isn't translated into English earlier.  

For Lorca, Salinas, Guillén, Borges, Gelman, Valente, Colinas, maybe Cardenal too, he, not Góngora, is the supreme poet of the language. Probably for JRJ too. So we have to figure out how this happened. They were born into a world in which he had just become canonical, but they were still concerned with reading him outside the purely Carmelite context.

Valente complains about the secularized readings of this mystic poet.  Guillén and Dámaso Alonso want to read him as an erotic poet, decontextualizing him completely. Yet wasn't this secular reading necessary just in order to make him mainly a figure of interest within the context of Catholic contemplative practices? We might remember that Pope John Paul II wrote his dissertation on this figure, in Rome in 1949 or so, but hardly mentions anything to do with the poetic qualities of the text, as far as I can tell.

Imagine if Neruda was one of the foremost Marxist philosophers of his day, and his poetry was almost an afterthought for 95% of readers. That reading his poetry presented a special problem of intentionality, trying to find a non-communist reading, etc...


The problem of mysticism is a false problem, I think, based on the mistaken idea that poetry takes an emotion in the poet and communicates it to the reader. It is only the reader who supplies the emotion, actually, in the sense that the poem cannot make me feel an emotion of which I am not already capable. Imagine the scary music in the horror movie.  Does the film score composer have to feel that emotion first and then convey it to us?  No. There is no need to think about the composer's emotions at all. We simply associate certain kinds of musical tension with certain emotions, and then these patterns have also become codified in the same way the open arpeggios of Western movies are codified for those landscapes. We might respond in many ways to a poem, laugh at a poem that is meant to be tragic, for example.  Of course, we rebel when we are told what to feel too explicitly.

So we don't have to get into the mystic's head, recreate his experience.  Our own heads are self-sufficient.  The proof is that everyone recognizes his greatness as a poet almost immediately.  It is immanent in the poems and we don't need all the commentary to do so.  For most of us, the commentary gets in the way, of course.  The idea that we should read the poems as though their author wasn't a mystic, of course, is profoundly off base, since it poses a false dichotomy between one theme and another: we are supposed to feel that everyone can identify with the love story, but only another mystic can feel mysticism.


I  typically have four or five books out that I'm reading at any given time. I have notebook now just for the purposes of recording everything I've read completely through.


I am looking at a translation of Reverdy, in the NYRB / Poets series, edited by the indefatigable Mary Ann Caws. It has translations by Padgett, O'Hara, Asbhery, Rexroth, and Caws herself.  Some of this is leaving me cold, in terms of the translations.  If you didn't know any better, you'd think Reverdy is writing very freely, but looks how he starts a poem with an alexandrine: "Les yeux à peine ouvertes / La main sur l'autre rive."  It looks like he will prefer units of 6, 4, and 8 syllables throughout this poem.  And he rhymes when he wants to as well, but not regularly.  Jakobson says that any grammatical feature, if repeated, becomes poetic, so "Une heure tombe / Il fait plus chaud." Two present tense verbs in two phrases of equal length [4 syllables].  Rexroth's "The falling hour / It gets warmer" manages to destroy this very simple and easily translatable passage. "The hardly open eyes / The hand on the other shore." Notice how Reverdy begins every phrase at the beginning of the poem with the noun or pronoun: les yeux, la main, et tout, la porte, une tête... "The hardly open eyes" destroys this effect.

"Et tout ce qui arrive" = "everything that happens there." Maybe arrive simply means happens, but it seems weak, flat. "Le soleil prend toute la place" = "The sun fills everything."   That is simply banal.  Prendre is take, seize.  Place could be a plaza?  So the sun seizes the entire city square. Rexroth also doesn't notice when the poem shifts to the past tense for a few lines. He translates the imperfects as present.  

There is little that is cantabile in KR's translation here.  He messes up basic syntactic parallelisms and even phanopoeia, the most translatable aspect of poetry: its visuality.  Reverdy's delicate tone is nowhere in evidence.

Granted, Reverdy leaves little space for the translator to move around in.  The simple, French 101 syntax is uncompromising, especially since he uses syntactic parallelism as a musical device.

{To be fair,  I turn the page and find a perfectly fine translation by the same poet.}

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

More on Rhythmic Perception

So aside from perception of pattern, meter, and tempo, there have to be other more nuanced perceptual qualities to rhythm.  Just off the top of my head, let's say there is expectation and anticipation, or the forward projection of where the rhythm is going, along with the fulfillment or disappointment of these expectations. There is the perception of being on top of the beat, dead on it, or a bit behind (rhythmic feel), and the sensation of a soloist floating over the meter with a broader beat.  (How broad or narrow is the beat?). There are sensations of kinetic energy (I want to dance! is the music driving forward, swinging, bouncy maybe? Is the energy more vertical, bouncy, or horizontal [forward moving]) or rhythmic interest or boredom (monotony, variety of patterns). There is harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords are changing or not changing underneath the melody), and the rhythmic phrasing of melodic ideas.  There is the complex play of symmetry and asymmetry, tension and release, regularity and fluidity, the perception of structure over longer periods of time (feeling the piece's entire structure as a rhythm.) We could say a very crude idea of perception would ask the questions of fast and slow (tempo), triple or binary pattern (meter) and repetition of patterns.  If the brain cannot perceive all of that on a basic level, then these higher level nuanced perceptions won't come into play.


The idea of perfect or near perfect identity between the translation and the original is a metaphysical ideal far more difficult than the demand that the translation be as good as the original. Logically, as Borges has shown, it is not impossible for the translation to be as good, verbally speaking, as the original.  It is difficult:  say the poet is Borges and I am the translator.  Since I am inferior to Borges as a poet, then I won't be able to match him or, even less, surpass him. It is easy to see, though, that this is a contingent fact.

But the idea of matching a poem in all its aspects, and making it virtually identical, a near-perfect simulacrum, is not a difficulty but more like an impossibility.  Doesn't translation involve change by its very nature?

Translators are always talking about sacrificing one thing for another, or balancing, compromising. The original poem (as we view it at least) is completely uncompromising. It is what it is. The mentality of the translator, horse trading some meter for some literal meaning, or some nuance for some comprehensibility, is completely different.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Out of Pound and Williams

We get technical tradition of free verse. Olson and Creeley, Levertov, and Ronald Johnson, Eigner, all the rest continue this technical obsession. What I mean is that there is a lot of talk about the technique and the measure, the breath, etc...  This is fine, and it's a tradition that I myself am in, though I think poets like O'Hara have an ear as fine as those who seem more "technical."

There are a few problems.  One is that with all the talk of technique, the actual analysis of this verse is metaphorical rather than technical in any precise sense. The poets prided themselves on their ear, but they wouldn't explain what they were doing, with a suspicion of actual metrical analysis.  Or they couldn't explain very well.

The "Variable Foot" was a disaster. Both as a theory, and because many of the poems written in the three-step line are full of abstract language.  Some of the poems are ok, but not necessarily because of his prosody.

With this problem came the use of free verse without any prosodic intention at all.  It's hard to prove a negative, but we've all seen these poems. I can't give examples because then you'd take issue with my examples, so provide your own.  

Here's a poem you might want to take apart, "The Counter" by WCW.  You'll notice the ear here is finer than in the variable foot poems.  The poem doesn't rely on enjambment very much, and each line as 2-3 stresses. The "refrain" is placed at different points in each stanza, and broken up a bit. The two lines in this refrain (the first two of the poem) differ in only one syllable. Likewise the lines "quietly the flower / opens its petals." 2 of the twelve lines end with a single syllable accented word, and the other ten end with trochee words. The rhythm feels regular, and that is the reason for the effectiveness of the final stanza, with its less symmetrical phrasing: "lost / to its own fragrance / indifferent, idle--"  This is just brilliant stuff.  That line, "indifferent, idle,"  has the same pattern as "my days are burning" but it sure feels different.

You could do the same kind of analysis with "The Lonely Street" and many other WCW poems, like "If I could count the silence I could sleep, sleep, but it is one, one, no head even to gnaw, spinning"  They feel deliberate and skillful and don't over-rely on line breaks.  The breaks are there to lay bare the prosodic structure that is already there.

Many people haven't read these poems, because they have only read a few that are in all the anthologies. I studied these poems intensively for many years, memorizing them, in order to teach myself to write poetry, but I remember a famous feminist theorist telling me that Williams was a bad influence when I was in college.      

My days are burning
My brain is a flower
Hasten flower to bloom
my days are burning

Quietly the flower
opens its petals
My days are burning
My brain is a flower

My brain is a flower lost
to its own fragrance
indifferent, idle--
my days are burning

Rhythm Perception

So far I've found a scholarly article on rhythmic perception that breaks it down to meter, tempo, and pattern, taking pictures of people's brains, some musicians and some not, as they do various perceptual tasks. It is an incredibly complex process that is not located all in one place in the brain.

Of course, telling us where it is in the brain is important, but I need to find out more.  

Monday, May 22, 2017


I saw the Jim Jarmusch film "Paterson," featuring poems by Ron Padgett.  It is sweetly comical and inoffensive, with some cute visual and literary motifs running through, and proposes an easy relation between poetry and everyday life. There's a very sweet little poem written by the character of a young girl the main character, a bus driver named Paterson who lives in Paterson, runs into on the street.  The movie lacks dramatic conflict, and the few times it moves in that direction, the conflict is defused. For example, the gun in the bar scene turns out to be a toy.  There aren't many movies about poetry, and this one is different from all other ones because poetry here is not tragic, pretentious, or stentorian.

Accidental Erudition

Usually, research takes us in accidental directions and we end up learning about things that we hadn't intended to.  It is impossible to have such tunnel vision (which wouldn't be desirable either) as to avoid getting some accidental, incidental erudition. But then those secondary fields can become primary.

I wasn't intending to look at St. John of the Cross very much, but I have discovered a mystery, or maybe an anomaly.  Although now seen as one of the greatest if not the greatest Spanish poet of all time, he wasn't translated into English until the 19th century, and he was seen almost exclusively as a religious figure. Ticknor, in a history of Spanish literature published in the 1860s, devotes less than a page to him, and puts him in the category of "didactic prose," with only a single sentence on his poetry: "His poetry, a little of which is printed in some editions of his work, is of the same general character {as the prose}, but marked by great felicity and richness of phraseology." The English (or Welsh I guess) translator of SJ did so in a religious context, and it seemed that this author did not lend himself to poetic or semi-secularized readings until much later. Yet he was hiding in plain sight, because of his ecclesiastical prominence, having been beatified 75 years after his death or so.

And now I realize I have become an accidental expert in the reception of him, but that I still don't know something very fundamental.  Why was he obscure (obscured) and how did he emerge in reputation to surpass everyone else? Was it Unamuno, maybe?  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Category Mistake

We wouldn't praise Homer for Alexander Pope's rhymes (in a translation of Homer). Nor the balance and symmetry of his couplets. What about Chapman's fourteeners? Those seem closer to dactylic hexameters in syllable count, at least, which max out at 17.  But we couldn't credit the Greek author with a renaissance guy's handling of that meter either. Suppose a translator wrote in Homer's meter, dactylic hexameters?  That would still be the skill of the translator, though.  We would give him credit for trying (if that's the kind of thing we approve of!) but it would a category mistake to think that those were Homer's dactyls and spondees.  They are no more Homer's than Pope's rhyme was Homer's rhyme, when you really think about it.

The entire relationship between the signifier and the signified is what is at issue, not simply the technical requirements of the meter. Of course, linguistic considerations come into play as well, like the predominance of stress over vowel quantity in English, but the main issue is not even linguistic, except insofar as translation involves two languages.  

I've had a hard time explaining this to people in the past, and have struggled to come up with an easy to understand explanation.  One way of getting people to see this is by quality: suppose the meter is the "same," but the translator has a "tin ear" and the original poet an exquisite one. But that implies that a good enough translator would produce a good result. Well, yes, the result could be good, but it will not have anything to do with the metrical prowess of the original.  In fact, the translator needs his or her own skill to get up to a level that we think is good, so that proves that this effort comes from the translator alone and is independent of the original.

If we think of translation as the transfer of semantic meaning, we can see that it takes no skill at all to translate the word pájaro as bird. We think that that simply is the translation.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Money as Speech

Ira Glasser in the interview cited in my post below on freedom of the press makes some pretty good points.  All my liberal friends (and all my friends are liberal) think that the idea that "money is speech" in the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, is ridiculous. Glasser says that suppose the government says that you can only spend $100 to travel someplace.  Wouldn't that restrict the right of travel considerably? Freedom of speech is not the freedom to mutter to yourself in a closet, say Glasser, but the right to disseminate a message more broadly.  Otherwise the freedom doesn't travel very far.

My friends also say that it is ridiculous to say that corporations have rights like people do, according to this same decision. But the ACLU is a corporation, as is the New York Times. Passing restrictive campaign finance measures is "handing your enemies the tools to oppress you."  

New Look

Dream of Piano Teacher

I was having a piano lesson, in my dream. My teacher was not an actual teacher, but a young woman, but not a woman I actually know.  As we were ending the lesson, I realized we were in her bedroom. She changed the top layer of her clothing, some kind of flannel shirt, and took me to task for waking her up so early for our lesson, instead of letting her sleep. She kissed me goodbye, which surprised me because she never had before. I let her kiss me a few more times, reasoning that it was ok because she was moving out of town very soon and this would be the last time I saw her so my girlfriend would have no reason to object.  Then I was out on the street, a broad, deserted city street somewhere. There was some narrative continuity between these two parts of the dream, but I cannot reconstruct it now.

Why is Freedom Good?

So I've been listening to some podcasts from FIRE. I was thinking, why do we think freedom of speech, of the press, and academic freedom, are valuable things? There are some great interviews here, including a fascinating 2-hour one with the former director of the ACLU Ira Glasser, and another by with Jonathan Rausch, the author of Kindly Inquisitors. Yes, there are conservative and libertarian defenses of free speech along with moderate, liberal, and left-leaning ones here. Actually, it won't kill you to hear a defense from the opposite side of the spectrum from where you are. When was the last time you learned from someone that you completely agreed with?  

So why are these good things?  That the question actually needs to be answered, rather than taken for granted, is the first thing I learned from these conversations. So this is not a dumb question.

1. First of all, freedom itself is a good thing, in general. We know this because restrictions have to be justified. For example, if Congress passed a law to say that composers could not compose in Db Minor, you might object because there is no compelling interest for the state to do this.  Someone telling you what to do has to have a good reason for doing so.  We value freedom because we hate arbitrary constraints, and even justifications of constraints have a paradoxical cast to them: "Nuns fret not..." (Wordsworth). Also, people have great urges to restrict other people's freedom in numerous ways, so it not just that freedom is good, but that it must be protected.  

2. Freedom of thought and its expression seems very a basic kind of freedom, because it encompasses almost everything basic to human life. It includes religion, politics, literature, and almost everything else.

3. My father once told me that freedom of the press was originally based on the idea that the king could not execute an advisor who gave him advice he didn't like. I don't know if that is true, but freedom seems key to healthy politics of any kind, not just good governance, but the freedom to participate in it. Just imagine saying, "yes, you can participate in politics as actively as you want, but just not through expressing an opinion."

4.  Civil Rights movements gained their gains by talking about their causes, making persuasive arguments.  This is what Rausch, who is gay and Jewish, claims in his interview. Arguments against gay rights were not suppressed by the government, but just lost out to better arguments.  Other kinds of freedoms, then, resulted from a debate in which those reactionary arguments were allowable.    

5.  The scientific method itself, the idea that we can learn things about reality, depends on the ability to correct other people's opinions (this is also a paraphrase of Rausch).  Freedom of expression is an epistemological principle, not just a mere convenience or feel-good idea.

6. The idea that freedom of speech only protects powerful white males is not true. As one of the interviewees points out (Alice Dreger) a woman who resigned from Northwestern due to censorship), many feminists have been targeted by the kind of witch-hunts we've seen recently with Tuvel. This is because a white male doing some boring research on a medieval poet and raising no controversy is not as likely to draw attention as someone doing edgy work on contemporary identity politics and making a perceived misstep. Dreger's case was about publishing an article in a journal she edited about a disabled man getting a blowjob from a nurse, for example.  Restrictions on speech are more likely to affect disability studies than medieval poetry.  

7.  We shouldn't, then, concede issues of academic freedom to the right, and on the left be mostly perceived as anti-freedom. We don't really need censorship if our arguments are good enough. The argument against political correctness once seemed a mere vestige of the culture wars, and many of the notorious cases seemed cooked up. But freedom of expression should be a value held by everyone interested in healthy politics and the pursuit of knowledge, whatever their political persuasion.    

Preface to New Book

This is pretty much first draft writing. I woke up and started to write this in my head before even getting out of bed. I showered, drank coffee, did a few kenken puzzles, then wrote for about an hour.  

In the spring of 2017, I began to look at translations of Antonio Machado, to see if I could study them in the way I had looked at Lorca in my 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca. Many of the usual suspects were involved in translating Machado, a poet who is Spain itself is more canonical and influential than Lorca himself. I quickly found more material on Machado than I needed for an article, yet I did not think another book that paralleled my earlier one, substituting one figure for the other, was a very imaginative idea. My next thought was to combine my analysis of Machdo with a critique of translations of César Vallejo that I had developed a few years earlier, and find perhaps some other interesting case studies in the American reception of Spanish language poetry in the twentieth century. I wanted to do a critique of Jerome Rothenberg's translation of Lorca's Suites as well. My curiosity about Longfellow's translations led me to ask myself who else had translated Spanish poetry in the 19th century, and I came across a half-buried tradition of ballad translations beginning in England the latter half of the 18th century and stretching forward to the Victorian era. 

At this point, I knew I had enough material to write a book. I also wanted to look at renaissance norms of translation through a Latin poem that had been rendered into Spanish by Quevedo, and by equally prominent poets in other European languages. My topic, then, would not be the reception of Spanish-language poetry in the English-speaking world, but shifting norms of verse translation in Europe and the Americas, linked to a defense of the figure of the poet-translator and a critique of some ideas put forward by the brilliant and influential theorist of translation Lawrence Venuti. My basic objection to Venuti is that he overgeneralizes, placing many theories of translation to which he objects in broad, unhelpful categories like "empiricism," "Belle Lettres," and the regime of "fluency." My approach is to reverse Venuti's emphasis on hermeneutics by looking at the poetics, aesthetics, and erotics of translation.  My guiding lights are Ezra Pound (a key figure for Venuti as well) and Jorge Luis Borges, who is a major theorist of translation as well as one of the main figures translated into English as part of the mid-century twentieth-century explosion of interest in Hispanic literatures. 

From Pound, I take a conception of translation as part of the poet's toolkit. Pound did not invent this idea, which I take to be present already in Latin poets, but he took it further. From Borges, I take three key idea that the audience for the translation can be radically different from the original audience, that the authority we accord to the original text over the translation is a metaphysical superstition, and that the translation can offer deliberate and accidental beauties that in theory could surpass the original.  

The hermeneutic tradition in translation theory that extends from Schleiermacher to Venuti is not to be scorned. Yet, for someone interested in reception, as I am, it has the disadvantage of turning its back on the reader.  Walter Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator," perhaps the most well-known essay in this tradition, famously begins by asserting that consideration of the receptor is never profitable in considering the work of art, and ends by asserting the interlinear translation of the scriptures as the ideal to which translation should aim. Against this explicitly sacralized poetics of translation, I propose a more  dynamic, vibrant, and skeptical view, one that takes into account the poet-translator's creative powers as well as the reader's variable responses.  

The critique of translation usually involves the side-by-side comparison of translation to original, with an assessment of what the translator has been able to carry over from the left hand page to the right. I will be doing some of this analysis here as well. Appiah describes "thick translation" as a translation that “that aims to be of use in literary teaching,” and I think that such a translation would need to preserve or reproduce the values that we ascribe to the original. Nevertheless, the truth is that such translation is surprisingly rare....