Border/Lines: an Introduction
by Richard Berengarten
This anthology of poems is a celebration of multilingualism and diversity. It consists of ninety-three poems in ninety-three contemporary languages. Each of these poems is a version of a single poem. That is to say, ninety-two of them are translations. All, including the English source-poem, entitled ‘Volta’, are presented in the English alphabetical order of their named languages.
The source-poem itself incorporates interlingual and cross-cultural elements.1 Set in Greece, it embeds references to Modern Greek language, literature, landscape and culture.2 Both the source poem and the anthology that has emerged from it are dedicated to the memory of George Seferis (1900-1971).
The languages represented in the anthology are indigenous to many parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean.3 As the biographies of the author-translators make clear, a large number of these languages are spoken in other parts of the world too. The geographical mobility of these languages is explored in more detail in Notes  in the Afterwords below.
No qualitative distinction is made in this anthology between what are often and wrongly described as ‘major’ or ‘minor’ languages. Languages with small numbers of speakers are listed alongside those with large numbers and are recognised as having equal status, depth, dignity and importance.
For similar reasons, the word ‘dialect’ has been deliberately avoided, except in this paragraph. While this term implies all sorts of pejorative connotations that are familiar to everybody, varying from provincialism and quaintness to a sort of retrograde and even culpable inferiority, there have never been any universally agreed or adequate criteria, at least on linguistic grounds, to differentiate a dialect and a language. The aphorism attributed to the Yiddish linguist, historian, scholar and anti-fascist Max Weinreich appears conclusive: “a language is a dialect with an army and navy”: a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot. 4
The making of this anthology has been marked by enthusiasm, hospitality and generosity.5 The speed with which the idea has caught on whenever it has been presented has been one of the most striking features of the project and, along with it, the readiness of contributors to help, advise, and suggest other participants. While the credit for speed of course is due partly to email, language is everybody’s business, and not only poets, translators, scholars and linguists have come forward, but people working in many other fields. All of which has meant that putting this anthology together has been a fascinating and rewarding experience, especially in discovering more about each individual language, as well as in exploring the further potential and deeper implications of email and the Internet for poetry and poetics. The names of some of those who have been involved in aspects additional to actual translation are given in the Acknowledgements section in the Afterwords.
Even in this anthology’s current version, many more than ninety-two languages could have been included. Nor does this number indicate final closure of the ‘Volta’ project but merely the total versions that have been achieved since the idea was first broached to Peter Robertson, editor of the International Literary Quarterly, on December 5, 2008 – an idea that he welcomed generously. He agreed to allow ten months for the collation, editing and publishing of this preliminary collection. Since then, the project has continued across three issues, numbers 9, 10 and 11. For the project’s next phase, see the notes on Continuation of the ‘Volta’ Project in the Afterwords.
The title ‘Volta’ itself comes from Modern Greek. The noun βόλτα is a noun meaning ‘turn’ and also ‘walk’, ‘stroll’. The Greek expression πάμε βόλτα [pame volta] means literally *let’s go a turn,6 i.e. ‘let’s take a turn,’ ‘let’s go for a walk/ stroll,’ ‘let’s stretch our legs.’ The word βόλτα is also used to mean, more precisely, ‘evening promenade’, βραδινή βόλτα [vrathini volta]. The custom of the evening promenade is expressed in Italian by the word passeggiata and in Serbian, Czech and Slovak by the common word korzo. During certain hours of the early evening, around dusk, everyone in the town who might feel like going for a walk takes a saunter or stroll up and down the main street. The custom used to exist in widely different cultures, including for example, in Portugal. A version of it exists among Jewish communities on the Sabbath.7
The idea of ‘turning’ is embedded in the Modern Greek word and usage: βόλτα is a word of Latin origin (volgere, to turn). So a volta in this sense is a ‘turn’, up and down and back again, in the pleasurable presence of an indeterminate number of other people who, for whatever reasons of their own, happen to be engaged in the same activity. The word volta also exists in Catalan, Galician and Portuguese, and is cognate with Spanish vuelta.8 In all these Romance languages the word has the primary idea of ‘turn’, ‘return’, and more or less the same idiomatic meaning of ‘taking a turn’ as in Greek.
Since the words passeggiata and korzo derive from Latin too, I can’t help wondering if the custom of walking up and down for pleasurable relaxation started with the ancient Romans, or whether it was assimilated into Latin from practice among various other cultures. My guess is that it was pre-Roman, possibly even Neolithic, and widespread in the warm climates around the Mediterranean. It certainly has a Mediterranean ‘feel’ to it.
So the setting and take-off point for the poem ‘Volta’ is an evening walk, a promenade, in a Greek seaside town, as the sun is setting on the horizon. That is: a self-turning, as day is turning into night and as light is evening itself out into darkness.
This text is both an introduction to the ‘Volta’ project and an exploration of some questions concerning the processes of poetic translation and composition that the project itself raises. To move more quickly to the ‘Volta’ project, please scroll down to Section 21. To consider aspects of the translation and composition process, please continue below.
The act of poetic translation too is a ‘volta’. And translation involves a turning that is at least double, for it consists of both a return and a departure.
The turning that occurs in the making of a translation necessarily involves a return to the text that is the translation’s source, its point of origin, in another, known language. And that turning is also equally necessarily a departure, from that other language towards and into the language of delivery. So translating also involves and embodies a turning that is at once a returning, a transversion, a self-turning. Indeed, translating posits an entire series of complex mental and linguistic self-turnings.
In English, fortunately, turn is a transitive verb too: one can turn one thing into another. Translation is in this sense a reforming and a transformation, as well as importing its own simultaneous transference and transmission. The making of a translation necessitates a recursive (i.e. repetitive and iterative) activity, though not a tautological one: that is to say, it is a making in which the maker constantly turns and returns to the originary text and to each and all of its constituents, throughout every stage of the making of the text in the language of delivery.
Making a translation is both the offering of a gift and its reciprocation, a double hospitality. It involves guardianship and interchange, propriety and trade, commerce and ownership, negotiation and resolution, pride and sense of identity in recognition of what is one’s own, and curiosity, attraction, desire and even love for what is strange, foreign, other. I call the condition of this ‘strange, foreign, other’ entity elseness.9 Translation entails the enormous pleasure of generosity in giving and sharing (returning) gifts out of one’s own language, while or after reciprocally receiving the surprising, delightful gift of what is contained in another language, another culture, another way of thinking, another way of being and behaving in the world.
That is to say translation involves the double pleasure of both thisness and elseness, of a balance, accord, harmony between the known and understood, on the one hand, and, on the other, what is only partially known or unknown, understood fragmentarily or not at all. Translation celebrates and rejoices in both what does and what does not belong at home.
Translators, wherever they happen to live, inhabit border/lines. Translators are edge-people, bridge-makers. Translation is edge-action, frontier-culture, margin-work. And the border/lines that a translator constantly criss-crosses and transgresses, the shifting zones over and through which a translator zigzags, are located in the mind. The contours and colorations that a translator discerns in zones of mentation are mapped on both exterior and interior listening and observation; and the internal listening and observation are predicated in memory, emotion and intuition. Furthermore, the spaces the translator finds and opens in those zones, and the patterns the translator makes in them, are not just linguistic. For the translator’s (or translating team’s) necessary bilingualism itself means that the spaces in those zones are interlingual, infra-lingual, even metalingual.
Every translation obviously has an objective external origin in the sense that it derives historically from a specific source-text in another language, the ‘original text’ or, more precisely, ‘originary text’. But a listener or reader in the language of delivery (‘target language’) might not be in the slightest bit interested in that knowledge, or for that matter, find it in any way relevant to the act of reading or listening. In responding to an effective translation, a listener or reader might be entirely ignorant of ideas like ‘source language’ and ‘target language’, or else be quite happy to dispense with them.
This is to say: the question whether a poetic translation works in the language of its delivery is one that needs to be asked and answered without reference to any other language. A translation of quality, even if it is or contains a mistranslation, exists in its own right and will lead its own rich life as an original work in its own language. As for a reader’s or listener’s response to a literary translation, above all that of a poem, the irreducible test of quality is that the text should be experienced as made – or at least, as if made – originally in the language in which it is read or heard (i.e. experienced). Anything less than this cannot involve more than “catching the sense at two removes”. 10
Therefore, as far as delivery is concerned, the translator is neither a postman nor a midwife, honourable and necessary though both such roles are.11 The translator has authority in the genuine and real sense that he or she becomes the genuine and real author or, at least, co-author of the delivered text.
To state this point of view is of course neither to discount nor to minimise the parallel need on the part of the translator to be loyal to the originary text. That pre-requirement is not in question here. Working on the border between language A and language B, the translator necessarily has double though (hopefully) not divided loyalties. A balancing act is required: as if the translator’s bilingualism posited a kind of dual citizenship.12
In her essay ‘Foreign in our own country’ in this issue of the International Literary Quarterly (see note 2), Maria Filippakopoulou makes comments that throw light on this discussion from an unusual angle. As a specialist in theories of literary translation and as a bilingual Greek and English reader, she explores interlingual patterns in the Greek translation by Ilias Layios of a series of poems by an English-speaking poet. Here are three observations from the part of her text that develops out of discussion of a particular word-choice in Layios’s translation:
In the indefinable period of time elapsed between the English and the Greek texts, the English adjective has evolved to become, in the Greek translation, a fully grown up, a syntactically independent noun.
I cannot imagine any bilingual reader of this collection who would not be drawn to his [Layios’s] translations to the detriment of the English poems.
[I]n the reading experience I am describing, this ‘original’ emerges re-energised, transformed: and so much so that […] the English now illuminates the meaning of the Greek.
To the credit of Ilias Layios, a poet in his own right, Filippakopoluou finds the Greek version richer in texture and feeling, and altogether more echoic, resonant and immediate, than the English ‘original’ from which it derives. However, the reading she arrives at indicates considerably more than this response; for in stating, almost paradoxically, that the prior English version may be read as a kind of gloss on the subsequent (and consequent) Greek, she almost arrives at the Borgesian point of implying that the ‘original’ itself is readable as a kind of ‘copy of a copy’.13
As has already been recognised, objectively and historically, a translation cannot fail to be a ‘copy’ of an ‘original’ text. But Filippakopoulou’s fascinating, nuanced response here shows that, subjectively and experientally, it may be equally valid to consider a translation itself as a primary text.
Even so, even if only in degrees, tiers or layers of abstraction, clearly a difference is posited in comparing an ‘original’ poem in one language and a version of a poem, whether in that same language or another.14 For, the word version inevitably implies a performative or representational theory by invoking the possibility of other alternative versions, which may be equally valid (as) performances or representations.
However, the logic playing subtly along and across Filippakoulou’s analysis also necessarily implies, first, that the ‘original’ may be read as a kind of copy or version of itself, and second, that it is equally possible to regard the acts both of poetic composition and of poetic translation as representations or performances of some kind of originary text, the word ‘originary’ being considered here in a prototypical or archetypal sense.
In this connection, another observation in Filippakopoulou’s essay – taken, admittedly, out of context – yields further fascinating speculations:
One even wonders here whether English, or indeed any other single language, is capable of fully illustrating the obvious truth of the poet’s insight. Might then a cross-lingual dialogue not be more suited to the task?
To put these motifs through yet another filter, the obvious objective fact that a poetic translation is predicated on (based on, derived from) a text already written in another language yields two further conjectures. First, that any poetic composition is predicated on (based on, derived from) a ‘text’ that has not (or not yet) been written in any language. And, second, that such an ur-text, if it could be said to exist at all, cannot do so meaningfully in a simply linear or progressive diachronic time-frame, but only in an imaginal, metalingual condition in which temporal sequence and causation are of little or no consequence.
Are all the versions of ‘Volta’, then, including its originary occurrence in English, thinkable as some kind of representation or performance of an ur-text – that is, one that can only be virtual? This is at least a possible conclusion if we develop Filippakopoulou’s patterns of thinking.
To suggest such a way of conceiving literary composition itself is not necessarily merely to parrot – and still less to parody – either conventional Platonic ideas or theories of mimesis according to, say, Auerbach, the latter with roots evidently planted in Aristotle’s Poetics.15 Nor need such a suggestion imply the introduction of that distorting mirror-image of causality, teleology, as a guiding principle – a procedure which would seem, at least to this author, a highly unreliable if not altogether suspect way of attempting to elucidate patterns among events and to extract meaningfulness from them.
Indeed, rather than applying any such simple two-tier models of causation and derivation from an anterior or posterior level of ‘reality’ that might arguably lurk ‘beneath’, ‘above’ or ‘behind’ the genesis of a text, an alternative and possibly more interesting, elegant and intellectually satisfying set of guidelines for thinking this issue through is indeed thinkable. And this is one that tallies with Filippakopoulou’s lines of enquiry. It is explored in Section 14 below. But first, some other considerations.
Languages have gaps and holes. The experience of these may be of an oscillation between language and a ‘zone’ of ‘non-language’ which, curiously, still seems somehow to belong or pertain to the domain of language itself – perhaps as ‘meta-language’ or ‘infra-language’.
In attempting any description of this kind of experience, it is hard if not impossible to avoid spatial and temporal (locational) metaphors. The “gaps and holes” seem capable of appearing ‘in’ and ‘around’ language itself, ‘under’ and ‘above’ language, and ‘between’ languages’. That is to say: the “gaps and holes” seem to belong or pertain to all of language’s edges, which of course exist anywhere and everywhere, and at all and any times.
This kind of oscillation is not only recognizable but inevitable in certain phases of poetic composition. At such times, language’s presence both in and around the poet is experienced as volatile, wavering and nebulous, and one’s hold on it, fragile, tenuous and insecure. It is as if language itself clouds over, smudges, blurs – or as if it retracts into itself, or stubbornly withdraws to a temporarily unyielding distance. The poet’s passage into, through and out of language seems uncertain and precarious: a voyage of risk, surprise and possible discovery.
A comparable though not identical sense of oscillation in and out of language is evident when a person goes to live in a new speech-community and learns a new language by being intensively exposed to it. And in such a situation, when the goal is attainment of at least some degree of bilingualism, another factor comes into play. For the sense of oscillation from language to ‘non-language’ and back again is intersected by the border/line that demarcates the new language that is being learned and the speaker’s already known language.
An almost identical set of disorientations occurs during the making of a poetic translation. The oscillation between language and ‘non-language’ occurs in the mind of the translator just as it does in that of any monolingual speaker. But since the translator (or translating team) already functions effectively in two or more languages, a translator is probably even more aware than a monolingual speaker of the fact that languages are neither perfect nor symmetrical in their command (covering, handling, representation) of reality, and that the lack of fit between source and target languages means that each particular process of translation, being context-bound, is new and different. And if translation of a relatively simple (‘literal’) statement in everyday conversation is already complex, then how much more so is any expression in a poem, which is likely to rely on polysemy, as well as a whole range of other familiar effects (e.g. sound-patternings of one kind or another), in order to achieve its woven quality?
For any translator, the border/line between any two languages is movable, full of uncertainties and ambiguities, and in need of constant renegotiation, reclarification and redefinition. For the translator of a poem, the task is even more complex, for the goal of translation itself can never be merely that of producing a ‘literal’ representation that is as close as possible to the originary text, but rather that of making of a new text that will itself serve as ‘primary’. (See section 10 above.)
Since all actual languages inevitably have an imperfect grasp on reality, is it not possible, then, that some parts of the processes of poetic composition and poetic translation are performed through “gaps and holes” in the language (or languages) that one happens to be thinking and working in – when, even if only momentarily, and perhaps unexpectedly, one lurches, pitches or jumps through such gaps and holes – and finds oneself somehow ‘outside’ language, whether on the border/line of language itself and ‘non-language’, or at the margins or edges between two or more actual languages?
In a critique of the notions of ‘minor’ and ‘major’ languages (which is itself pertinent to the ‘Volta’ project in more ways than one), Deleuze and Guattari throw out an observation, almost as an aside, that is strikingly relevant to these questions, even if not a full answer to them:
Pasolini demonstrated that the essential thing […] is to be found neither in language A, nor in language B, but in language X, which is none other than language A in the actual process of becoming language B.16
This statement by the Italian poet and film-director is highly suggestive. In the opening move of a response exploring its potential, it might for example be proposed that ‘language X’ may be precisely ‘where’ an originary text first exists (as ur-text); and a poem may be no more nor less than a rendering of a text from ‘language X’.
However, immediately qualifying any such preliminary view, the possibility that language X might be considered an ur-language is denied, because Pasolini characterises language X as being “none other than” ... “the actual process” of one language “becoming” another. Thus language X is not conceivable as any kind of entity that could have a shape, body, form, etc. Nor is language X thinkable as a ‘locational zone’ in the sense of having any existence per se. Rather, language X occurs only relationally, along the border/line of languages A and B.
In Pasolini’s statement, then, language X is not anterior to language A or B but must be either identified with the process of translation itself or a ‘quality’ inherent in translation. Furthermore, the word “becoming” embeds two connected ideas: first, that ‘language X is a newly engendered phenomenon implicit in translation, i.e. in the very fact of the meeting of languages A and B, on and at their border/line; and second, that it is dynamic – a process not a state.
In this respect then, Pasolini’s ‘language X’ tallies neatly with the “cross-lingual dialogue” that Filippakopoulou hints is more “suited” to “the poet’s task”. It is also consonant with the experience of the “gaps and holes” noted above, which sometimes occurs to a speaker, whether in and around language or between languages.
Perhaps, therefore, ‘language X’ can be thought (imaged, imagined)as a dynamic, transformative principle in itself and, inter alia, as a kind of tension inherent in the act and process of translation.
This limited preliminary sketch of some of the possible implications of Pasolini’s formulation obviously needs fuller exploration, examination and clarification. But what is clear even from this initial extrapolation of it is that, as a model for the process of translation, it necessarily involves the oscillation between languages A and B – and also between ‘actual language’ and ‘non-language’ – already discussed above.
Furthermore, this double movement, forward and back, necessarily involves both recursion (or iterativeness) and cumulativeness (or accrescence) in the act and process of the making of any poetic composition, including a translation: on the one hand, a recursion that itself constantly self-derives both from each of the composition’s separable constituents and from the entirety of the composition itself; and, on the other, a cumulativeness that itself engenders further complexities through proliferation and ramification.
As far as physical geography is concerned, the ‘zones’ a literary translator works in are no more bound or bounded spatially than they are temporally.
The translator works anywhere, simply because two-way entry/exit points between any two languages are not determined by or dependent on either place or time. The act and process of translation can occur equally effectively and satisfactorily in the bastions and citadels of this or that metropolis and at any point on national frontier-lines – or for that matter anywhere between them and, indeed, outside them.
This is to say: the interlingual (and/or infra-lingual and/or metalingual) spaces that a translator has to cross in order to make a translation are mental no man’s lands. And no man’s lands by definition belong not merely to nobody-in-particular but to anybody, to everybody. A no man’s land is unnamed, unnameable and without its own language. Or rather, the language of this or that no man’s land is no more or less than ‘language X’ – again, in the terms of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s statement: “language A in the actual process of becoming language B” (italics mine – RB).
What is more, the border/line of a no man’s land may not even be located in a land at all but in or across a river; or, for that matter, a sea, where, for example, a sleeve (manche) can turn into a channel, and vice-versa, as between Calais and Dover, depending only on which linguistic terrain one is approaching the coastline from.
An excursus on coastlines
Coasts, at waves’ edges, are palpable borders. Representations of coasts on maps mark border/lines. As we know from Euclidian geometry, a straight line has infinite length and no thickness, which means that “the area and the volume of a straight line are zero.”17 But if we consider the geographical features of coasts, with their innumerable bays, inlets, cliffs and promontories, first it is evident that no actual coastlines are ever straight; and, second, common sense indicates that they apparently have finite lengths. However, as the founder of fractal theory, Benoit B. Mandelbrot clarifies:
[T]he typical coastline is irregular and winding, and there is no question it is much longer than the straight line between its end points.
There are various ways of evaluating its length more accurately […] The result is most peculiar: coastline length turns out to be an elusive notion that slips between the fingers of one who wants to grasp it. All measurement methods ultimately lead to the conclusion that the typical coastline’s length is very large and so ill determined that it is best considered infinite.18
Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry goes on to show that the measurement of a length of any particular coastline depends on the scale used for its mapping measurement.
A further observation may be added to Mandelbrot’s mathematical explorations of the properties of geographical coastlines. By definition, coastlines are edges, without thickness or volume, between lands and waters. But since waters move, these edges move too. Coastal waters, whether of lakes or seas, are pulled by tides. So real coastlines are never still, even for a nanosecond.19 On the length of coastlines, Mandelbrot writes:
In one manner or another, the concept of geographic length is not as inoffensive as it seems. It is not entirely ‘objective’. The observer intervenes in its definition.20
These reservations about the length of coastlines apply equally to their position. The fact that their edges change with each wave means that, unless arbitrarily averaged time-units are selected and applied, any fine, finite and final definition or measurement of their position is literally impossible.
End of coastlines excursus
A translator may work at any point along and around the actual edge (hedge, ledge) of a language border/line. And, there, language X is no more nor less than that wavering, continuous, unbroken, and to all intents and purposes, infinite, border/line itself, which has no area and no volume.
For all these reasons, then, the ‘space’ in which a poetic translator works, and the nature of that work itself, is deterritorialised. Or, one might say, it is ‘extraterritorial’, in the sense explored by George Steiner.21 And this point returns our theme again to gift-giving and hospitality. In the mental and linguistic ‘zones’ in which an act of poetic translation is processed (or, it could equally be said, in which the process of translation is enacted), one cannot be sure who is giver and who is recipient of the poem, the author of the source-poem or the translator who is its author (or co-author) in the language of its delivery.
And since the giving and receiving of any gift involve not only the reciprocity of generosity but also of hospitality, in a translation the demarcation between guest and host is also equivocal. In poetic translation, the host is hosted by the guest and vice-versa. These roles blur and merge to the point where there may be no distinction between them, but rather a constantly oscillating ambivalence along the border/line – as in French and Italian, each of which languages possesses a single word for both functions: respectively hôte and ospite.
Translation is a treasuring and guardianship of border/lines: a guardianship, in drawing and redrawing our attention to what is on either side of the border, and a treasuring, in ensuring that the lines stay open, permeable, porous. In translation, ownness and elseness interplay (see note 8).
The border/line, then, is indeed itself nothing other than the tension between two language-zones, and consists of all their touching points, including their fuzzy edges, overlaps, porosities and permeabilities, their curves and irregularities, and their convex promontories that turn into concave bays and vice versa.
From the above discussions, it is also evident that in the act and process of poetic translation, a measure of bending and extension (stretching) of both linguistic and characterological (‘personal’) identity occurs. This bending and stretching may also be configured as a letting loose of at least some of the limiting and constricting bonds of ‘home’ identity, while never being entirely ‘out’ either of their control or of one’s own control over them.
It might also be said that, being performed in the body of language, not only does translation ease stiffness and rigidity but that by opening possibilities for movement, it fends off the linguistic equivalents of rheumatism and arthritis. Could it be that languages that emit and admit translation are more energetic, pliant and flexible than those that do not? Periods when vigorous and beautiful writing is produced in a language may indeed coincide with those when a great deal of translation is coming into it, as for example in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Consider the most obvious example of all: the King James Authorised Version of The Bible.
Furthermore, translation counters prejudices, whether merely parochial ones or those magnified and consolidated by hegemonic languages. A well-informed, carefully sharpened wariness of hegemonic languages is obviously needed by those of us whose own language communities are numerically small, fragile, and easily penetrated or brushed aside by bigger and more powerful groups. On the other hand, an equally honed and subtle wariness is needed among those of us whose first language is successful, confident, expansive, dominant, etc. – especially if this hegemony extends to the point at which ‘our’ language is accepted by speakers of ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ languages as a lingua franca, even to the extent of global colonisation. This double need for wariness is ever-present above all because a hegemonic language constantly tends to fill, occupy and turn the heads of its speakers with inflated assumptions of their (or rather, our) own importance. Clearly, any such assumptions need balancing and rebalancing by constant checking, querying, criticism and challenge.
The art and practice of translation, through its pivotal and recursive self-turnings, fosters precisely this salient, relevant and desirable self-wariness and this balanced, apparently effortless, yet painstakingly achieved self-awareness. In its zigzaggings and criss-crossings, its windings and meanderings, its threadings, twinings and plaitings, its doubly and triply helical curvings, its overlappings and loopings, its knottings and unknottings, its passages through fuzzinesses and ambiguities, and its theoretically infinite fractal complexities – translation moves into and out of no-man’s lands to explore language X. And in doing this, on and across border/lines, translation establishes common humanity: that is to say, it invokes and posits a human communality beyond the self-limiting definitions and ideologies of such limiting ideologies as tribalism, racialism and nationalism.
Along all linguistic border/lines, the practice of literary translation echoes John Donne’s tremendous, universal call:
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.22
Similarly, every modern literary translation reiterates Octavio Paz’s transferral of Donne’s claim into relative space-time: “For the first time in our history, we are contemporaries of all humanity.”23 The phrase “all humanity” implies all the dead, all the living and all the unborn, in all places and at all times.
The question of the relatedness of contemporary languages to geographical movements, broached in the first section of this introduction, is worth exploring in more detail in the particular context of this anthology, since the places of residence of the author-translators in the ‘Volta’ project and the mobility of their languages suggest fascinating patterns in themselves.
The contributors include many practising poets, novelists, critics and scholars who move apparently effortlessly between different languages and cultures. They do so in comparable but subtly different ways. Some write in languages that traverse political boundaries. Some, who have always lived in the countries of their birth, are bilingual, trilingual or quadrilingual, simply because multilingualism is their social norm and required for their daily existence. Some of the writers combine work as professional literary translators with academic teaching posts, whether in the country of their first language or not. Several authors write in languages that have been peripheralised and pushed into corners by the encroachment of numerically bigger and more powerful languages. Others live in necessary exile because their languages or their political views, or both, are at odds with the views of the powers-that-be in the countries of their birth. Some write in languages that have no country at all. (For a fuller exploration of patterns of location and mobility, both linguistic and geographical, among contributors to this anthology, see Notes  in the Afterwords.)
The picture that builds up from this kind of evidence is only partly that of the traditional and possibly expected model of territorially based languages. To make this point is of course not to challenge the vital if obvious truth that languages belong to communities and that communities inhabit particular areas and regions. Most if not all languages are indisputably territorial and their distribution follows ecological principles of competition, colonisation, struggle for survival space, and interdependence in any given habitat. Faroese, Maltese and Shetlandic, for example, belong and adhere to their islands as marks of irreducible and proud identity, just as Ebira, Hausa, Ibibio, Igbo, Lumasaba, Nigerian Pidgin English, North Eastern English (‘Pitmatic’), Nupe, Runyankole, Sepedi, South Alemmanic (Dornbirnerisch), Triestino and Yoruba do in their own regions. All these languages are represented in this anthology.
However, none of these languages excludes the presence of other co-existing languages. And as the outline of contributors’ physical movements and linguistic mobility clarifies (see Notes ), with so many people travelling, moving around and resettling, languages stretch, sidle, squeeze, spin and slice through territoriality and nationality, almost as if these social concepts and constructs no longer represented the apparently solid realities they might have seemed to embody fifty, or even twenty years ago.
What emerges, then, is a far more complex and varied picture of contemporary interrelationships between languages: that is, of an intricate pattern of randomly and ubiquitously interlinked, interpenetrating and intermingled language communities, whose border/lines are at once everywhere and nowhere.
A thousand languages can inhabit a single city street or block. “New York is virtually a city without a language,” write Deleuze and Guattari.24 Many primary schools in the inner city of London show a similar tendency, towards having no single majority language among their pupil populations. It is estimated that by 2011 “around 6 million people resident in the UK […] were not born in the UK. This equates to approximately one in ten people.”25
Furthermore, languages that coexist in a shared communal space, as it were rubbing shoulders with one another as neighbours, inevitably influence each other, even when they are not historically part of the same language family. Such influences may happen quite gradually and surreptitiously. The flitting of so-called loan-words from one adjacent language to another is only a small part of this process.
To many people, especially city-dwellers, linguistic diversity is a present fact of life. To me, personally, it is one to be enjoyed.
Even if this is not everybody’s experience, every language is potentially and virtually a world language and, in that sense, every language is both extraterritorial and universal.26
This anthology, including the biographies of its author-translators and this introduction, shows clearly that in our contemporary world, territories, countries and professions no longer serve as containers or niches for speakers of any one single hegemonic language, but rather for richly variegated and saturated solutions of many languages. Out of each and all of these languages, poems crystallise.
The ‘Volta’ project, then, is not merely an affirmation of multilingualism. It issues an implicit claim, made gradually more explicit here, that multilingualism and diversity constitute our defining contemporary linguistic, cultural, literary and poetic reality. In attempting at least a preliminary outline of some guiding principles for a viable future poetics, this anthology, including this essay, may form part of a larger communal project.
Such a poetics might be called universalist. It could also be called the poetics of the border/line.
Continuation of the ‘Volta’ Project
As the times of writing this (October 28, 2009, February 23, 2010, and July 15, 2010), I intend to go on gathering translations of ‘Volta’ into more languages. I hope that a future expanded version of this anthology will be published at a later date, possibly as a book. I would especially like to include more translations from African languages, Asian languages including the Indian subcontinent, languages indigenous to Australasia and North and South America, languages of transhumant and nomadic cultures, languages of small pockets, valleys and islands of speakers, and, above all, languages that are threatened with extinction.
Readers who would like to be involved in further developing, helping and advising in any way and with any aspects of this multilingual project are invited to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes  On Patterns of Location and Movement
Here are some examples of the immensely varied patterns of location and movement, both linguistic and geographical, among the author-translators whose work appears in this anthology.
Parvin Loloi, the Persian scholar and translator, lives in Wales. The poet and scholar Bashabi Fraser, translator from Bengali, lives in Scotland and describes herself as a “transnational writer”. The Chinese poet and scholar Chee-Lay Tan and the Malay poet and scholar Razif Bahari were both born in Singapore, where they continue to live, write and teach. The former has studied in England and the latter in Australia. Similarly, the Hausa translator and poet Ismail Bala lives in Nigeria and has studied in England; and the Maltese poet, translator and critic, Maria Grech Ganado lives in Malta, writes in both Maltese and English, and has studied in England. The Kyrgyz poet Soltobay Zaripbekov has studied and worked in Turkey and has recently returned to Kyrgyzstan. Tumusiime Kabwende Deo is a bilingual speaker of Runyankole and English, who lives in Uganda and works as a human rights activist for Africa-wide networks. The Lumasaba translator Bob Natifu is a journalist and project manager, also from Uganda, who is now working with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in the southern Punjab, Pakistan; while the Punjabi translator, Toheed Ahmed, together with his wife, Nausheen Ahmed, the Urdu translator, has returned to live in his own country after serving thirty-six years in the Pakistani Foreign Service, in Paris, Tunis, Hanoi, Brussels, Singapore, San Francisco and Dublin. The Irish Gaelic translator, Gabriel Rosenstock, is a poet who writes in Gaelic and English and also translates poets from Pakistan. The Sepedi translator and professor Mawatle Jeremiah (Jerry) Mojalefa lives in South Africa, where he was born, and has taught in Germany. Miroslav Jindra, who has recently been awarded the annual Czech State Prize for literary translation, lives in Prague and has taught in Canada. The Yoruba poet Kolá Tubosun was born in Nigeria, has studied in Nigeria and Kenya, speaks five languages, and is now teaching in the USA. The American critic and translator Paul Scott Derrick lives in Spain, where he teaches American literature. The poet Jan Lauwereyns, born in Belgium, who has translated ‘Volta’ into Dutch, works as a scientist in New Zealand. He and I met in Japan. The Nigerian Pidgin English poet, Wilson Orhiunu, practises medicine in England. The linguist and scholar Olga Markelova, who has made both the Russian and Icelandic versions, lives in Russia and often works in Iceland; while the multilingual writer and translator from Danish and Faroese, Agnar Artuvertin, was born in the Faroe Islands and lives in Denmark – where the Polish translator Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese also lives. The Hungarian poet and translator George (György) Gömöri, lives in England, where he used to teach Polish. The Breton scholar, Rhysiart Hincks, was born in England and teaches in Wales. Similarly, the Ukrainian poet Vasyl Makhno lives in New York. The Swedish poet Jesper Svenbro lives in France, is a specialist in Ancient Greek, and returns frequently to Stockholm where he is as a member of the Swedish Academy. The Turkmen writer Annakuly Nurmammedov, the Nepali poet, novelist and journalist Hom Paribag and the Uzbeki agronomist, Sufi scholar and translator, Akhmad hoji Khorazmij, all live in England. The contributors who write in languages that literally have no country include Lila Cona, who translates into the language of the Balkan transhumant people known as Arumonian, Aromanian, Wallachian or Vlach. Born in Macedonia, she lives in Serbia and speaks at least six languages. The clinical psychologist and Yiddish translator, Mary Blum Devor, has lived in Canada all her life and sometimes works in Israel. The Kurdish writer and lifelong advocate of Kurdish literature and culture, Firat Cewerî, lives in Sweden, travels internationally, and an active member of PEN International.
A project such as this is a communal one and necessarily involves a great deal of work from many people, although of course responsibility for this introduction, including all its shortcomings, is nobody else’s but mine.
I should first of all like to thank all the contributors for the generous gifts of their enthusiasm, dedication and time. Many of them put me in touch with translators from languages other than their own. Special thanks are due to the editor of the International Literary Quarterly, Peter Robertson, for his hospitality to the original idea, his patient support and continuous encouragement as it grew, or rather, mushroomed, and his attentiveness to detail as assumed its current dimensions, which have turned out to be far larger than either of us had anticipated. Particular thanks too, to Paul Scott Derrick, Maria Filippakopoulou, Dylan Harris, John Matthias, Melanie Rein and Anthony Rudolf, who kindly read drafts of this introduction and made immensely valuable comments and suggestions.
Many others have helped in the background in a variety of ways, ranging from expressions of interest, advice, information and encouragement, to linguistic and technical expertise. These include: Viv Abbott, Mitchell Albert, Shanta Acharya, Jerry Adasewo, Toheed Ahmad, Richard Ugbede Ali, Agnar Artuvertin, Claudia Azzola, Tony Baker, Ismail Bala, Hector Banda, Anyana Bassu, Evarist Bartolo, Zaure Batayeva, Louisa Bartolo, Ataol Behramoglu, Mohammed Bennis, Chavi Blum, Aha Blum-Devor, Lil Blume, Lal Buksh Brohi, Ronnie Burns, Catherine E. Byfield, Adrian Cain, Tubal Rabbi Cain, Linda Cracknell, Fflur Dafydd, Robin Dangol, Jenni Daiches, A. A. T. Davies, Bethan Davies, Casimiro de Brito, Christine de Luca, Marco de Pinto, Eunice de Souza, Antonio Dominguez Rey, John Elnathan, Sarah Elvins, Moris Farhi, Bashabi Fraser, Andrew Frisardi, Kim Goldberg, Barry Goldensohn, Ana Maria Goncalves Cardoso Maguire, Rody Gorman, Franz-Paul Hammling, Yidan Han, Iyad Hayetleh, Rhisiart Hincks, Mieke Hooker, Sarmad Hussain (Director, Centre for Urdu Language Processing, National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Lahore), Tade Ipadeola, Francis Jones, Susanne Jorn, Amadu Khan, Mara Kalnins, Temur Kobakhidze, Sibella Laing, F. R. Lavandeira, Jan Lauerwens, Gabriel Levin, A. Robert Lee, Julia Lovell, Zuzana Luckay, Maarja Kangro, Pankaj Karki, Zdeněk Křivský, Kata Kulavkova, Fulmaya Lama, Stephen Lay, Peter Leese, Julia Lovell, Liv Lundberg, Nathaniel Mackey, Olga Markelova, Ina Martinová, Moffat Moyo, Graham Mort, Abbas Najmi (Director, Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture, Lahore), Sharon H. Nelson, Paschalis Nikolaou, Kevin Nolan, Pierre Novellie, Annakuly Nurmammedov, Chinedu Ogoke, Micheál Ó hAodh, Obododimma Oha, Uche Peter Omez, Knut Ødegård, Henning Pieterse, Sara Poisson, Valentina Polukhina, Gabriele Poole, Loreto Riveiro, Nancy Oloro Roberts, Gabriel Rosenstock, Bruce Ross-Smith, Michael Rutman, Vladimir Scott, Sindhi Language Authority, Julius Sseremba, Nancy Somerville, Buti Skhosana, P. S. Sri, Igor Stiks, Patience Tanko, David Treuer, James Tsaaior, BrianTurner, Joseph Ushie, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese and Hyam Yared.
Auerbach Erich. 1953. Mimesis, the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton: Princeton University
Benjamin, Walter. 1999 . ‘The Task of the Translator’. In Illuminations. Tr. Harry Zorn. London: Pimlico. 70-82.
Berengarten, Richard, 2008a. For the Living, Selected Longer Poems 1965-2000. Selected Writings 1. Cambridge: Salt
— —. 2008b. The Manager. Selected Writings 2. Cambridge: Salt Publishing.
— —. 2009a. ‘On Poetry and Magnanimity: twelve propositions’. In Martlet 13: 12. Cambridge: Pembroke College.
— —. 2009b. ‘The Cambridge Poetry Festival: 35 years after’. In Cambridge Literary Review 1: 148-160.
Borges, Jorge Luis. 1941. ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’.
See http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/borges-quixote.html, consulted Nov. 2, 2009.
Burns, Richard. 1972. Avebury. London: Anvil Press Poetry with Routledge & Kegan Paul.
— —. 1983. Black Light: poems in memory of George Seferis Cambridge: Los Poetry Press.
— —. 1986. Crna svetlost. Tr. Bogdana G. Bobić. Gornji Milanovac: Dečje Novine.
— —. 1996. Schwarzes Licht. Tr. Theo Breuer. Bunter Raben Verlag.
— —. 2000. Črna Svetloba, tr., Ana Jelnikar, Ljubljana: Alef. Bilingual edition.
— —. 2002. ‘Pour toi’. Keynote address to conference, Une poétique mondiale de la poésie? Paris: La bibliothèque
nationale, May 13. http://www.berengarten.com/site/Pour-toi.html, consulted Oct. 31, 2009.
— —. 2004. Μαυρο Фως [Mavro Fos]. Tr. Nasos Vayenas and Ilias Layios. Athens: Typothito–Lalon Hydor.
— —. 2007. ‘Volta’. Tr. Paola Musa.
http://www.berengarten.com/site/Black-Light-Italiano.html, consulted Oct. 28, 2009
— —. 2008. Las manos y la luz, Tr. Miguel Teruel and Paul S. Derrick. Valencia: Aula de Poesía.
Deleuze, Gillez & Guattari, Félix. 2004. A Thousand Plateaus. Tr. Brian Massumi. London & New York: Continuum.
Donne, John. 1624 . ‘Meditation XVII’. In Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.
Filippakopoulou, Maria. ‘Common miracle’. 2005. in In Other Words. The Journal for Literary Translators, 26: 46-51.
— —. 2009. ‘Foreign in our own country’. In this issue of the International Literary Quarterly. INSERT LINK?
Herbert, George. 1633. ‘Jordan (I)’. In The Temple. See The Poems of George Herbert. 1961. The World’s Classics:
Oxford University Press.
Ishov. Zakhar. 2008. ‘Post-horse of Civilisation’: Joseph Brodsky translating Joseph Brodsky. Towards a New
Theory of Russian-English Poetry Translation.
180309.pdf?hosts, consulted November 3, 2009.
Mandelbrot, Benoit B. 1967. ‘How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension’. InScience, Vol. 156, No. 3775, pp. 636-638, expanded in
http://www.math.yale.edu/mandelbrot/web_pdfs/howLongIsTheCoastOfBritain.pdf, consulted Oct. 31, 2009.
— —. 1977. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Oxford English Dictionary online. 1989. Second edition, consulted Nov. 2, 2009.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. 1976, L' expérience hérétique. Tr. From Italian, Anna Rocchi Pullberg. Preface: Maria-Antonietta
Macciocchi. Paris: Payot.
Paz, Octavio. 1959 . The Labyrinth of Solitude (El Labertino de la Soledad). Tr. Lysander Kemp. London,
Allen Lane: The Penguin Press
Scholem, Gershom. 1991. On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. Tr. Joachim Neugroschel; revised by Jonathan Chipman. New York: Schocken Books.
Seferis, George. 1969. Collected Poems 1924-1955. Tr. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. London: Jonathan Cape
— —. 1991. A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-1951. Tr. Athan Anagnostopoulos, Harvard: Belknap Press, Harvard
Steiner, George. 1972. Extra-territorial. London: Faber and Faber.
Unattributed: http://www.k-international.com/languages_uk, consulted Oct. 24.
Weinreich, Max. 1945. YIVO Bletter. Jan-Feb. 25: 3-18.
— —. 1946. See also his Hitler’s Professors,New York: Yiddish Scientific Institute. 2nd edition, 1999. Yale
Notes to the Text
The source poem belongs to the sequence Black Light: poems in memory of George Seferis
(Burns 1983; reprinted in Berengarten 2008a, pp. 147-176).
Black Light has been translated into four languages other than English: Serbo-Croat (Burns 1986, tr. Bogdana G. Bobić); German (Burns 1996, tr. Theo Breuer); Slovenian (Burns 2000, tr. Ana Jelnikar); and Greek (Burns 2004, tr. Nasos Vayenas and Ilias Layios). ‘Volta’ had also been translated into Italian (Burns 2007, tr. Paola Musa); and into Spanish (Burns 2007: 4-5, tr. Miguel Teruel and Paul S. Derrick). Together with the essay by Maria Filippakopoulou referred to in note 2 below, the existence of these translations first gave me the idea for the present anthology. The translations of ‘Volta’ by Theo Breuer, Ana Jelnikar, Ilias Layios, Paola Musa, Miguel Teruel and Paul S. Derrick all appear here.
The title Black Light derives from a line in ‘Thrush’, a poem by Seferis (Seferis 1969: 330-331). The ideas in Seferis’s mind that underlie this phrase are explored further in an entry in his journal (see Seferis 1991: 31). ‘Volta’ contains a further reference to Seferis in its epigraph (Seferis 1969: 110-111), as well as the Greek word Eleftheria (Έλευθερία), meaning ‘Freedom’, and a girl’s name.
2.See the essay by Maria Filippakopoulou, ‘ Foreign in our own country’ in this issue of the International Literary Quarterly . See also her commentary on ‘Volta’ in the same essay. Another relevant essay is her ‘Common miracle’, in Filippakopoulou 2005: 46-51.
3. Geographically and historically, I consider the Mediterranean as a kind of ‘continent’ in its own right, including its coastlines and islands: one whose fuzzy margins are thinkable even if not precisely mappable in terms of proximity to its mantle of water.
4. See Weinreich 1945: 3-18; and also Weinreich 1946 (1999).
5. I consider these qualities indispensable for the fullest attainment in poetry. For preliminary statements, see Berengarten 2002, footnote 4; and Berengarten 2009a.
6. The asterisk before the expression denotes that it is not one that is actually used – in this case, in English.
7. The custom is known as the ‘Sabbath Stroll’.
8. Vuelta was the name of the literary magazine edited by Octavio Paz from 1975 until his death in 1998. I am indebted to Anthony Rudolf for reminding me of this.
9. The coinage elseness here is intended as rather more than an alternative to the words otherness and alterity,both of which are familiar in philosophical and sociological writing, for example in English translations of the works of Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Lévinas, and in the books of Zygmunt Bauman.
First, in deploying the word elseness as an antonym for ownness, I mean to imply that the former indicates the idea of ‘being another’, or ‘belonging or appertaining to another’.
Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, by elseness I also intend a precise antonym for the word thisness, with specific reference to the development by Gerard Manley Hopkins of his concepts inscape and instress, out of Duns Scotus’s Latin word haecceitas. The difference between thisness and elseness might also be clarified in the following correlation: that if both words were to adhere to or imply the presence (or experience) of glory, then the former would indicate immanent and the latter transcendent glory.
10. A line from George Herbert’s poem ‘Jordan (I)’, published in The Temple, 1633. See Herbert 1961: 48-9.
11. Pushkin wrote: “The translator is the post-horse of enlightenment.” Quoted in Ishov (4: footnote 10). I am indebted to Anthony Rudolf for drawing my attention to this reference.
12. In connection with the discussion in this section, See Walter Benjamin’s classic essay, ‘The Task of the Translator’, some of whose arguments differ considerably in emphasis from those in this piece:
[I]t is not the highest praise of a translation, particularly in the age of its origin, to say that it reads as if it had originally been written in that language. Rather, the significance of fidelity as ensured by literalness is that the work reflects the great longing for linguistic complementation. A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but shows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully. (Benjamin: 79).
As indicated in his phrases “great longing” and “pure language” here, as well as in the quasi-mystical suggestion latent in the presence of “light” in association with the idea of the “original”, I believe the main tendency in Benjamin’s essay – whether he would have admitted it or not – is in the direction of a transcendental Tikkun. This is a Hebrew word close in meaning to ‘mending’, ‘repairing’, ‘restitution’ and hence to ‘desire for original purity, cleanness, wholeness, etc.’ – as explored throughout the writings of Benjamin’s friend, Gershom Scholem, on the Kabbalah (see especially Scholem 1991). By contrast, in focusing on translation as border/line, and on ‘language x’ as a concomitant tension between language A and B and an epiphany arising from their conjunction, my concerns in this essay are more to do with immanence and residue.
14. The words verse and version both derive from the Latin word meaning ‘turn’ – the former from Latin versus, “a line or row, spec. a line of writing (so named from turning to begin another line)” (Oxford English Dictionary online). This etymology further re-emphasises the idea explored in Section 5: that in the making of a translation, the turning that is involved in writing verse itself undergoes a ‘re-turning’.
16. Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 117. On p. 581, the embedded quotation from Pier Paolo Pasolini is referenced (see Pasolini 1976) but with no page number.
19. I am indebted to Melanie Rein for this observation.
21. See Steiner’s key essay ‘Extra-territorial’ in his book of the same title (1972: 3-11). The difficulty, however, with this word is that it embeds a tautology, for the condition of extra-territoriality necessarily implies expansion or movement to a new, wider area of territoriality, whether by for example, migrancy, exile or colonialism. As already suggested, it is hard if not impossible to avoid spatial metaphors in this kind of discussion.
22. Donne 1624 (1959: 108-9).
23. Paz 1961: 162. I have changed the word ‘mankind’ in Lysander Kemp’s translation to ‘humanity’, because Paz’s idea does not require gender-marking and is diminished by it.
This sentence of Paz is one of the foundations of my poetics, which I have been glad to iterate as a recurrent motif: for example, in Burns 1972, reprinted in Berengarten 2008a: 23; in the postscript to The Manager, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, Berengarten 2008b: 161; and in Berengarten 2009: 151 & 159-160. The last of these references may serve as an additional guideline to the ‘Volta’ project:
In the wake of Paz, I have argued since 1971 that single monolithic ‘centres’, especially national and nationalistic ones, are anathema, that difference is a cause for happiness, multiplicity a cue for celebration, and pluralism a prospect for hope.
24. Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 114.
26. In using the words virtual and virtually throughout this essay, I have intended all their meanings and uses, not least those to do with the Internet and email. This multilingual anthology, conceived and born during this particular revolution in global communications, involves both a focus on its potential and a scrying of some of its implications for poetry and poetics.
October 22 – November 8, 2009
February 23, 2010,
and July 15, 2010