Posts by Mariana Rodríguez

Mexico City Lit on Radical Translation: Part II

"As a way of questioning dominant representations, translation is a way of doing political and cultural work."

Find Part I here.


Mexican Poets Go Home is a radical document of poetry in translation. Eugene Tisselli, for example, channels the spirit of Oulipo in a 79-line auto-generating poem based on an algorithm designed by the poet himself. Also excerpted in the anthology is Karen Villeda’s book-length retelling of the extinction of the dodo, a polyvocal epic woven out of quotes from contemporary scientific journals, colonial documents, and the imagined monologues of sailors.

These, and the other poems in the book, are restless texts: they are far from happy to remain within the confines of a national literary tradition. But the free, bilingual, digitally-distributed format of Mexican Poets Go Home puts it on the frontline of the politics of translation.

The anthology’s format allows it to transcend linguistic borders and forces people to read Mexican writing on its own terms. So in terms of distribution as well as content (form, as well as meaning) Mexican Poets Go Home remains so stubbornly hybrid as to defy any given aesthetic or cultural stricture.

As mentioned, the poem in the anthology is an autogenerative text based on an algorithm. As such, the text collapses language to its most basic atoms and mechanisms of meaning-production. Each line starts out as the buildup of all of its denominators: for example, line 32 is made up of lines 16, 8, 4 and 2. READ MORE…

Mexico City Lit on Radical Translation: Part I

"Translation is the adjustment of voltage and signal within a language system. But every adjustment is an ideological statement."

Every readable sentence carries a subliminal thrum of voltage. Language is the total circuitry of power relations that take place within the groups deploying that language. If translation means the movement between languages, then the act of translation is in some sense a rerouting of that linguistic voltage.

To paraphrase David Bellos, however: an “asymmetrical relationship” is involved in any translation act. Upward translation moves from a less prestigious or powerful language to one considered “stronger.” Almost all translations into English, for example, can be conceived of as “upward translations “ Translation-downwards, therefore, implies movement from a stronger language to one with a smaller readership, or which possesses less cultural and economic prestige.

Have you ever noticed how “un-Japanese” Haruki Murakami feels in English translation, compared to other Japanese writers? Part of this is his own writerly project, born as it is out of an admiration for the likes of Raymond Chandler and J.D. Salinger. But where his translations are concerned, it feels as though twists which may have caused his foreign-language audience to read twice have been effaced or unkinked in the English. READ MORE…