Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Putting More of the Arts into Education

Posted on April 30, 2012, 02:42:00 PM by Erin Branagan

We at the Center are fervent supporters of arts in the schools—that's one of the reasons why we've expanded our Poetry Inside Out program to over 40 classes in the past year. We’re excited to see the high profile that arts education has been commanding recently and wanted to share a few recent developments with you.

Last week, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities announced a new Turnaround Arts initiative to bring arts education to eight low-performing schools around the country to increase student engagement and learning. Artists like Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, and Forest Whitaker will each sponsor a school. This is the first federal initiative to consider the role of arts in school reform—and we hope not the last.

California has also just launched Create CA, a statewide initiative to bring art back to our schools. It's the latest effort to get more arts education in public school since Proposition 13 severely reduced funding for arts more than thirty years ago. Create CA will bring together the many groups—artists, educators, business executives and state officials—working to expand access to arts education in order to influence legislation, increase funding, and raise awareness.

And lastly, in March the NEA came out with a report showing academic achievement gains for at-risk students participating in “arts-rich” school environments. The report analyzed results from four earlier studies and found that students in schools with arts opportunities were more engaged and academically successful than their counterparts at schools without the arts. This is hardly surprising to us after all the improvement we've seen with our Poetry Inside Out students, but it's still good to see our anecdotal data backed up by empirical results.

We hope that these efforts will begin to change attitudes about the value of arts education—we'll keep you updated about their progress.

From Exhausted Space: Chapters 14 and 15

Posted on April 26, 2012, 03:24:00 PM by Tommaso Pincio

Women are prone to disappearance. Everyone takes note of this age-old truth sooner or later in life, but the issue isn’t that women disappear nor why they disappear. The question is: where do they go? What becomes of them? What became of Marilyn Monroe? It’s a question without an answer and, considering how much time has passed, it will stay that way for years to come. After being fired, every trace of Marilyn Monroe was lost. Her fate remains a mystery to this day. No one knows where she went, if she left the country or changed her identity, if she’s still alive. All we know about her are the things that didn’t happen. Death didn’t happen, at least not officially because nowhere is she registered as deceased. She didn’t find another job, not a legal job, at least, because she was never officially hired by another company. She was never married, not that this means anything much—by the end of the 50s the institution of marriage was showing its first signs of collapse. She didn’t travel, in the sense that she didn’t buy any tickets that might require the registration of personal details.

Obviously, all these things that officially didn’t happen don’t rule out any hypotheses. She could be long dead--perhaps her body is still being saved in the refrigerator of some morgue waiting to be identified. She might have worked for people where the less they knew about her, the better it would be. She might have been desperately in need of money and was contacted by one of those secret companies that recruit people to experiment with new pills going on the spatial pharmaceutical market.

It appears as though she was very beautiful and might have therefore tried her hand at a career as a cat-walker. Historians have determined that for every girl who succeeded, there are tens if not hundreds whose brains were addled by Gravital, a chemical supplement they say is relatively harmless and was extremely popular at the time. Aspiring cat-walkers took it in huge quantities, however, enabling them to walk in the Void of Space as gracefully as they would in the presence of gravity. She could therefore have been reduced to walking in one of those institutions for spacial adjustment dysfunction, along with the many other now-nameless girls completely incapable of controlling their bodily functions, unable to understand why they had been so reduced or to remember how beautiful they once were; passing hours in front of a mirror pretending to walk in Space, trying to imagine the Void around them, the Void and weightlessness. Or Marilyn Monroe might be one of those lifeless bodies that drift off at the mercy of silent galactic currents, one of the many female bodies orbital controllers sometimes spy from a distance. They stare at them as if they were ghosts but don’t signal their presence to their base because cat-walker bodies don’t get in the way of orbital spaces, they don’t disturb frequencies and they aren’t detected by the ship’s instruments. Technically speaking, a dead body in Space doesn’t exist, it doesn’t alter the Void and it doesn’t add to it, they disappear the moment they become part of it. The harmony of nothing. Morally speaking, on the other hand, it was better that cat-walker corpses floating in space didn’t exist. They represented the dirty soul of the new Space Frontier. Often those bodies, motionless against a background of imposing blackness, had pasts one would rather not know about. Those girls died in Space because they didn’t know enough to recognize the bittersweet taste of rotten oxygen candies. Unsuspecting, they put the cubes of oxygenated gum in their mouths, they sucked on them, sure of themselves and of their beauty. Without sensing anything out of the ordinary, they would leave the company’s ship and start modelling in Space. The ship moved away almost immediately so as not to ruin the astral shot: a girl walking suspended in space and, all around her, the Void. This was the aesthetic demand that condemned them. By the time they realized they were running out of air, by the time they realized that the candy was rotten, it was too late. By that point they’d be flailing in panic, trying to get the attention of the spaceship that had brought them there, but the ship had by then become a white dot, hardly distinguishable from the stars around it. They’d make despairing movements with their arms, issuing soundless screams, using up what little bit of air remained in their throats. Face trembling, eyes wide, mouth agape, then silence. They died knowing just how extreme the absence of sound can be. By the time the ship returned there was nothing to be done. The girls’ bodies weren’t loaded on board, they were abandoned in Space.

Abandoning a body in Space wasn’t a crime. The cat-walker phenomenon, on the other hand, wasn’t entirely legal and so in order to avoid pointless problems, they preferred not to bring the dead girls back to Earth. A cat-walker contract contained a release similar to that which orbital controllers were obligated to sign, but honestly almost all space travel in the 50s, whether legal or illegal, required a release. In other words, leaving for Space was a little like disappearing, a person’s name was suspended in the record books, officially it didn’t even show that the person had left—it was as if they were still on Earth. On Earth but untraceable. It was the odd and primitive way in which they compensated for the legislative gap in the matter of Space: whosoever embarked did so at their own danger and risk, no law of any state protected them. It was the price to pay for the last frontier and the reason why many, for the most part women, never returned. By law these people never went into Space, they never lifted a foot from the Earth—they were untraceable people but people that could still be found on our planet and if anything awful had happened to them it had at any rate happened on Earth. Legally speaking, there was no place safer than Space. Legally speaking, no one had yet died in Space.

No one can say if Marilyn Monroe also became part of this vanished class. But since historians began to occupy themselves with this issue, the question they have attempted to answer has been: Would things have gone differently if Neal Cassady, returning to Quantum that day at the beginning of summer, had found the orientress with her reflective mouth properly in her place, or if he had in any case succeeded in tracking her down? Mind you, it’s not so much the “ifs” of what might have happened that disturbs historians, but rather if effectively something different had happened. Marilyn’s disappearance is a black hole. It’s a fact that threatens history around her, a real and true sword of Damocles that might fall at any moment, upending years of scrupulous manipulation of the facts.

Not long ago historians tracked down the man who was personnel manager for Quantum at the time Marilyn was fired. It was highly unlikely that he be able to tell them anything useful after so much time had passed, but they got in touch with him anyway to ask if the name Marilyn Monroe meant anything to him.

They were psychologically prepared to hear “no.” “It certainly does. That’s the girl we fired for her reflective mouth. A nice-looking broad,” he replied without seeming to think much about it, as if it was the most natural thing to remember. And as if forty years hadn’t passed.

The connection must be bad, the historians thought, recovering from their shock by telling him that his words had gotten lost halfway, at some point along the mysterious planetary routes designed by telephone companies.

“Miss Monroe worked at Quantum when I was personnel manager.” Historians liked hearing things they already knew repeated, it cast a light on the dark side of the whole affair. It calmed them.

“I remember her perfectly. I was the one who signed her dismissal letter.”

“Why did you let her go?”

“For her reflective mouth. It was 1956, there were some things you still couldn’t do. Like that, like it’s nothing.”

“But Modernella Jane also did her mouth up that way, reflective.”

“Not also, only. Modernella Jane was the only one who did her mouth up all reflective. Some years later it became a more or less accepted fashion, but in ’56 it meant being inappropriately provocative.”

“A provocateur who made her way onto TV, though.”

“Friends, you all belong to a new generation. If a television personality did something, it didn’t by any means mean that you could do it.” The historians wanted to tell him that essentially things hadn’t much changed, that in many ways it had even gotten worse. They would have had to explain to him why, however, and they weren’t quite sure of how to do that.

“And then when it came down to it Quantum was a bookstore. There was a style to respect, a grammar.”

“Tell us more about the reflective mouth. What about it was so inappropriate?”

“In the 50s, the symbolic value of things was fundamental. People all dressed the same way and demanded that everything have a meaning. Everything had to correspond to something. Acts that didn’t have a clear meaning were improper.”

“But what meaning could there be behind the way you do your make-up? Make-up is make-up.”

“That’s what you say. When they shot Modernella Jane’s face, little by little the camera zoomed in on her reflective lips and as it did you could clearly make out the reflection of the guests in her studio. Then the lips began to open slightly, you glimpsed her reflective teeth, her mouth continued to open and you discovered that the tongue was reflective too. The television screen was overpowered by this reflective mouth, while the show’s guests and its studio technicians were all reflected and distorted around the oral cavity of that woman. It was a disturbing image.”

“Back then”

“Back then, yes. Who’d say otherwise? Anyway, it was completely out of the question for an orientress to show up at her place of work made-up like that.”

“What happened exactly?”

“Ms. Monroe was a headstrong girl. She tended to, how can I say this, to defy people. She provoked them, basically. She did the same thing with us. When we requested that she avoid inappropriate makeup she didn’t say a thing. Usually the girls would at least reply to our criticism, they’d apologize, offer assurances about their future conduct or otherwise they’d ask for an explanation, which was a way of opposing us. With her, nothing—she kept her mouth shut. This was pretty indicative.”

“Indicative of what, if you’ll excuse us?”

“Of what was going on in her head, seems obvious to me.”

“Certainly. And afterwards?”

“After what?”

“After you fired her.”

“The following day she came into work just like always. There was nothing else to be done, if I hadn’t thrown her out they would have thrown me out. It was her or me. Besides, she didn’t seem too worried about losing her job, she gave off the impression that her reflective mouth came before anything else. Some sort of ideal.”

“Her mouth?”

“Yes, her mouth. I already told you, in those years we lived on symbolic gestures.”

“Do you know what became of her? Did you ever see her again?”

“No, but I still have a photo of her. The one she sent along with her application. I liked holding onto the photos of the girls who applied to be orientresses. I have over thirty and it’s a very revealing sample, a real piece of history.”

“We don’t doubt it. Was her mouth reflective in that photo?”

“Definitely not. We would never have hired her.”

The conversation pretty much ended there. The man hadn’t said very much and the historians were satisfied. They wondered if the problems caused by Marilyn Monroe could be traced back to the purchase of the stellar atlas and came to the conclusion that it was a likely hypothesis. Neal Cassady could have very well been one of the customers who were disturbed and provoked by the reflective-mouthed orientress. As for what Neal did to track Monroe down, everything could remain as it was before. The black hole of the orientress with the reflective mouth remained intact.

Afterwards, the historians wrote a letter to the old man who had been Quantum personnel manager as a young man. They attempted to explain what it was they were doing, despite the fact he had never asked. They thanked him for what he had told them. In their hearts they thanked him more for what he hadn’t told them, but they didn’t write that because they doubted he’d understand.

Some months later the man responded. He wrote that it had been a pleasure talking to someone from the old days, he wished the historians good luck with their work, even if he wasn’t sure he quite understood what that information was good for and whether what the historians were doing really constituted as “work”. He also wrote that they seemed “a little nutty” but that ultimately he couldn’t say because certain things he just didn’t chew on. He wrote just that. There was also a P.S. The man enclosed the photo of Marilyn Monroe, saying he was sure it would be to their liking. “I’m old and I don’t want it winding up in the trash when I die. That’s what’ll become of all my photos because my daughter despises my collection. What can you do, she thinks I’m an old pervert. You keep it.”


For the first time the existence of an eighth musical note is theorized. The fad of keeping bowls of goldfish glued to the windshields of automobiles breaks out. Prayer in schools is declared unconstitutional while, still on the matter of constitutional rights, the death penalty is reinstated. For no apparent reason the sale of lawnmowers suddenly skyrockets. The first “luminous saucer-like object” is spotted. Number-less watches appear for the first time. Casual encounters start to catch on. The Eiffel Tour is disassembled and transferred to Montana for two weeks. The Frisbee is marketed. People try to be happier. The first memory bubble is isolated in the laboratories of the Walt Disney Institute. The consumption of margarine exceeds that of butter. The hypothesis that mouth-to-mouth breathing is carcinogenic is advanced. The introduction of the three-point shot in basketball is proposed. It is demonstrated that the viruses that attack information systems are biologically innocuous to man. A photograph from a man’s deathbed declares that the image he took of the Loch Ness monster twenty-two years prior was a fake. A Supreme Court decision denies the existence of virtual reality. The Equal Opportunities Commission establishes that the concept of sexual molestation between opposite-sex individuals is a contradiction in terms. Playboy publishes some nude photos of Modernella Jane. Production begins of chewing air, which in few years time will replace the use of the less-safe oxygen candies. A federal law prohibits the sale of Gravital without a regular space boarding pass. The institution, by promotional means, of the first personalized news bulletin. A survey reveals that thirty-seven percent of men believe the Barbie doll to be the ideal partner.

Tommaso Pincio is the nome d’arte of Italian author Marco Colapietro. While the pseudonym is clearly an Italianization of Thomas Pynchon, Pincio claims he took it because it is also one of the Seven Hills of Rome, his birthplace. Pincio is the author of five novels, one of which, Love-Shaped Story has been translated into English. Lo Spazio Sfinito, Pincio’s second novel, was published in 2000 by Fanucci and re-issued by minimumfax in Rome in November 2010.

Acacia O'Connor lives in New York City where she manages the Kids Right to Read Project for the National Coalition Against Censorship and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. She obtained her M.A. in literary translation studies from the University of Rochester in 2011 and her B.A. in English and Italian from Vassar College. At Vassar, O'Connor was editor of The Miscellany News, and her writings have since appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and online at Open Letter's translation blog, Three Percent. In 2009 she received a Fulbright fellowship to teach English in southern Italy. This is her first published translation.

Original text: Pincio, Tommaso. Lo Spazio Sfinito. minimum fax: Rome, 2010.

Read more world literature at TWO LINES Online.

Sergio Chejfec Called "Exciting New Argentine Novelist"

Posted on April 24, 2012, 11:52:00 AM by Scott Esposito

On May 8 we'll be hosting Sergio Chejfec in person for an event at 111 Minna. Over at The Argentina Independent, Joey Rubin has named him as one of 5 Argentine authors that you need to check out. I couldn't agree more:

These five aren’t just the most interesting novels by Argentine writers being published in the US and UK this year, they’re the most interesting novels being published in the US and UK, period. And they are all by Argentine authors that we’d feel remiss if you didn’t know about. So take out your pen and jot these names down, or load them onto your “To-Read” App, or scan them with your Google Glasses, whatever your style may be.

And here's the praise for Chejfec's book The Planets, which he'll be discussing at the event.

The Planets by Sergio Chejfec
When Open Letter Books (US) published Sergio Chejfec’s novel ‘My Two Worlds’ in English last year, the English-reading public was introduced, for the first time, to a unique writer: hyper-perceptive, unafraid of interiority, sworn to the incremental drama of hermeneutics. The novel was well received — one critic called the book a “vast and complicated work of literature;” meaningful praise for a novel only 102 pages long. So this summer, be alert for literary excitement when Open Letter releases the second volume of Chejfec in English: ‘The Planets’. First published in Spanish in 1999, ‘The Planets’ was written during the fifteen-year period when Chejfec lived in Venezuela, a temporal and cultural dislocation important to the text. As ‘My Two Worlds’ used ambulatory reflection, ‘The Planets’ uses the act of remembering to elevate a simple story into an elegant register. It’s a mode of literature difficult to master, but worthy of celebration when done right. Head over to the Open Letter website to begin the celebration.

THAT OTHER WORD: Episode 2 | April 2012 | Petra Hardt

Posted on April 17, 2012, 02:20:00 AM by Madeleine LaRue

“That Other Word,” a collaborative podcast between the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris and the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco, offers discussions on classic and contemporary literature in translation, along with engaging interviews with writers, translators, and publishers.

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS.

In this episode, Scott Esposito eagerly anticipates the Dirty War in Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets, and Daniel Medin shares a delightful description of a freeloader from Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories. They discuss Daniel Sada’s Almost Never and the general robustness of contemporary Mexican fiction, attempt to explain why reading Can Xue’s Vertical Motion is like running downhill in the dark, then hesitate over whether to call Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels a memoir or a work of criticism, but agree that it is about Oulipo and very candid.

Daniel Medin then speaks to Petra Hardt, head of the rights department at Suhrkamp Verlag and author of Rights: Buying. Protecting. Selling. Suhrkamp is one of the most prestigious presses in Germany and in Europe, and since its founding in 1950 has published not only many of the greatest German-language writers of the twentieth century — among them Paul Celan, Theodor W. Adorno, and Thomas Bernhard — but foreign authors as well, including Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, and Julio Cortázar. In a series of wonderfully engaging anecdotes, Petra describes her work in rights and foreign rights, how that work is changing in the digital age, and why her book is intended for new presses in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Table of Contents

INTRO: Daniel Medin and Scott Esposito

0:47 Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds and The Planets

3:07 Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories, including a reading from “The Freeloader”

7:36 Daniel Sada’s Almost Never, plus a mention of Una de dos

11:12 Can Xue’s Vertical Motion, plus Liao Yiwu’s The Corpse Walker

14:07 Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels

16:04 Scott Esposito introduces Petra Hardt and Suhrkamp Verlag

FEATURE: Daniel Medin interviews Petra Hardt

16:43 How Pippi Longstocking paved the way to Suhrkamp

22:56 Daily activities and responsibilities at Suhrkamp

26:54 Rights: Buying. Protecting. Selling.: a primer for small new presses

34:58 The question of digital rights

38:53 The importance of long-term planning; or, Thomas Bernhard surpasses Herman Hesse

44:20 Maintaining the backlist and finding new readers through new media

46:22 World literature at Suhrkamp: translation and acquisition

48:41 Some of Petra Hardt’s favorite contemporary authors: Marcel Beyer, Durs Grünbein, Amos Oz, Zeruya Shalev, Judith Hermann, and Josef Winkler.


That Other Word Episode 1 | March 2012 | Lorin Stein

Translators Richard Sieburth and Damion Searls Pick Up Guggenheims

Posted on April 12, 2012, 10:41:00 AM by Scott Esposito

The 2012 Guggenheim fellows were announced this morning, and translators Richard Sieburth and Damion Searls have been honored with fellowships. Sieburth is a major translator from the German and the French, having done works by Friedrich Hölderlin, Walter Benjamin, and Gérard de Nerval, among many others.

Searls has done a number of outstanding projects and is perhaps most widely known for Hans Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key, which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2010 and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Searls also has strong ties to the Center, having published translations in Ages, the 1998 volume of TWO LINES. In addition, we held an event with him in the spring of 2011 where he discussed his translation of major European author John Fosse's Aliss at the Fire. Audio of that event is available to be heard on the Center's website here, along with over 30 other pieces of translation-related audio.

Congrats to both Guggenheim fellows, and let's hope that even more translators will be so-honored in 2013.

TWO VOICES: Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel on Translating Murakami

Posted on April 5, 2012, 12:41:00 PM by Scott Esposito

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS.

On April 3, 2012, translators Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel—best-known as the main English translators of Haruki Murakmai's novels and short stories—discussed their work with the Japanese master of the surreal's latest book, 1Q84. You can hear audio of that event by using the player above.

The event got off to a proper start with a discussion of one of the primary questions surrounding 1Q84: how do you pronounce its title? Jay Rubin canvassed the audience for answers, which ranged from "nineteen-eighty-four" to "eye-que-eight-four" (which Rubin ruled out, since the first character is a number one). He then went on to a discussion of the role that the title plays in the novel; Rubin also explained about the original Japanese characters that the title consists of and how it puns on the fact that in Japanese the letter q sounds like the number nine. Rubin's comments on 1Q84's title touched on the larger, specific translation challenges posed by translating the title of a work, as well as the frequent frustrations that translators have to face when working with this very particular element of translation.

From there, J. Philip Gabriel talked about the enormous pressures placed upon him to translate the third book of 1Q84 (which appeared in Japanese much later than the first two books) in time for the publication of all three as one volume in English. As Gabriel recalled, he worked from partially edited publishers' copies of 1Q84, which he kept receiving in differently edited editions. The translation of the third book also presented other unique challenges, such as the fact that Gabriel had to conform his translations to reflect decisions already taken by Rubin and his editors with the first two books.

Gabriel also noted the intriguing similarities that 1Q84 and Murakami's other mammoth novel—The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—both take place in the year 1984 and are structured by Murakami as three books.

Rubin and Gabriel then talked about specific challenges to 1Q84's prose and working with Murakami in general. Among the challenges were the virtues of "air cocoon" versus "air chrysalis," a phrase that is pivotal to 1Q84. They also explained that some of 1Q84's third book was edited down: whereas Murakmai included repetition in the Japanese version of Book 3, since there was a large gap of one year between the publication of Book 2 of 1Q84 and Book 3, such repetition would not be necessary for a single-volume edition of 1Q84, and in fact would have detracted from it. They also talked about working with Murakami, reporting that he was mostly hands-off, though he did get actively involved in some of the discussion of vocabulary choices, including the choice of the nickname of one character, opting for the name Buzz-cut instead of Skinhead. The discussion concluded with some ongoing edits that would appear in the paperback edition of 1Q84.

In the Q&A session, the questions included Gabriel's and Rubin's favorite Murakami books, a good place to start for newcomers to Murakami, and the translators' use of Murakami's English-language drafts in their translations of his books. The event concluded with some speculation that Murakami might write a fourth book of 1Q84, which Rubin assured he would be happy for Gabriel to translate.

TWO LINES Online: April 2012

Posted on April 5, 2012, 11:47:00 AM by Scott Esposito

We've just published the April 2012 edition of TWO LINES Online. It includes a poem by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Lui Xiaobo, translated by poet and New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang. This is from Graywolf Press' forthcoming collection of Xiaobo's poetry, June Fourth Elegies, translated by Yang.

We also offer five poems from lauded Czech poet Pavel Šrut, translated by the acclaimed translator Deborah Garfinkle. Šrut was awarded the 2012 Karel Čapek Prize for his lifetime achievement in literature and has been one of the most important voices in Czechoslovakian literature in the generation after the 1968 uprising