More Mechanisms: On gates and gates and gates

Chapter 5 on Gibson’s Agrippa quotes a passage by Gary Taylor, describing how his writing is “playing on the word ‘gate’ as both logic gate and Bill Gates,” which reminded me of this article I read a few years ago. “Celan Reads Japanese” is also about gates, and the translation of poetry. Attempting to translate poetry from German to Japanese would seem as doomed a task as we are presented with in digital preservation – aren’t we similarly attempting the impossible by translating works over time, to new contexts, attempting to preserve readings and meanings? But, in this essay, Tawada reveals something about the nature of translation (which I think those of us in digital preservation can learn from):

There were exceptions, though, such as the poems of Paul Celan, which I found utterly fascinating even in Japanese translation.  From time to time it occurred to me to wonder whether his poems might not be lacking in quality since they were translatable.  When I ask about a work’s ‘translatability,’ I don’t mean whether a perfect copy of a poem can exist in a foreign language, but whether its translation can itself be a work of literature.  Besides, it would be insufficient if I were to say that Celan’s poems were translatable.  Rather, I had the feeling that they were peering into Japanese.

I love this sentence (highlighted), it does so much – not simply denying the possibility of a perfect copy, but making that question itself irrelevant, shifting focus from imitation to creation. Tawada insists that we recognize the translation as a new work, and asks that as readers we also demand more from this process of translation.

She goes on to describe the artistry of Celan’s translation, how the ideograms that show up all share the radical for ‘gate.’ I don’t know how one judges the authenticity of translated poetry, but this seems to ring true – or, to adopt more Kirschenbaum-esque language, there is a certain craft evident in this new encoding, that also serves to reveal an underlying formal materiality in the original. This is what I want significant properties to be able to do.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about haiku recently – how the ‘genre’ of haiku has transformed over time (in Japanese) and in contrast how the anglicized notion of haiku is stripped of the ‘semantic’ factors (such as juxtaposition of imagery and focus on nature and seasons) and is reduced to following form (counting syllables). Do we value form over nuance – or does nuance always get lost in translation?

But also, maybe there is something more here… about codes and visualizations, about ideograms and notations (Goodman comes to mind again). And about the ‘information’ of each…

Goodman, N. (1976). Languages of art: an approach to a theory of symbols. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Tawada, Y. (2013, March). Celan Reads Japanese. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from