Month: March 2011

Found in translation

Poetry, Poesie, Poesia

By James H. Miller

I have an undying respect for poetry translators. I’ve never had the patience or discipline to truly learn a foreign language myself. I tried Spanish so that I might read Cesar Vallejo in the original, attempted German because I thought Goethe was really rad, and then French for similar reasons—Rimbaud, you bad-ass!

I usually managed to earn a passing grade or better in these courses, but my actual knowledge of any foreign language amounts to funny vulgarities and swear words. So, if you’re like me (my sympathies if you are), those who translate poetry into English are crucial; whether it’s unearthing a master from Argentina, or showing us what, as O’Hara wrote, “the poets in Ghana are doing these days.” In recent years, we’ve been blessed with loads of groundbreaking translations from people like Edward Snow, Clare Cavanagh, and many other erudite guys and gals. I’d like to mention two translators that I’m personally grateful for: Michael Hofman and Jonathan Galassi.

First, Michael Hofman.

Michael Hofman was born in West Germany in 1957. Among other things (poet, free-lance writer), he’s an excellent translator and winner of countless awards. He most recently edited an anthology sensibly called Twentieth-Century German Poetry, which includes fine translations of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Bertolt Brecht, and Paul Celan, along with many obscure others who’ve never, to my knowledge, been rendered into English so handsomely before. (more…)

Nonsense in the current social order

The University of Resentment: Alan Kaufman’s Wild Idea

By Kwame Opoku-Duku, Forum General Editor

“I am very unhappy with current attempts throughout the universities of the Western world by a group I have called ‘the school of resentment’ to put the arts, and literature in particular, in the service of social change…pseudo-Marxists, pseudo-feminists, watery disciples of Foucault and other French theorists…are transparently at work propagating themselves in our universities…I would say that there is no future for literary studies as such in the United States. Increasingly, those studies are being taken over by the astonishing garbage called “cultural criticism.” At NYU I am surrounded by professors of hip-hop. At Yale, I am surrounded by professors far more interested in various articles on the compost heap of so-called popular culture than in Proust or Shakespeare or Tolstoy.” (Excerpted from “Bloom and Doom,” Harold Bloom interviewed by Ken Shulman. Newsweek v124, #15. Oct 10, 1994. PAGE 75.)

Harold Bloom’s interviews in which he speaks of his disdain for the school of thought he refers to as the “school of resentment” have always weighed heavily on my mind. Bloom has always served as a beacon of sorts in my literary journey. I’ve been taught to use him as the primary source for literary criticism since I was 14. As far as I knew, his word was the law.

The “school of resentment” was first mentioned by Bloom in the introduction to his 1994 work, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. He claimed he sought to protect the Western canon from the leftist vigilantes who wanted to infuse the canon with minorities and women, regardless of their aesthetic merit. Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago. But living in San Francisco in 2011, it’s impossible not to question how much water this “school of resentment” holds.

One of the biggest sources of pride here at City College is that the school created the first Gay and Lesbian Studies department in the United States back in 1989 — not to mention the school’s longtime, tireless work to promote equity and inclusion among all students. And the reason we’re so proud of it is that if we didn’t do it, no one might have.
It seems to me that the fear of minorities, women and the LGBT community being read by children is the precise reason why it needs to be done more. I know that reading Go Tell It on the Mountain literally changed my life upon first reading it at the age of 14, and I know it’s something Bloom could probably never understand. Let’s face it; he’s set in his ways. (more…)

México: Política y Poética

Modern and Contemporary Works on Paper and Animations

By Katie Dalla, Forum Poetry Editor

It’s not often that an art exhibit representing a country goes to the extent of actually showcasing remains of its own citizens.

No, nobody’s limbs were severed and put on a podium, but Teresa Margolles’ vibrant yet grotesque 2003 piece, Papeles, brings you bodily fluids in a surprisingly beautiful arrangement.

The piece takes up a whole wall and displays large rectangular sheets containing streaked patterns of brown and yellow hues that, juxtaposed together, bring to mind the splendor of a moth’s wings. But the beauty is met with an equal amount of repulsion: Margolles used the post- autopsy water from the victims of narcoviolencia—or those individuals that experienced the fatal repercussions of drug trafficking. The water came right from the Mexico City morgue.

Each paper represents an individual portrait of a person and their remaining traces of life. You can’t help but feel a bit tricked — your first feeling is sheer warmth from the luminosity and size of the work, but as you step in closer to read the details, you immediately get a lump in your throat and feel the need to back away slowly, frantically searching for mutual glances of horror from the other onlookers. Margolles’ bold statement effectively demands a reaction to an ongoing issue that has caused so many deaths and so much strife in Mexico. She also gives an odd vibrance to each portrait as she has, in fact, captured their final essence, and in the most direct way possible, Margolles brings a part of Mexico to you.

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