- After Translation: The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics across the Atlantic by Ignacio Infante
"Let's leave behind the masters of form—even the Gods pass away! It is within ourselves that our divinity lies. It is not through the old world behind us that we will arrive at the Golden Age," wrote Joaquim de Sousândrade in 1876. "It is in this nature [of America] where the very sources lie, large and beautiful with their rivers and mountains…and it is there that we will drink the form of the original literary character regardless of the different languages we may speak" (qtd. in Infante 140). In After Translation: The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics across the Atlantic, Ignacio Infante traces questions of "original literary character," poetic form, and multilingualism in transatlantic modern poetics. His transcultural literary history of the twentieth century assembles a strikingly varied set of case studies. These range from an examination of mid-century Brazilian Concretist poets (who anachronistically asserted that Sousândrade was a predecessor of Ezra Pound, and then claimed them both as aesthetic influences) to the rich topic of bilingualism in oft-neglected works by Vicente Huidobro and Fernando Pessoa; Kamau Brathwaite's digital vernacular as a form of translation; and Jack Spicer's engagement with Federico García Lorca. Infante's main argument is that these diverse modes of transatlantic poetic transfer are critiques of modernity. His book draws on an impressive range of linguistic traditions and is a significant, innovative model for comparative scholarship in the way that it conceives of relationality between texts and cultures as fluid and circular, connecting archives, fields, national literatures, and theories.
After Translation works against the national model of literary history and is part of the dynamic conversation currently taking place around "world [End Page 1198] literature" and "translation studies." In its method, it makes an argument similar to that of Emily Apter's recent Against World Literature (2013)—they both seek to trumpet linguistic pluralism and "wean World Literature from its comfort zone" (Apter 335)—but Infante's focus is exclusively on comparative poetics. After Translation indicates how far comparative poetics has come since Jahan Ramazani cleared ground in 2001 with The Hybrid Muse, which mounts a persuasive defense of poetry as an object of inquiry for postcolonial studies, arguing that "Dislocations of meaning, defamiliarizing incongruities, linguistic hybridity, and consciousness of sameness in difference are integral to both postcoloniality and the very structure of metaphor" (75). (Ramazani continues his project in A Transnational Poetics, which Infante cites as influential to his thinking, but criticizes for its monolingualism.) But Infante's book also demonstrates how far comparative poetics has yet to go. After Translation's case studies are bookended by fierce defenses of its method, which show that it still cannot be taken for granted.
Infante trenchantly observes that the institutional history of American and European scholarly traditions explains why the fields of transatlantic studies are so deeply fragmented today into Anglo-American transatlantic studies; Estudios transatlánticos; transatlantic area studies; Francophone transatlantic studies; Lusophone studies; Caribbean diaspora studies; Afro-Hispanic studies; and African diaspora studies. His aspiration is to bring together these fields, even as he makes use of metaphors of translation to characterize various modes of literary composition and analysis (for example, the examination of texts written by bilingual but non-native speakers). The sustained attention he pays to the value of translation in the composition and circulation of twentieth-century poetry is ambitious and forward-looking. It contributes to the productive criticism that has been directed toward "the Eurochronology problem" identified by Arjun Appadurai and Christopher Prendergast, which is to say, the "ethnocentrism of literary-historical periodization" (Prendergast 6). Apter observes that "the nations that name the critical lexicon are the nations that dominate the classification of genres in literary history and the critical paradigms that prevail in literary world-systems" (58). Decidedly bucking this trend, Infante's methodology articulates his archive and vice versa. In other words, one aspect of his mission is...