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  • Difference and Difficulty:Multilingualism and Translation in Modernist Studies' Global Turn
  • Leandro Pasini (bio)

No meio do caminho tinha uma pedraTinha uma pedra no meio do caminho.    Carlos Drummond de Andrade,       "No meio do caminho"

Before you, mother Idoto,naked I stand;before your watery presence,a prodigal

leaning on an oilbean,lost in your legend.       Christopher Okigbo, "The Passage"

我来了, 我喊一声,迸着血泪「这不是我的中华, 不对, 不对!」闻一多. 「发现」

At first glance, the juxtaposition of these verses arouses in the reader the sensation of difficulty and incomprehensibility. Virtually no one could read and understand all of them with familiarity and awareness of their implications, and even if one could, it would only be an exception that proves the rule. The problem cannot be thoroughly resolved by the use of translation because, as it equalizes the verses into a single language, it effaces the heterogeneous and simultaneous image created by the rough juxtaposition. As Venuti explains, "a translation is unable to produce an effect equivalent to that of the foreign text because translation is domestication, the inscription of cultural values that differ fundamentally from those in the source language."1 Thus, before introducing the poets and translating their verses, [End Page 399] it is important to emphasize the difficulty that we face before this frame and to stress its incomprehensibility, the strangeness of it and the sensation of unknowledge that it causes. How could a reader interested in the issue of global modernisms approach such a frame?2 Given the unlikeliness of one being fluent in the four languages, how many of them is one supposed to know? English and another one, three of them, exceptionally? What could be done in the attempt to read all the verses? Even if an earnest use of grammars and dictionaries is made, so that the meaning of the words in the verses becomes apprehensible, the cultural and literary implications of the language would continue to be inaccessible. As a result, we cannot approach the multilingualism implied by global modernism without the support of literary translation and a minimum apparatus of textual reading. Consequently, the relation between multilingualism and translation constitutes a central issue in the global turn of the new modernist studies.

The excerpts of the quoted poems have already been translated into English, the lingua franca of the new modernist studies, as Friedman calls it, and they have become a part of a literature readable worldwide, or a kind of modernist world poetry in English translation.3 Thus, the frame at the beginning of this article can provide a small laboratory to analyze the relationship between multilingualism and translation. The excerpts do not have a common denominator; nevertheless, they have an analogous position inside their own poetic traditions: all of them, to different degrees, were frequently quoted and became, if not necessarily popular, at least a symbolic fragment of their local modernist movement.

The local importance of the quoted excerpts can be measured by the kind of reverberation they have had. The verses of the poem "In the Middle of the Road," by the Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade—"In the middle of the road there was a stone / there was a stone in the middle of the road" (translated by Elizabeth Bishop) —have become proverbial in Brazil, not only for the idea of difficulty, but also for having shocked much of the public of its time.4 The title of the Iranian Forough Farrokhzad's poem, "The Wind Will Take Us," was used by the late award-winning director Abbas Kiarostami as the title of one of his films, one in which the poem is recited and partially explained.5 Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak's translation of the beginning of the poem reproduced in the initial frame of this article reads:

In my small night, ahthe wind has a date with the leaves of the treesin my small night there is agony of destruction listendo you hear the darkness blowing?6

Wen Yiduo's poem "Discovery," from which we quoted the first verses in Chinese, was translated by Kai-yu Hsu: "I've come, I shout, bursting out in tears of woe, / 'This is not my China – Oh, no! No!'"7 This poem has been repeatedly reprinted, not...


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