• Christine Wiesenthal

Approaching translation as an activity, this essay considers the translation poetics encoded in Anne Carson’s Nox, a double elegy which deploys a hybrid form of glossary-bilingual dictionary as an essential component of its form. Carson’s work not only reveals translation as a recursive, layered process over time, but merges features of the classical glossarium and dictionary to work together ironically, as a means of actively subverting meaning, paradoxically destabilising comprehension even as it is ostensibly established. In this regard, Nox not only flags linguistic and cultural differences along the lines suggested by Lawrence Venuti’s notion of a ‘foreignizing’ method of translation; it also emphatically underscores the translator’s power to obscure the very border between the production and reproduction of meanings.


Translate: v., to bear, convey or remove from one person, place or condition to another; to transfer, transport. -OED

Translation, as an activity, movement, or transit between states is central to the literary practice of Canadian experimental poet Anne Carson. Carson’s work typically deploys translations that draw on her training as a classical scholar of Latin and ancient Greek, carrying readers across borders that are at once linguistic, national, cultural, temporal, generic, and gendered, while ‘expos[ing] hierarchical structures in the process.’[i] This is perhaps nowhere more uniquely evident than in her recent multimedia elegy/epitaph, Nox (2010). An accordion-style ‘tomb-book’ that comes encased in a box, Nox — the title is Latin for ‘night’— unfolds as a form of double elegy. Its right-hand side pages compile a fragmentary bricolage in memory of Carson’s estranged brother, Michael, who died suddenly in Europe in 2000, long self-exiled from his family. This elliptical elegiac biography is conveyed via snippets of collaged text, photo, and hand-drawn illustrations — sometimes glued, stapled, torn up, obscured, or evidently ‘missing’ altogether. Most of the left-hand side pages of Nox, meanwhile, provide a word-for-word or ‘ad verbum’ gloss of the Roman poet Catullus’s Elegy #101, also originally written in commemoration of a brother lost and mourned ‘on distant shores.’ Parsed out over the course of Carson’s concertina text, Catullus’s precursor elegy thus functions as structural device that is intended in part as an homage to the translator’s dictionary.[ii] Textual images of Elegy #101 in its entirety (more or less) also appear several times within Nox: at the outset, in its original Latin; roughly two-thirds of the way through, in Carson’s English translation; toward the end, in its English translation again, but as a stack of shredded, semi-legible strips of text, this time; and at the very end, as an intact but largely obliterated, mostly illegible image of that same English language translation.

Reading the double elegy that is Nox thus necessarily entails a ‘dashing back and forth between that darkening landscape’ that lies between distant languages and cultures (Carson 1999: vii). As readers, we are easily drawn into the contemporary autobiographical family drama that emerges, in fractured bits, on the pages devoted to the shadowy life and death of Carson’s ‘strange brother.’[iii] Michael himself is a mysterious figure, a ‘starry lad’ whose largely ‘penniless,’ fugitive life as a petty drug dealer, and ensuing career as the family’s isolated bête noir, remains shrouded with unanswered questions (1.0, 5.3). The wryly erudite narrator’s own complexly ambivalent attitude to her long-lost brother intensifies the grip of her searching account for the meanings behind the ‘facts’ of Michael’s existence and identity. Paradoxically, the more the narrator of Nox accumulates of her brother’s sparse archival remains, the less comprehensible he seems to her. At the very end of the text, Michael thus appears, wraith-like, as a vanishing figure in a stairwell: ‘he disappears’ (n.pag.). In comparison to the compelling tensions of this personal family drama, it can be tempting to treat the Catullus pages of Nox, with their recurrent glossary compilations, as intriguing and resonant, but supplementary structural scaffolding. For one thing, it takes deliberate effort to read the translation entries as carefully as other portions of the text (why so, I consider below).

Nevertheless, Carson’s text is more porous than its split ‘bilingual’ format suggests, presenting us, in fact, with no clean division or containment of the translator’s task. Instead, Carson clearly signals the act of translation as homologous to the interpretative work the narrator undertakes intra-lingually, as she constructs her elegy, biography, and history, more generally.[iv] Broadly construed, Carson’s conceptualisation of translation might in fact be seen to approximate that of George Steiner, who argued, in After Babel, that ‘[a]ny model of communication is at the same time a model of translation, of a vertical and horizontal transfer of significance . . . . In short: inside or between languages, human communication equals translation’ (emphasis original, in Weissbort 2006: 401).   

Certainly, the significance of the bilingual ‘dictionary’ pages extends beyond that of a mere formal device, proving instead integral to the logic of the translation poetics encoded in Nox. That poetics, I want to suggest, in the first place illustrates what the British poet-classicist Josephine Balmer calls the ‘close, symbiotic relationship’ between the fields of classical translation and creative writing (2006: 184).[v]  Carson particularly draws our attention to translation as a recursive action over time — a form of transportation that unfolds in multiple, layered stages or phases, and, importantly too, at differing velocities. The dictionary and the classical glossarium, as overlapping yet distinct lexicographic genres, are key elements of Carson’s textual strategy in this regard, as are the intermittent counterpoint images of Catallus’s full text. Moreover, the dictionary and glossary features work together ironically in Carson’s poetics as a means of paradoxically subverting the meanings they bear. In this regard, Nox not only flags intractable linguistic and cultural differences along the lines suggested by Lawrence Venuti’s notion of a ‘foreignizing’ method of translation (2006: 548); it also emphatically underscores the translator’s ambiguous position at the very border between production and reproduction (Chamberlain 2012: 262-63), stressing the translation act as a ‘liminal form of artistic practice [that] can introduce doubt’ even as it appears to stabilise meaning (Connolly 2013: 24-5). Proving herself once again a highly inventive, cheeky translator, known to ‘crazy it up, if that seems appropriate’ (qtd in King 2012: n.pag.), Carson thus radically tests the conventional bounds of lyric authenticity and transparency in Nox — which is, after all, presumably a long poem elegy. At the same time, the unsettling effects of Carson’s translation poetics also — inevitably — call into question the very premise of ‘reference works’ such as dictionaries and glossaries themselves. Upending any complacent sense of the solidly unbiased and objective nature of lexicographic and glossographic work, or in effect neatly deconstructing the referential form and function of such ‘authoritative’ sources of meaning, Carson’s bilingual dash in the darkening distance between ancient Latin and modern English ends up overturning our sense of very vehicle(s) transporting us.


‘[T]he structure of the bilingual translation’ as an inspiration for Nox came to Carson, unsurprisingly enough, as the result of her training as a classicist. ‘[P]robably ... because I spent a lot of my life looking at books with left-hand page Greek or Latin, and right-hand page English, ... you get used to it’: ‘[i]t was a fancy of mine to make the left-hand pages, the Catullus pages, look like an old dictionary, because when I was learning these languages, I always had very old, faded dictionaries with yellowed pages’ (qtd in Wachtel 2011: 31, 35). Personal tools of the translator’s trade aside, the ‘old dictionary’ Carson evokes here recalls, historically speaking, the ‘very old, faded’ fact that the earliest dictionaries in the English language were indeed bilingual Latin/English texts, notably glossaries of Latin scripture.[vi]  Merging elements of both forms in Nox, Carson transports us, first, back to a memory of translation’s centrality to the origin and evolution of the (monolingual) early modern lexicon. She also implicitly reminds us, though, that while the glossary and dictionary share a common instrumental function — word definition — they presuppose distinct relationships between text and author, and consequently, distinct notions of the very nature of authority. Whereas the lexicographer of a dictionary imposes an (alphabetical) order on an entire linguistic corpus, the glossographic scribe creates a supplementary frame apparatus, the order and content of which are dictated entirely by her source (or ‘master’) text.

In ‘the Catullus pages’ of Nox, Carson craftily combines features of the dictionary form at the micro-level of the individual word entry with the macro-level structure of the classical glossarium, as her elegy unpacks Catullus’s #101 ‘ad verbum.’ Her lexical translations replicate the appearance of a dictionary definition entry in that each head word in the original Latin is followed by inflections, basic grammatical information (e.g. part of speech), and etymological roots, which in turn are followed by explications composed of divided (though unnumbered) senses, usage, verbal idioms, and illustrative examples.[vii] But what is just as consistently distinctive about these glossary definitions is the emphasis on movement effected by their rapid-fire, paratactic style. Running in length from a short paragraph, to a column of text that fills an entire page, to — occasionally — multi-page glosses, Carson’s definitions are presented in a series of phrasal strings tacked together with semi-colons; at the performative level, they enact an associative, almost stream-of-consciousness mode that careens along in overdrive, as it were, bringing a whole new literal meaning to the lexicographer’s practice of ‘run-on entries (or run-on derivatives)’ (Landau 2001: 101 and ff). (See Fig. 1.) The quick succession of multiple semantic valences, lexical variants, and usage citations reflects the drive of metonymy, the continual Verschiebung or supersession of one signifier by the next, connected mainly on the basis of adjacency. Ensuring a veritable locomotion of meaning(s) as the definitions accrue, this stylistic feature also promotes an irresistible momentum in reading (cf. vectus: to be carried or borne from one place to another): the rush of information pulls us along so quickly that we are apt to gloss over the ironies, inconsistencies, and whimsical irregularities of these Catullan ‘glosses,’ as we will see.


Figure 1. Representative Example of Glossary Entry


It is not so much the case, then, as George Fragopoulos has it, that ‘Carson’s word-for-word lexical breakdown of Catullus’s original’ ‘slowly and surely ... walks us through the process of translation itself in these lexical entries’ (2010: n.pag.), as we might say that Carson’s Catullan definitions rocket through an initial phase of the translation process, hauling us along behind her. Similar to brainstorming, perhaps, the glossographic work of excavating the etymological and idiomatic range of a word represents but an initial ‘entry’ point or step in a much longer and more complicated process. Such notational work occurs prior to what Ros Schwartz calls ‘finding a voice’ in the translation process — reaching a level of ‘confidence’ with an entire text that will enable a translator to make ‘decisive choices’ about overall mood, or consistent registers of language and style (10). In other words, translating individual words is but a prelude to the problem — or as Carson would probably prefer, ‘puzzle’ (in Wachtel 2011: 30) — of translating larger units at the level of the verse line/stanza or prose sentence/chapter, and so on.

One of the tensions that the individual word glosses of Nox start to point up, then, relates to the time that translation takes; or, more precisely, the multiple temporalities embedded within any given literary translation. What may begin at a fairly quick clip of compilation and enumeration at the level of diction alone must eventually become a more deliberative sort of labour. As though to underscore this, the glossary entries in Nox are occasionally counterpointed, on the right-hand side of the page, by a series of reflections on the text’s own lexicographical practices. Interrupting the ‘Michael pages’, these interludes in effect apply the brakes to the glossographic translation underway, carefully measured out and presented as a pointed antithesis to the blocks of ‘run-on’ prose in the Catullus pages. One, in highly distilled poetic form, reads as follows:

lexicon.  (n.pag.)[viii]

Aside from such pauses exhorting readers to ‘take’ the word ‘entry’ literally –as a point of entry or beginning only -- the narrator also speaks specifically of the importance of time to her work with Catullus’s text at other points in the pages devoted to Michael, developing the parallels she posits between her twin productions of translation and of elegiac biography:

            I want to explain about the Catallus poem (101).  ... I have loved this poem since the first time I read it in high school Latin class and I have tried to translate it a number of times. Nothing in English can capture the passionate, slow surface of a Roman elegy. No one (even in Latin) can approximate Catullan diction, which at its most sorrowful has an air of deep festivity, like one of those trees that turns all its leaves over, silver, in the wind. I never arrived at the translation I would have liked to do of poem 101. But over the years of working at it, I came to think of translating as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch. I guess it never ends. A brother never ends. I prowl him. He does not end. (7.1)

As with Carson’s experience as a translation scholar herself, the narrator’s confession that she has returned to the same text ‘a number of times’ ‘over ... years’ to work at her translation, and is still not finished (‘I guess it never ends’), is perhaps the most precise articulation of the time that a literary translation — unlike an initial glossary ‘entry’ — actually ‘takes.’ If anything, the slippery metonymic chains of Nox’s glossary entries ironically testify to the very failure that the narrator here laments: her inability to render the ‘slow surface’ of the original Roman elegy. Interspersed at intervals throughout Nox, the full-text replications of that Roman elegy — three times in its translated English entirety alone — come as further, graphic reinforcement of the narrator’s chronically unsatisfactory attempts ‘to translate it a number of times.’ And so, the endless questions posed by Michael mirror those posed by translation, not to mention also those of the dead brother in the Catullan text being translated: ‘I guess it never ends. A brother never ends.’


As with any form of public transit, the discomforts of translation are many. We may wish for the journey to be over long before it is. We may even, with the narrator of Nox, despair of ‘never arriv[ing]’ at our target destination at all. The difficulties, as that narrator also notes, are exacerbated by the problem of non-equivalences between languages: ‘[n]othing in English can capture’ — or even ‘approximate’ — the temporal rhythms of Roman elegy or the paradoxical tonality of ‘Catullan diction’ (7.1). The narrator’s recognition of the impossibility of the translator’s quest for strict fidelity to an original begins to point, here, to the ‘foreignizing’ method underwriting Carson’s translation poetics. As Lawrence Venuti has argued, ‘foreignizing’ modes of translation seek to acknowledge the stubbornly aleatory elements of linguistic and cultural differences in a source text.[ix] It is perhaps in this sense that the narrator’s metaphor for translation — ‘I came to think of translating as a room, not exactly an unknown room’ — can be best understood. To conjure the ‘room’ of translation as only semi-domesticated — or ‘not exactly an unknown,’ as she puts it — is axiomatically to conjure a space that is ‘not exactly’ known or fully knowable either — a place dark and unfamiliar enough that ‘one gropes for the light switch.’ For Carson, ‘think[ing] of translating as a room’ thus implies making space for the unfamiliar and de-familiarising the familiar at the same time.

It’s not surprising, then, that the glossary entries of Nox occasionally come right out to announce the impossibility of lexical equivalency across languages; indeed, Carson’s very final entry for ‘vale’ (in Catullus’s famous last phrase, ‘ave atque vale’) drives this intransigent ‘otherness’ home — in a run-on construction, of course: ‘parum valent Graeci verbo the Greeks have no precise word for this (but we call it ‘night’)’ (n.pag.). To employ a distinction Venuti makes, Carson’s run-on entries might thus be read as fluid but not fluent in their translation style, inasmuch as they tend to disrupt any illusion of transparency, simultaneously signaling the translator’s ‘visibility’ as an intervening mediator, and the ‘alien’ ‘peculiarities’ or incommensurate discontinuities between languages (2006: 551 ff).[x] The sometimes self-confessed insufficiency of the translations proffered are also more implicitly suggested by the differences readers may note between the translations offered at the notational ‘entry’ point of the initial word gloss, and that which eventually appears in the narrator’s translation of Catullus’s text as a whole. To take one good example, the adverb ‘indigne’, defined in its glossary entry as ‘contrary to one’s deserts, undeservedly; in an unworthy manner, unbecomingly, shamefully, outrageously, etc.’, appears instead as ‘wrongly’ at the level of the full text translation. While the shift in synonym is subtle, its effect at the level of the translated line is nevertheless conspicuous, as the narrator further alters the word’s import at this stage by placing it into parentheses (twice in a row): ‘oh poor (wrongly) brother (wrongly) taken from me’ (n.pag.).  As it is ultimately re-constructed in the full text of Catullus’ poem, then, this example points quite precisely to Carson’s ‘foreignizing’ practice: with its oddly contained, syntactical eruptions of ‘(wrongly)’, this is not a poetic line that aims to comfortably domesticate Catullus’s Latin or to be read fluently in English — it is a translation intended rather, to deliberately create something of an ‘alien reading experience’ (Venuti 2006: 548). At every turn, the translation poetics of Nox essentially compels readers to recognise the status of Catallus’s text as a — ‘(wrongly)’? — translation.

By extension, the very same obstacles that might be seen to bedevil the smooth transportation of meaning from one language (and a dead one, at that) to another are apt to be embraced by the ‘foreignizing’ translator, as offering — at least potentially — ‘a free adventure of creativity’ (Carson, qtd in King 2012: n.pag.). There are many indications that the learned scribe of Catullus in Nox, is, in fact, so adventuresomely inclined. Entries that invariably begin in a purely expository, matter-of-fact tone to convey information, for example, also more often than not reveal more apparently suggestive, playful idiosyncracies, suddenly calling up for readers the old question of the translator’s reliability, the very precision and veracity of her rendering of the ‘master’ text she is deciphering for us. Given that darkness is (emphatically) the governing metaphor of Carson’s text, for example, is it suspect that our translator manages to dig up some variant of ‘nox/nocte/noctem/night’ in the sub-soil of almost every word appearing in Catullus’s Elegy #101? Just how far off course from the ‘original’ Latin do these lexical disquisitions veer? How should we respond to such a gloss as that which appears for ‘Multa nox’: ‘late in the night, perhaps too late’ (n.pag.)? (‘Perhaps too late’ for what? we are left to ask. For whom?) The impression of a translator who is toying with us recurs again when we arrive at the illustrative usage citation that concludes the definition of the Latin preposition ‘per’: ‘Haud per ambages portendere: by no means implying a riddle or dark fact’ (n.pag.). ‘By no means’ fooling around with readers, the tongue-in-cheek inflections often evident in Carson’s annotations brilliantly convey the possibility of translation as not so much a ‘faithful’ rendering of any original meaning as a creative production of new meaning(s), even as the coy ambiguities of tone also undeniably ‘capture’ something like the paradoxical spirit of Catullus’s ‘air of deep festivity’ in the midst of a ‘most sorrowful’ dirge.

Carson has elsewhere quipped that her versions of Catullus ‘bear about the same relationship to translation as Francis Bacon’s paintings do to mug shots. He says they are very similar’ (1992: 15). In Nox, the innovative defining style of the glossary entries reflects a creative translation practice designed to upset any complacent belief in the transparency of meaning or impartial ‘truth’ of the definitions offered to us. Beyond the ambiguities of the definitions themselves, in fact, the reliability of Carson’s running glossary is further subverted by irregularities in the translator’s glossographic practice at large — the very organisation and structure of the glossary-lexicon device. To begin with, of course, the reference function of the ‘bilingual dictionary’ pages is breezily compromised throughout by the fact that none of the glossary entries are paginated; in contrast, it is easier for readers to locate sections in the auto/biographical ‘Michael pages’, which for the most part at least employ an itemised numerical schema. But the peculiar inconsistencies of the glossary apparatus are evident in other ways too. Many of the words that appear more than once in Catullus’s text are, for example, dutifully cross-referenced for efficiency’s sake, to avoid duplication (e.g. ‘multa: see above multus multa multum’ [n.pag.]). But others — grammatical devices such as the function words et and ad, for instance — are allotted multiple, even multiple, multi-page ‘glosses.’ The second entry for ‘et’ might thus be read as literally enacting the word’s sense of ‘in addition; and what’s more’ — on ‘what’s more,’ an ‘additional’ page — this time even pointedly slipping in a usage example for ‘citing an identical case’ (n.pag.). Similarly, the conjunction ‘atque’ (‘and, as well as, together with’) is allocated three and a half entries: the first three loquacious definitions follow upon the heels of one another sequentially, and are identical (ad verbum), except that the third is shorn into a fragmentary strip of text, leaving only half the definition legible. The fourth and final entry near the end of Nox reads simply as follows: ‘atque: see above atque’ (n.pag). Which of the three prior ‘atques’ we are to ‘see’ — or where exactly they appeared in the unpaginated ‘above’ — is up to us to figure out.                                                                                        

In other words, it’s not just translations themselves that get ‘crazied up’ in Nox, but their very method of presentation, as well. Any sober lexicographer’s nightmare, the eclectic organisational principles of Carson’s ‘bilingual dictionary’ open space for redundancies and anomalies that rattle all good dictionary-making practice, which is always determined by the twin premiums of brevity and rationalised uniformity. Imprecise exactly where it could be precise, and erratic where it could be systematic, the structure of Carson’s glossary-dictionary is deliberately designed, like her translation practice, to defamiliarise and destabilise — in this case, not so much the authority of the English language per se, as the ‘powerful’ authority of the dictionary as a meta-language foundational to that authority (Landau 2001: 6). By impairing the referential and standardising functions of the glossary-dictionary — its apparent transparency and neutrality as a consultative apparatus — Carson’s run-on entries ultimately dislodge entrenched assumptions about the very genre of the lexicon as an ‘unbiased’ or ‘sanitised’ repository ‘devoid of subjective content,’ recalling, perhaps, the more polyvalent social functions of early modern dictionaries.[xi] At the very least, Carson’s glossary emerges, in the end, as much a sort of manual or self-reflexive guide for how (not) to read Nox, as it also illuminates Catullus’s Latin. Its ‘definitions’ of those terms thus often comment as much on its own textual procedures and thematic preoccupations as anything else.  


The very last fold of Carson’s accordion text presents the final image of Catullus’s Elegy #101 (see Fig. 2). As George Fragopoulos has observed of this picture of a poem, ‘Nox’s last entry is a blurred, defaced, unreadable version of Carson’s translation [of Catullus], the translation the poet felt she could never truly arrive to. The translation, therefore, stands somewhere between readability and unreadability’ (2010: n.pag.). More precisely, this final of four images of Catullus’s full text might be said to complete and distill within itself the translation poetics informing Nox throughout. Whereas the hybrid glossary-bilingual dictionary device serves as the primary vehicle by which acts of translation are first laid bare by Nox, Carson’s final imagetext stands as an indicator of how her elegy simultaneously obscures that activity, thus reaffirming its elusive complexity. Exhaustive ad verbum definitions of Catullus aside, what readers are ultimately presented with is a translation that notably defamiliarises English in the same way that ‘[t]he experience of reading Latin’, for Carson, recalls ‘an old dusty page you can hardly make out’ (qtd. in Wachtel 2011: 35). Inhabiting that liminal space ‘somewhere between readability and unreadability’ the image also recalls Carson’s translating ‘room’ — that ‘not entirely unknown’ zone of linguistic otherness into which the translator makes her incursions in order to return ‘home,’ as Venuti would say, with a text not exactly fully or fluently readable, either. In Nox, that goes for both the text of Catullus and that of the narrator’s deceased brother, Michael. Indeed, one important upshot of Carson’s foreignising methods of translation — and the ‘alien reading experience’ they engender — is how effectively these parallel the narrator’s perpetually doubt-full quest to decipher and ‘understand’ her alienated ‘strange brother’ — inducing in readers, that is, a sense of the same epistemological uncertainty underwriting the elegist’s entire enterprise.


Figure 2. Final Full Text of Catullus Elegy 101 in Nox


And as the graphic illegibility of Carson’s final Catullan facsimile reinforces the ‘foreignizing’ element at work in her translation practice, so it is also strategically positioned as one last reassertion of the time translation takes. Evident in its material ‘decay’ as a worn and torn, stained and crumpled paper typescript, time’s transit is imprinted on this imagetext as a reminder of the extended activity poetic translation implies, as a recursive, multi-stage endeavour occurring, as the narrator has attested, ‘over ... years’ (7.1). [xii]  Although a static image, it manages to capture one last paradox of non-fluent fluidity too, looking here less like a ‘dusty page’ and more as though Catullus’s poem is now lying  entombed beneath a thin layer of ice, immersed in watery depths, its letters bleeding out as the ink lifts and drifts. By the time we view this poem composed of words transported from a great and ‘darkening’ distance, Carson’s exhaustive glossary-dictionary has already come to a full stop. But the work of translation remains unfinished. And Catullus’s words are, clearly, still running.


Images from NOX, copyright © 2010 by Anne Carson. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 



[i] See Connolly’s definition of translation as ‘a horizontal movement across one state or medium of expression into another, which negotiates and exposes hierarchical structures in the process’ (2013: 25). Carson ‘pioneered [her] experimental translations’ of Greek lyric fragments in Plainwater’s ‘Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings’ (1995), as Ian Rae notes (25), but translation (in one form or another) is a feature of virtually all of her work, including  Men in the Off Hours (2000) which includes translations of Sappho and an earlier version of Catallus’s #101.

[ii] See Teicher (2010) Seghal (2011) and Wachtel (2011) for Carson’s accounts of the history and textual production of Nox, which owe also a great deal to her frequent collaborator, the artist Robert Currie. For compelling analyses of Nox’s form as a meta-poetic reflection on remediation and reproduction technologies themselves, see Palleau-Papin (2014) and Brillenburg Wirth (2013).

[iii] Nox, n.pag. As the text is unpaginated, I will cite quotations by section number, where possible.

[iv]While the structure of Nox suggests a neat compartmentalisation that makes the all-too-often ‘invisible’ work of the translator insistently visible’ (Venuti 2008), the dialogic interface between Carson’s dual elegies is made evident in various ways throughout the text, with the narrator of the right-hand side ‘Michael pages’ often reflecting on translation (see for example, section 1.3) and extending the translator’s activities in other ways. As Carson has remarked, the problem of knowing another human being, even a sibling, is akin to attempting to translate a foreign language: ‘it’s about understanding other people and their histories as if we are all separate languages’ (Seghal, n.pag.). Within Nox, the twinning of the work of translation and of elegy and history is also made explicit; see section 8.1.

[v] ‘The translator of a classical text,’ Balmer argues, is accorded more social license to ‘be seen more as an innovator’ rather than solely as an ‘interpreter’ of a text (2006: 184). Reliability or fidelity to original ‘facts’ (whether textual or experiential) represents one of the overlapping points of debate between the disciplines of creative writing and translation studies; Venuti (2000) and Bassett (2014) offer authoritative definitions and overviews of the emergence and current theoretical priorities within the latter discipline.

[vi] See McDavid 1979; Meyers 1979; Landau 2001, esp. 45-53; Adamska-Salaciak 2016.

[vii] Carson’s presentation also reflects features particular to dictionaries of dead languages, in which ‘extra-linguistic context(s) of … language’ usage are not available from living native speakers (Ashdowne 2016: 351); hence, the absence here of any diacritical information guiding pronunciation or syllabication, for example.

[viii] The following two unpaginated and unnumbered right-hand side pages continue with such brief meditations on the word ‘entry.’ In addition to Wachtel (2011), Carson has addressed her theory and practice of translation in  numerous public remarks; see for example, Constantine (2014); and King (2012).

[ix] In contradistinction to the dominant Anglo-American ‘domesticating’ tradition of translation, which represents ‘an ethnocentric reduction of a foreign text to target-language cultural values, [or] bringing the author back home’, as it were, Venuti characterises the ‘foreignizing’ translation as one which seeks ‘to register’ and preserve ‘the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad’ (Venuti 2006: 548).

[x] By contrast, the strategy of the ‘domesticating’ translator can ‘be considered a discursive sleight of hand’ by which the translator causes the difference of the foreign text ‘to vanish by making it intelligible in an English language culture that values readability, transparent discourse, and the illusion of authorial presence’ (Venuti 2006: 551).

[xi] Mitchell 2010: 82, 93. On the prescriptive social roles of pre-modern dictionaries as conduct books, see also McDavid (1979) and Mugglestone (2016).

[xii] See Carson’s comments on her experimentations with her collaborator, Robert Currie, in preparing the original handmade scrapbook for publication, with a view to preserving as far as possible its ‘three-dimensionality’ or materiality as a temporal artefact ‘about’ the passage of time. Currie hit upon the idea of Xeroxing digital images of Carson’s pages to reproduce a sense of that temporal passage: ‘The scan is a digital method of reproduction, it has no decay in it, it has no time in it, but the Xerox puts in the sense of the possibility of time’ (Carson, qtd. in Teicher 2010: 23; cf also Wachtel 2011), wherein Carson recounts steeping the Catullan pages in tea in an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to recreate similar effects of age and time.


Works cited: 


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