Wednesday, May 27, 2015

International Authors Display at the American Literature Association Conference

This past weekend, International Authors books were on display at the American Literature Association Conference in Boston. 

At the conference I read a paper on "The Place of American Literature in Emerging Global Anglophone Culture." My talk featured the responses of many International Authors people, who sent me their reflections on their experience with American literature in their countries.  Dario Rivarossa (Italy) and Michael Butterworth (UK) are no strangers to Highbrow readers.  Here, beginning with Dario, are their statements as I included them in my talk:
As for my readings in American literature, I usually start by being fascinated by an author, then try to read everything he wrote, possibly in English.

The first American writers I happened to meet and love as a teenager were Poe (my father had a couple of anthologies), Melville (Moby-Dick), and H. P. Lovecraft—probably the very first author of whom I bought the Complete Works in English, some years later.

The most interesting feature of great American literature, especially seen from old Italy, is its modernity. US authors dealt with the now-ubiquitous lifestyle with its technology, Stock Exchanges, “melting pots,” etc., when our writers still offered Romanticized and twisted versions of our “glorious” past.

Moby-Dick, first translated by Cesare Pavese in 1932, was a cultural shock and a breath of fresh air in then Fascist Italy: a new kind of Epic, powerful adventure, thrilling characters…
I first heard about the novel when I was a child. My grandmother, speaking of the Gregory Peck movie she had just watched on TV, told me about “the White Whale.” I was so fascinated by that concept that I almost immediately drew it, without any further data; in fact, I drew a standard whale, nor the sperm kind. I also made comic stories with a combative whale as the hero.

In Italian high schools, as far as I know, basically Melville, Poe, and Faulkner are anthologized. Poe is still interpreted according to the very restrictive Mauditistic key provided by Baudelaire, who first “imported” his works to Europe.

As a footnote to Mr. Rivarossa’s identification of modernity as a defining feature of American literature, I shall cite a remark by British author and publisher Michael Butterworth, whose career in writing began in the 1960s with New Worlds magazine. He writes: “Americans just seem more contemporary and immediate in their style, more relevant to the age in which we grew up in terms of their concerns. We grew up looking at the import bookshelves. This applied to both fiction and graphics. In the 50’s and 60’s, America was the future. Of English writers only J.G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock seemed relevant, and they were both inspired by William S. Burroughs.”
Yesterday I posted on Devashish Makhija's chidlren's book, When Ali Became Bajrangbali. Here is his statement from the paper:
In India, you encounter different curriculums in different cities since every state speaks a different language and has a different education board. Since I’m from Calcutta, I’ll speak for that city. Interestingly at a school/college level, we were not exposed to any American literature. All writing in English we read has been Indian or British.

The only thing we’ve been exposed to in those years that was American was a thick diet of American cinema (as was the rest of the world I presume).

But as I grew up I’ve discovered (of my own accord) some writers, from Twain (foremost) to Elmore Leonard (yes, that wide has been my spectrum).

If left to me (being brutally honest) I wouldn’t prescribe any American literature. India is a very very confused country. Within our own geographical boundaries we speak 28 official languages and over 300 unofficial ones—dialects mostly. And almost none of this is represented in our curriculum. We still haven’t been able to shake off the British yoke in our education system. Introducing some American prose in there will make us even more disconnected from our roots. Many local literatures are now being translated into English and I’d vote for those instead. But that’s only my point of view on the matter. 
Altogether, it was a terrific conference. Many thanks to Ms. Martel for helping with the International Authors display.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Ali Became Bajrangbali read by author Devashish Makhija

Devashish Makhija reads from his children's book When Ali Became Bajrangbali.


When Ali Became Bajrangbali by Devashish Makhija and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan is available from Tulika Publishers, please click HERE.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Poe's Red Death... Superhero?

Dario Rivarossa has sent me his drawing of Poe's Red Death rendered as, ahem, a superhero!

A concept worth considering.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades

But who shall dwell in these worlds if they be inhabited? . . .
Are we or they Lords of the World? . . .
And how are all things made for man?--

                     -- Kepler (quoted in The Anatomy of Melancholy)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wifi Visible

Please click HERE for a cleverly illustrated article on the nature of wifi radiation. The effects of long-term wifi exposure are still unknown...

As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible

                                                           -- Milton

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Defense of Elected Legislatures

Joseph Severn Posthumous Portrait of Shelley
Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845

In "A Defense of Poetry" Shelley famously concludes, " Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World." An apt observation, and students can argue this all over the place in interesting and useful ways, but at one point in that discussion someone must ask, "But aren't laws written by elected legislatures?"

Elizabeth Anscombe on Kant comes to mind.  Here is a passage from her paper on Modern Moral Philosophy:
Kant introduces the idea of “legislating for oneself,” which is as absurd as if in these days, when majority votes command great respect, one were to call each reflective decision a man made a vote resulting in a majority, which as a matter of proportion is overwhelming, for it is always 1-0.  The concept of legislation requires superior power in the legislator. 
Kant believes that his principles of  universalizability and the categorical imperative produce rules that are better than laws written by legislatures.  In one reading of Shelley's conclusion, it would seem that Shelley similarly believes that poets could write better laws than legislatures.  Yes, this is being somewhat unfair to Shelley, but the idea that individuals, scientists, technocrats, "inspired" people, and so on, can write better laws than elected representatives enjoys great popularity these days.  Compare John Rawls, whose "original position", "veil of ignorance" and the test (like Kant's categorical imperative) of "social justice" can provide a methodological apparatus for replacing legislatures with experts.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ailsa Craig

Please click HERE for a note on Herman Melville's analysis.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Google Machine Translation

Aziz writes to inform me that the machine translation from Albanian into English provided by Google is very poor, while translations from other languages (Italian, for example) are more fluent.
With respect to the contrast, it is my understanding that the machine translation process has something to do with AI and the fact that Google Translator does not have much experience with Albanian. It will be interesting to see if this improves with respect to this and other "less used" languages. People familiar with Google translator have  noticed that as a cursor passes over the text of a translation, Google will ask for corrections and alternative phrasings. Evidently, this is one way  that Google Translator "learns.

Here is a description of the process from Wikipedia:

Google Translate does not apply grammatical rules, since its algorithms are based on statistical analysis rather than traditional rule-based analysis . . . Google Translate does not translate from one language to another (L1 → L2). Instead, it often translates first to English and then to the target language (L1 → EN → L2). However, because English, like all human languages, is ambiguous and depends on context, this can cause translation errors. For example, translating vous from French to Russian gives vous → you → ты OR Bы/вы. If Google were using an unambiguous, artificial language as the intermediary, it would be vous → you → Bы/вы OR tu → thou → ты. Such a suffixing of words disambiguates their different meanings. Hence, publishing in English, using unambiguous words, providing context, using expressions such as "you all" often make a better one-step translation . . . [A] solid base for developing a usable statistical machine translation system for a new pair of languages from scratch would consist of a bilingual text corpus (or parallel collection) of more than a million words, and two monolingual corpora each of more than a billion words.[33] Statistical models from these data are then used to translate between those languages . . . To acquire this huge amount of linguistic data, Google used United Nations documents. The UN typically publishes documents in all six official UN languages, which has produced a very large 6-language corpus . . . When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation. By detecting patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators, Google Translate makes intelligent guesses (AI) as to what an appropriate translation should be.
To see the entire article, please click HERE.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trafika Europe II: Polish Nocturne

Trafika Europe II: Polish Nocturne is now available online.  Please click HERE for the TE website, and HERE for the new issue.

Hayden Westfield-Bell has written an engaging review of the new issue, which begins:
Translated literature has a hard time finding an audience in the contemporary publishing industry. It’s a shame, because there’s a huge amount of high quality writing being produced by authors in thousands of languages all around the world. It’s not a problem of quantity or quality, but one of access. There’s a lot of support for authors writing in English within the US and the UK, but it seems we’ve forgotten that the language’s unique position as lingua franca allows it to be used as a vehicle for those working in thousands of other languages.
To read the rest of the review, please click HERE.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dr. Aziz Mustafa: Inteligjenca, dhunti natyrore dhe frymëzim

Dr. Aziz Mustafa is interviewed in this Albanian language piece, HERE  (or please click HERE for an English translation).

Aziz is a member of the International Authors Editorial Board.  His poetry regularly appears in the Emanations literary anthology. In the fifth volume of Emanations, which will be available this summer, we will see his fiction.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trafika Europe event April 8 in New York City

Four translators present and discuss their latest work in an evening dedicated to helping Trafika Europe Radio get on the air:
Katrine Øgaard  Jensen (Editor in Chief, Columbia Journal) translates poems from Danish by Theis Ørntoft.

Alex Zucker (Co-Chair, PEN Translation Committee) reads from Love Letter in Cuneiform, his translation from Czech of Tomáš Zmeškal’s first novel.
Jennifer Zoble (Founding Editor of InTranslation) reads and discusses her translation of the new memoir by acclaimed and colorful Bosnian writer Miljenko Jergović.
Visiting Armenian poet Marine Petrossian will perform and discuss her own translations from Armenian of her latest poetry.
Trafika Europe Director Andrew Singer will be on hand to host this event, and tell you all about Trafika Europe Radio - Europe's literary radio station! This is real community radio for literature from across the whole continent - the 47 countries of Council of Europe

Word Up Community Bookshop
April 8, 2015, 7–9pm
2113 Amsterdam Avenue
(at the corner of 165th Street)
New York, NY 10032
$10 suggested donation—though no one will be turned away.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Execution of Charles I

Painting of the execution of Charles I at Whitehall in 1649 after a long and bitter civil war. Artist unknown. National Galleries of Scotland.