'Strange and Absurd Words:' Translation as Ethics and Poetics in the Transcultural U.S. 1830-1915
Lauth, Laura E.
Lauth, Laura E
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ABSTRACT Title of Document: "STRANGE AND ABSURD WORDS:" TRANSLATION AS ETHICS AND POETICS IN THE TRANSCULTURAL U.S. 1830-1915 Laura E. Lauth, PhD, 2011 Directed By: Professor Martha Nell Smith Department of English This dissertation documents the emergence of "foreignizing" translation and its influence on poetic practice in the transcultural United States between 1830 and 1915--a period critical to the development of free verse in English. The study also explores the extent to which poetry translation constitutes a genre with special relevance to the multilingual U.S. In Lawrence Venuti's formulation, foreignizing signals the difference of the source text by disrupting cultural codes and literary norms in the target language (Translator's Invisibility 15). The innovative and ethically-charged translations recuperated here played a vital role in the development of "American poetry" by introducing heterodox authors, genres, and discourses into print. Despite nationalist and English-only tendencies in U.S. scholarship, the literature of the United States has always exceeded the bounds of a single language or nation. More than a mere byproduct of foreign dependency, the nineteenth-century proliferation of literary translations and non-English literatures reflected a profoundly multilingual "nation of nations." As such, this study emphasizes both the transnational and multicultural character of U.S. poetry. In tracing this often invisible tradition of foreign-bent translation, I offer five case studies spanning eighty years, two centuries, three continents, and numerous languages. From the influential debut of Bettina Brentano-von Arnim's self-translated Goethe's Correspondence with a Child (1838) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's comparativist translation anthology, Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845); from Judith Gautier's pioneering vers libre variations on the Classical Chinese (1867) to binational poet Stuart Merrill's free verse Englishing of Gautier (1890); from Pound's heteroclite Medievalism (1905-1910) to the inaugural volume of Harriet Monroe's transnational magazine, Poetry (1912-1913), the translations considered here challenged "literary canons, professional standards, and ethical norms in the target language" (Venuti, "Strategies of Translation" 242). Taken together, these chapters offer a new transcultural perspective on modern literary translation and the development of free verse in English.