32(2) - 2020

Dussol, V. & Şerban, A. (2018). Poésie-traduction-cinéma / Poetry-translation-film. Lambert-Lucas

Book review by Marie-Noëlle Guillot


While the connections between poetry and cinema, cinema and translation and poetry and translation have been a locus of attention in research, with abundant bibliographical evidence for each pair, the networks of relations between all three had yet to be explored and accounted for, let alone in a collective project and full length reference volume. This is the basic observation that underlies the intentions of this inspiring bilingual volume and defines its ambitions: to bring together works probing into intersections, interactions, interrelations between the three media and disciplines, and the expressive distinctiveness that arises from them, in practice and in theory.

The introduction, in French and English, sets the scene with a review of documented synergies for each pair, as the platform for mapping out unchartered aspects and opportunities for novel thinking and approaches in handling poetry, cinema and translation as a triad, beyond metaphorical uses of translation as one of the members in the set to theorise the link between the other two. The stance is represented, but transcended in most contributions: the aim is to capture all three practices as equally active partners, in their malleable networks of tangents and complex intersections and interactions, and potential to tap into and create something entirely new out of their three-way interrelations.

Between them, the sixteen contributions to the volume cover an impressive range of three-way practices and ways of accounting for them from refreshingly new angles, in three sections and a mix of French and English: Approches historiques (‘Historical approaches’; four chapters, two in French, two in English with translations in French), Propositions théoriques (‘Theoretical propositions’; five chapters, two in French, three in English), Pionniers, explorateurs et praticiens (‘Pioneers, explorers and practitioners’; seven chapters, two in French, five in English).

The two opening pieces in the historical approaches section focus on avant-garde to neo avant-garde and American avant-garde cinema respectively. In the first, Bovier explores the complex processes that underpin cinema as a ‘voco-verbal-visual’ form and transpositions of words into images and vice versa. Kusnierz in the second exposes the striking affinities between film montage and poetic rhythm, reciprocally approached the one as prosodic processes, the other as cinematographic cutting and editing. In both early (1920s) ‘verbo-iconic’ translations and later literalist reductions of films to text in (1970s) conceptual films, cinema is shown in Bovier to be thought through the prism of verbal language as a translation process predicated on making visible, covertly (20s films), or overtly (70s films). In view of the similar practices and techniques he finds in poetry and experimental cinema and thus in-built scope to share possible theoretical models, Kusnierz likewise proposes to consider filmic or textual montage as a process of translation bringing reality and its representations of the undecipherable into the decipherable, and vice versa. Konyves then moves us to more recent times and practices, with a pair of pieces on videopoetry, the first a manifesto for the genre, the second a retrospective journey into the manifesto’s underpinnings and the author’s conceptualisation of videopoetry, as a practitioner and theorist. This new hybrid genre of technology-assisted poetry is described as a measured integration of narrative, non-narrative and anti-narrative juxtapositions of image, text and sound as resulting in a poetic experience, in what is also presented, in view of many pending questions, as a “modest preparation for an expedition to witness a new art form emerging from its infancy” (p. 132).

With the next section and theoretical approaches, there is a further shift of focus towards integration of all partners in the triad as generating new expressive spaces, channels and networks, in themselves and by dint of their associations, with application to a variety of materials. Kaźmierczak compares a German short film and a rendition into English based on the same idiosyncratic Polish (1926) poem, in their (intersemiotic and interlingual) relation to the source text but also between them. She identifies a defining dominant element of creativity in the film independent of the mere change of code or medium, with some incongruity with the text in English, closer to the source, but cultural adaptations in both that largely preclude a journey back to the source. In Kilpiö, the focus is Bob Perelman’s poem The Manchurian Candidate – a remake, analysed as a particular form of intermediality, or kinekphrasis. The concept extends ekphrasis from verbal representation of visual representation to all verbal representations of moving image, in their distinctive capacities to produce poetic units of linguistic substance, foreground the conceptual potential of verbal language and complicate political and other connotations beyond medial limits, here of the original film on which the poem is based. Barthélémy uses Stan Brakhage’s film work as a platform for exploring the meshings of film/translation/poetry beyond standard conceptualisations through the concept of ‘effrangement’, whereby art forms move towards others through interplays of correspondences and differences, tensions and bonds, without for that forsaking their specificities. In Marty, Wim Wenders’ Alice in the City and Reverdy’s Grand’ route serve to discuss what is identified as a distinctive interconnecting feature of film and poetry, shared with translation: how they convert space into durée, in the Bergsonian sense of indivisible time – no longer fixed, defined, but set in a motion that frees it from time –, through frames cutting and montage in cinema, with verse form and layout in poetry, and the multifaced options of multiple versions for translation. Lun Law applies to Renoir’s 1936 adaptation of Maupassant’s Une partie de campagne to the screen (1936) a study of the poetic point of view in film and reconsideration of the aesthetics of cinema. The power of self-expression or possibility of a personal coherent point of view is identified as one of the most crucial complications that poetry brings to film, through the harnessing, into aesthetic possibilities, of film’s non straightforward mode of articulation, indirectness and tendency to imply.

Form is a key theme throughout, a common denominator in all contributions, not just in its function as a flexible meshing agent, but as a powerful catalyst unleashing and generating the unique expressive distinctiveness and singular creative potential of the triadic processes of give-and-take and mutual enrichment documented. This is further demonstrated with the catalogue of practices reviewed in the last section on pioneers/explorers/practitioners, each with its own particular and uniquely illuminating angle of approach. Cook, Lerner and Nathan Lerner open our eyes to American Sign Language poetry not just as an extraordinary art form, in its close connections with cinematic techniques, but as a challenge to the very definition of literature as offering a paradigm shift from the traditional oral lens applied to poetry to an innovative spatial/kinetic aesthetic. Sanchez’s refreshingly technical analyses of the subtitling of rime and rhythm in Shakespeare plays for film/TV escape the straitjacket of loss and reductive takes on the technical and form specificities of subtitling, and compellingly document the medium’s unique potential for expressive creativity, here via form and a range of metrical and other features, and capacity to generate “une forme accrue de poésie” [an augmented form of poetry] (p. 251). Skoulding takes us through a fascinating journey of discovery with poet Bergvall’s extraordinary collaborative multimedia piece Drift, and radical reconfiguration of translation in complex multi-sensory processes of orientation within cultural and political contexts, in a performance that forces us “to listen forensically to the relationship between sound, vision and language as they are used to investigate time and space” (p. 266). With French director Gondry’s animated portrait of US linguist and dissident Chomsky in Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (Partizan US, 2013), O’Neill reports on an original and playfully inventive avant-garde documentary, said to explore the dovetailing of poetry, translation and film through their respective subjectivities; translation, as integral to a piece that is 98% animation, is described “a poetic blend of the cognitive sciences and a full flowering of the imagination” (p. 269), through a creative interplay of narrative drawing, writing, intertextuality. Millot explores the incarnation of speech [parole] in two Tarkovski’s films Le Miroir (1974) and Le Sacrifice (1986) through the processes of translating into images parole derived from a series of poems by Tarkovski’s father, and assigns to cinema a function equivalent to the function traditionally assigned to painting – i.e. to translate a scriptural source into images. Marshall examines Tony Harrison’s art of translation and film poetry and throws light, through Harrison’s practice and theoretical statements, on the similarities between his creative methods when working on dramatic adaptations and on film poetry: the prosody of film and the techniques developed to combine poetry and film do not simply co-exist as translation or transposition of one another; rather the scansions of the screen and the prosodies of poetry co-exist, “to create a third kind of illuminating momentum that is the film-poem” (p. 324). In Chorier-Fryd, the focus is Ika, a 22-minute long video by Fanny Howe of 87 anthropological polaroid snapshots from 1981 (of a rural community on the verge of extinction in Columbia by US anthropologist/film maker Richard Gardner), as an instance of poetic image. The film steps away from the ethnographic documentary by scrambling the snapshots and upsetting their chronological sequence, and, like the translated version of a poem, is shown to fuse the literal re-presentation of the original and their re-composition within a structure that is the author’s own.

It would take a full research article to do justice to this enlightening volume, to the full extent of its diversity, from the processes accounted for in critical reviews of practices and theory, to the new directions in critical thinking they open avenues for, all equally thought-provoking in their own diverse ways. This necessarily cursory kaleidoscopic overview can only be a taster, of contributions that are at once informative and illuminating by dint of their broad (inter)disciplinary scope, and inspiring whatever one’s own critical stance, overall way more than the sum of their parts in fulfilling the volume’s ambitions.


DOI 10.17462/para.2020.02.08

October 18, 2020
  32(2) - 2020