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Translating the Uncanny Valley



Terrific interview between Mark Polizzotti and Mark Ford about (re)translating Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa and New Impressions of Africa at Bomb Magazine (the page says available online in full for a limited time, so you may want to check it soon):

Polizzotti: As I go groping along the same linguistic tether that Roussel grappled with, inevitably that tether will bear some of my fingerprints. Your version of New Impressions differs from those of Koch and Monk. You can defend it on the basis of needing to hew particularly closely to a deliberate meaning, but there’s also a measure of your own personality even in that choice, just as there are traces of the personalities of Koch and Monk in theirs. It’s what makes translations worth reading, and also what makes it desirable to retranslate periodically.

. . .

Ford: I guess, while translating New Impressions, I felt rather like one of the servants in the Roussel ménage in his mansion at Neuilly, toiling away to fulfill the master’s bizarre but inflexible instructions. One of Roussel’s cooks, André Guillot, left an account of working at 25 boulevard Richard-Wallace in which he remembers how none of the vegetables served could reveal the slightest trace of serration—if they did, they were sent back to the kitchen . . .

And which interview’s assonance with my bedside reading (Lawrence Weschler’s Uncanny Valley) I remark here, as is only proper with a book written by someone as mindful of “convergences” as Weschler; this from his essay, “Uncanny Valley: On the Digital Animation of the Face”:

Faced with the claims of the ever more positivist Scholastics of his own time, [Nicholas of] Cusa likened true knowledge of God and the Infinite to a circle, within which  was slotted a regular compounding n-sided polygon: a triangle, say, and then a square, a pentagon, a hexagon, and so forth. Keep adding sides– a hundred, a thousand, a million — and true, Nicholas conceded, it seems like you’d be getting closer and closer to the encompassing circle. But in fact, he went on to point out, you’d be getting further and further away, because a million-sided polygon, for example, has precisely that: a million angles, a million sides. Whereas a circle has no angles and only one “side.”

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