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Notes on Translating
by Ryan Gallagher
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Beginning with some thoughts on Zukofsky's Shakespeare and Catullus

     I pothered but
     you'll have bothered'
     Catullus played Bach.

          -Louis Zukofsky, A.

     Translation, or trans-fere.
     Or trans-lation, across lateral; the horizontal knowledge of power.

I had been working throughout the fall with etymologies, not to box and package meaning, but to experiment with it. Ex, of or from; per, through; and mens, (simply put) the mind... the mind a writer sets and struggles with and against and sometimes through.

     Louis Zukofsky's homeophonic translation of Catullus exists in the genius that immediately draws us to the page. Zukofsky reveals Shakespeare to the rest of the world in his masterpiece Bottom; On Shakespeare, in a similar manner; Catullus and Shakespeare as text. This is not to say that we lack two poets behind all the manuscripts. It's just that the manuscripts close in on the disjunctive nature of the human form; Discord. Throughout Bottom; On Shakespeare, Zukofsky weaves a history of thought that is able to re-think history (and the history of the idea of self for that matter) with hybrid paradoxes, as language twists its way into material and Marxisms.     
     The shape of Zukofsky's canon is the form love forms in... particles or waves, the shape of light... a paradoxical phenomena, an old formula. Odi et amo, elided in the Latin, yet both are true. Discord threw the apple. Go. The race is already on and on and on.
     "The central demand which Zukofsky's art makes on him in Catullus, as in other books, is to keep the historical process alive at the roots, where image, sound, concepts, and traditions combine and recombine in their restless incongruence. It is an art which calls attention to the deadliness of habit and the possibility of change. It does not seek resolution--and certainly Catullus resolves nothing--but it can bring us to those moments of intense vital awareness when resolution seems unnecessary and even undesirable" (Donald Byrd 185).
     "Yet I suspect that the best of these poems are the lines that seem to be ugly, angular, and strange. Familiarity alone will get us near them. Catullus is not all that approachable a poet. Much of him is shadowy and psychologically dark. Zukofsky can transmit Catullus' lewdness, but not his salacity"(Guy Davenport 369).
     It is salacity that Shakespeare was after in his Sonnets, which I prefer to "make sense" of at times as an airy letter to Catullus, written late in the first decade of the 1600s, a decade when the poet-laureate of England, John Skelton, "who called himself the British Catullus... uses the two poems on Lesbia's sparrow as a peg upon which to hand a curious melange of poetry and satire in his Phillip Sparrow" (Harrington 143-4).
     "I have, in feeble imitation of Zukofsky, chosen this... word ("'sense' from L. senus, the faculty, the faculty of perceiving") with some care. To 'make sense' is to make a pattern that the senses can apprehend with delight" (Burton Hatlen 348).
     "Language, like a hand, is shaped by use"(Guy Davenport 365-6).
     Or language, like love, is shaped by use.

To "give someone the finger" in contemporary slang is parallel to "flipping someone the bird". These phrases seem to find root in an ancient tradition of cursing, a tradition which almost always implies a sexual dig. i.e "Fuck you". In any case, the bird as innuendo for the male phallus may first appear in the Western poetic canon in Catullus' poems "2" and "3". The Latin "Passer", or "sparrow" can be viewed with similar connotations as "cock" in American slang, with the exceptions that cocks have been trained to fight for gambling fetishes and are often viewed as ugly birds.

     Bonus vs. Malus

In Latin "malus" shapes itself in three different directions depending on the stressed vowel. It can be an apple, the mast or pole of a ship, or evil. This creates Biblical proportions.
     A weave of thought occurred as I was reading Zukofsky's constant juxtaposing of Wittgenstein with Aristotle in Bottom; the idea of "good" and its meaning in relation to contexts. Catullus seems to use the word "bonum," or "good" in Latin, with a great emphasis on the idea of the "soft" as we might say this or that is beautiful:
          bona cum bona
      nubet alite virgo,

     A soft girl covered
                with a soft smile
                (Catullus 61).

Aristotle's use of the "good" seems to be far less concerned with the dichotomy of good vs. evil in the sense that we, as twentieth-century North Americans, read him through the lenses of Augustine and Aquinas who, after centuries of simultaneous economy, land, and language conquest, write moral philosophies which are opposed to paradoxes. These wholesale philosophies which are based on the judgments of morals later justifies (rationally of course) "the pursuit of happiness", or "good fortune"... or more simply, land. In any case, this philosophy of morals which strives to unify conceptions of the universe, like global capitalism, ironically seems to be so effective because it then allows people to conceive of themselves as individuals, often empowered only with opinions and false notions of choice. The self help industry thrives because morals and global capital have merged. Buy a mass produced book and read while you drink tea which has been genetically engineered from a patent, think about your shitty life and then say, "I'm good enough, and I deserve it." All our hard work will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the after or the next life. Bull shit.

     The phrase "to be full of shit" seems to be at least partially related to the Latin phrase satur, recurrent in Catullus and meaning "to be full or satiated". Satur can also be a term for satire. (I have consistently translated this word in Catullus as "full of it"). Shit, however, seems to stem from an Anglo Saxon word, which is interesting for a few reasons. "Swear words" in the English language arrive as the Roman Empire effectively standardizes Latin as the official language of the Empire, systematically suppressing all other languages. (Therefore, the extinction of alternative vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, or alternative modes of thought). Shit makes great fertilizer, or compost. What exactly is a grass roots movement, or an underground movement, without a diversity of thought? How many ways is genetic engineering systematizing a standard way of life? What is a standard way of English? Why organic?
     The American Standard... a porcelain seat on which one takes a shit.

i, m. 1. toilet materials (of a woman): Lucil., Liv. II. the system of the universe, the world, universe. 1. Lit. (of the heavens): Lucr., Cic., Verg., etc. 2. Transf. the earth, mankind.

     Mundus appears on line 206 in Catullus' Poem 64, a four-hundred line poem that weaves a myth together tracing through time when "heroes bred with gods", until humans fall into a life of physical labor and an enslaved existence that forces a male protagonist from his love, usually because of greed (also known as overweening pride in the Elizabethan circles, or hubris among the classicists). In the case of the Theseus and Ariadna myth that Catullus retells, Theseus leaves Ariadna deserted, and in her misery she curses him and the universe falls out of order.
     Louis Zukofsky, writing about Shakespeare, continues in the middle of a conversation which has been woven through time and across the distances of landscape: "Love needs no tongue of reason if love and the eye are 1 -- an identity. The good reasons of the mind's right judgment are but superfluities for saying: Love sees -- if it needs saying at all in a text which is always hovering towards The rest is silence. The reasons of the mind are as ununderstandable as the negative resistance of the electronic physicist..."(39). Zukofsky, quoting Whitehead (I assume) in italics, points to the irrationality of the human condition, which then gives birth to judgments that are dealt with a nod of approval from the heavens, which is always a nod of uniformity and rationalism: a pyramid climbing a pyramid.
     Wittgenstein: 5.5561 "Empirical reality is limited by the totality of objects. The boundary appears again in the totality of elementary propositions.
     The hierarchies are and must be independent of reality" (Zukofsky 78).
     Catullus deals us a different design.

     mihi proponis amorem

"The design of my love" in Catullus' Poem 109 is in the design of his letters:

     Ivcvndvm mea vita mihi proponis amorem
      hunc nostrum inter nos perpetuumque fore

     Luscious, my life, the design of my love,
      this us between us and forever.

     A Vertigo Symmetry swirling in the face of Hegelian triangles, "not to wish to draw and end to thinking but merely to show its limits. Perhaps not to tie the points of a graft of culture at all, and so there are no points. Intimacy is not solved, nor does it solve anything, speaking as must happen, trusting to see an alphabet of subjects" (Zukofsky 94).
     The pronouns of Catullus, Shakespeare, and Zukofsky exist in their immediacy. A general "you" is never expressed, but the reader is easily convinced that he is in a conversation which spans time and distance. Catullus writes to "Veranius, first of all my friends / of three hundred thousand miles and years" in Poem 9. The art of letter writing; a necessary pun to describe the mind sketches of these writers, worlds as vast as the system of the universe: "this us between us and forever". He ends Poem 109 with "of the sacred of the in between". The place of connection, divergence, and eternity. And then it disappears.
     Aristotle: "The end of the state is the good life" (Zukofsky 63).
Works Cited

Byrd, Donald. "The Shape of Zukofsky's Canon". Louis Zukofsky; Man and
     Poet. ed. Carroll F. Terrell. Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1979.
Catullus, Gaius Valerius. trans. Ryan Gallagher. Catullus: Blues from Ancient
     Rome. Boulder: Bootstrap Press, 2000.
Davenport, Guy. "Zukofsky's English Catullus". Louis Zukofsky: Man and
     Poet. ed. Carroll F. Terrell. Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1979.
Harrington, Karl Pomeroy. Catullus and His Influence. New York: Longman's,
     Green and Co., 1927.
Hatlen, Burton. "Zukofsky as Translator". Louis Zukofsky: Man and
     Poet. ed. Carroll F. Terrell. Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1979.
Zukofsky, Louis. Bottom: On Shakespeare. Berkeley: The University of
     California Press, 1987.

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