Varieties of Translation: Montfort and Strickland’s Sea and Spar Between

1. Translating Sea and Spar Between to Polish
Monika Górska-Olesińska and Mariusz Pisarski

The challenges of translating Stephanie Strickland’s and Nick Montfort’s Sea and Spar Between are multiply intriguing and bring forward aspects of a language and translation process not commonly known in the pre-digital era. How does one find a pan-linguistic rule for a generated kenning, built from dozens of words but appearing in millions of possible contexts? The localized problems of a given translation, here into Polish, constantly turn into general problems of digital poetry.
In our case the target language imposes demanding constraints: one-syllable words become words of two or more syllables; kennings have different lexical and grammatical arrangements, and most of the generative rhetoric of the original (like anaphors) must take into consideration gendered Polish words. As a result, the code and the instructions need to be expanded and rewritten, but only to a certain extent if we do not want the original to turn into something else. This procedure yields an outcome strongly influenced by algorithms and constraints of the script: it is written neither in original Polish, nor in the language of Polish translations from the 19th and 20th centuries, nor in the Polish of current adaptations (some of Dickinson’s poems in use here have not been translated and published in Poland).
The process of negotiation between the source language and the target language, inherent to every translation, becomes more complex and – with the code involved – happens between more parties and requires more factors: Strickland and Montfort read Dickinson and Melville and parse their readings into a computer program which reads it in almost infinite ways. This collision of cultures, languages, and tools becomes amplified if one wants to transpose it into a different language. This transposition makes original authors of Sea and Spar Between, as well as four original translators of Dickinson and Melville into Polish, the co-authors of our work and our investigation. In our presentation we will try to describe this fascinating translation process step by step, to show how it becomes a test of language and the potential of poetry translation more generally in the digital age.

2. Spars of Language Lost at Sea
Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland

Montfort and Strickland address seven searchings for the text – seven ways that text is sought and grasped in their poetry generator, Sea and Spar Between, both in its original edition and in the edition which is expanded with comments, cut to fit the toolspun course: 1) by porting code (converting a Python prototype to JavaScript for use on the Web); 2) by translating text strings and processes; 3) by experiencing the page/canvas via a link or URL in contrast to experiencing the code via viewing and searching for text with “view source”; 4) by potentially harpooning a particular stanza or screen and using the browser’s capability for bookmarking; 5) by encountering non-translatability as a characterizing sieve for natural languages; 6) by writing extended human-readable glosses of code for readers who may not identify as programmers; 7) by relating its depthless virtual space to the import of Mallarmé’s Coup de dés as interpreted by Quentin Meillassoux.