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One More Word: The Translator’s Archive in Secession with Insecession

Angela Carr


Cet article se penche sur la poétique et la politique de la traduction. Il plaide pour une approche avant-gardiste de la traduction poétique qui établit la traduction comme pratique créative au même titre que la poésie. Dans Secession with Insecession d’Erin Moure et Chus Pato, la rencontre entre deux poètes produit un « troisième texte » qui met en défaut le récit linéaire de la traduction (de la source au texte cible). En regard de la Secession de Pato, l’Insecession de Moure se situe dans un espace nouveau de création, à la fois dans un entre-deux et un au-delà des textes de traduction. L’écriture poétique appelle de nouvelles définitions puisqu’elle s’apparente ici à une archive où est consignée la traduction comme expérience d’une rencontre. En ce qui concerne les questions de publication et de diffusion, Secession with Insecession nous incite à réfléchir de manière critique à l’identité de l’écrivain qui peut être soutenu par une communauté littéraire nationale et par la nation dans son ensemble. Le troisième texte de Moure permet d’échapper aux arbitrages exclusifs qui définissent l’appartenance. Œuvre poétique d’avant-garde, Secession with Insecession déjoue les pratiques de lecture établies, en suggérant que sa propre mise en abyme est contenue dans les ruines de la poésie.

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One More Word: The Translator’s Archive in Secession with Insecession

Da orixe nada sei, non creo que poidamos ter acceso a algo así como a orixe, a orixe é sempre un relato, unha ficción. A escena é sobradamente coñecida: alguén se dirixe a un grupo e lles relata a orixe (unha identidade) e a partir de aí configurase unhas formas que exclúen a quen non escoita ou non acata o relato. Pero ao tempo que isto sucede, sucede tamén que outra palabra comeza, esoutra palabra cando se profire ou se escribe fai tremer o Estado. A escena é tamén moi sabida: esa palabra pon de manifesto que o gobernante é incestuoso, en consecuencia é expulsado da cidade, a súa muller afórcase, os seus fillos comezan unha guerra civil etc. Por suposto os desenlaces poden ser outros. Entendo que esa palabra é a palabra do poema.

[Of origin, I know nothing; I don’t believe we can access anything like origin; origin is always a story, a fiction. The scene is only too familiar: someone rules a group and tells them their origin (an identity) and from this, forms are configured that exclude all who don’t listen to or submit to the story. At the same time, something else goes on; another word commences, when this other word is proffered and written down, it makes the State tremble. This scene is also well known: this word makes clear that the governor is incestuous, and in consequence he’s expelled from the city, his wife hangs herself, his sons foment civil war, etc. Of course there may be other outcomes. To my mind, that word is the word of the poem.]

— Chus Pato, English translation by Erin Moure

  • 1 Lawrence Venuti, in his seminal work The Translator’s Invisibility, considers two contrasting appro (...)

1If we consider translation as an encounter that is captured and transmitted as a textual record, how might the marks of its own doubleness (or even multiplicity) be inscribed? This is a problem that extends beyond strategies of foreignization that show the variegated surface of the translating language as difference.1 The encounter of translation registers only as a notable absence from a text that does proclaim its passage as translation: an irreconcilable absence. How might its presence be signalled? As a form of disruption caused by the translator’s hand? Is it possible to capture, or archive if you will, an impression of the translator’s mid-way grasp across two languages? Under what conditions might this take place?

2In 2014, Erin Moure’s translation of Galician poet Chus Pato’s Secession was published as part of a genre-defying work, Secession with Insecession, a text that is part translation, part memoir, part ‘biopoetics’ and part ‘echolocation.’ In this chimerical book (with two titles and two authors), Moure archives the encounter of translation by introducing a third text into the field of translation: a text that is neither the translation nor the original source text. Instead, Moure’s supplemental text (an ‘echolocation homage’) operates as a personal memoir and a reflection on the text of departure. Laid out on facing pages opposite her translation from Galician to English of Secession, Moure’s Insecession, is not only a creative work — inscribed both between and beyond the translation and the original — but also an archive of the encounter of translation. In dialogue with Secession, Insecession can be seen to express a further degree of translation and to expand the great range of translational possibilities. In the process, the translator steps out of the shadows and assumes a vital, visible presence.

3To counter the invisibility of the encounter of translation (and thus the disappearance of the translator) is a matter of resistance. To resist and to counter: to meet in contradistinction, to brush up against another, registering difference. “The translation never takes place since the texts have nothing in common,” suggests Norma Cole — a statement that reminds us that translation, if it is understood as an exchange of equivalencies and as repetition, is impossible:

The translation never takes place since the texts have nothing in common. The words are all different.
Leap of faith.
Transcendence or encounter.
A record of the encounter. (Cole 83)

4If a translation is a “record of the encounter,” as Cole suggests, it documents an instance, a concurrence and a convergence, an event that exceeds the linear logic of an economy of loss in which the translation process is all too often inscribed and whereby an original text is deemed ‘ruined’ by the shortcomings of translation. If on the one hand, foreign texts and their translations are often critically misrepresented as simple semantic equivalents (so perfectly equivalent that the translator’s name is omitted from a discussion of the work), such a notion of equivalence does not extend to literary value, where there remains a strict hierarchy of value between the original text and the translation. By extension, this economy of loss centers on the failure of equivalence between an original and the translation that is conceived of as a copy, always in some measure inauthentic, a counterfeit, a shadow or a fake, for it can never repeat the original to which it is bound. In Cole’s view, by contrast, translation is complicated as a notion beyond these linear standards and affirmed as a process that enacts encounter and demonstrates difference. This notion is re-affirmed in an essay by Moure:

Though I am a translator, I always affirm that translation is impossible. This appears to be but is not an unsustainable situation. It is, rather, creative. Always between two languages there is a river to cross and the river has orelas – banks – just as our bodies have orellas – ears. The river too is a body that listens. Made, like our body, of water. And between two languages … there are rios or perhaps rias – wide inlets – or even a sea to traverse. There is no linear relationship between languages (My Beloved Wager 245).

5Eloquently described here, Moure’s conjecture that translation is a creative, not merely imitative task — a point of view she has referred to elsewhere as transelation or “transcreation” — counters translation’s deficit and the economy of loss by positioning the translator as an actor: an agent whose texts, reconceived in terms of originality and creativity, can counteract the conditions of their erasure.This process arrives at a performative mid-point, inscribing a text that pivots and swirls among countless beginnings, and registers its vitality as a countersignature. The translator’s authority turns the signature away from a mark of authenticity and towards multiplicity, for it is never one thing alone. It is an authority that can count its words once recorded but not its future, for it is a vitality that refuses to settle into monotonous predictability.

An Encounter Between Two Poets: Affinities

6Moure’s archive of the translation process and memoir inscribed in Insecession, both structurally and thematically informed by the poet-translator’s encounter with the text of departure, is also a product of the enduring literary friendship between Erin Moure and Chus Pato and therefore of numerous previous encounters across different texts and in time. Moure originally encountered Pato’s work several years ago, in a Galician bookstore, where Moure, who was just beginning to learn Galician, purchased a book by Pato. Thus, Moure’s original introduction to Pato was as a reader:

On March 20, 2001, I was in Andel bookstore in Vigo with my friend (and first Galician teacher), writer and translator María Reimóndez, buying dictionaries and simple books to help me learn more Galician. After paying and before turning to leave, I saw on the counter a large book with an incredible knobbly cover, bright orange, bearing the inscription: m-Talá, and below that, the words Chus Pato.

I had no idea what it was, or what those three words meant. But I could tell it was a special artifact. It was a book that refused the standards of book marketing, that made itself into a stunning object, that gave you no image of what you would find inside, that absolutely refused to interpret the book for you in advance (My Beloved Wager 249).

  • 2 Moure’s friend María Reimóndez warned her that translating Chus Pato’s m-Tala would be impossible ( (...)

7Of the three words that Moure could not understand, two composed the name of the author, words that would eventually come to represent for Moure the writer, Chus Pato, an acquaintance whose work she would accompany as a translator and friend. But initially these words posed an absolute abyss of referentiality, the author’s name as impenetrable as the untranslatable title. Since undertaking to translate this first ‘impossible’ book, Moure has translated several works by Chus Pato into English. Secession is her fourth book-length Pato translation, following Charenton (2007), m-Talá (2009) and Hordes of Writing (2011).2

  • 3 Moure was born in Canada and has lived in Québec for over thirty years; Pato was born and raised in (...)

8There are a number of notable affinities between the two poets, including their experimentalism, feminism, and prominence as relative national poets of their generation. They share “similar, wary, hopeful, discordant poetic sensibilities,” as Moure herself writes in the introduction to m-Talá, a wariness and ‘discord’ that unsettles accepted lyrical clichés, all the while affirming poetry’s ethical commitment to dialogue (which necessitates hope), mediation, a desire for change and respect for the Other. Both have been described as radical experimentalists, admired for the risks they take politically and with poetic language. And both live and work within socio-political contexts of nationalism, sovereignty movements and minority language activism.3

9Although both Moure and Pato were born in 1955, they were born into very different landscapes: Pato came of age in Galicia under the fascist government of Franco-era Spain, while Moure was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Pato’s formative years unfolded in an official state culture that disallowed the public usage of Galician, a resilient language and a culture that survived against these odds. From Charenton (Moure’s first translation of Pato), where a utopian vision of national sovereignty arises among the fragmented dialogue of a post-revolutionary madhouse, to Secession, it is evident that political resistance is a major impetus and focus of Pato’s writing, and that for Pato, poetry itself is a force of resistance. Wary of the unrelenting effects of capitalism on an unrecognized national community that is melancholy for its origins, Pato has been said to question “the pressures that urban cultures put on rural ones and warn against the unforeseen consequences that global capitalism and Empire may have for traditional communities that have not yet experienced national consolidation” (Rodríguez García 105-106). While this dichotomy might be understood to locate Pato’s politics within a territorial national paradigm based on geographical boundaries and tensions, Pato’s idea of the ‘motherland’ is not of a singular natural territory. Galicia, a semi-autonomous nation with no state, complicates notions of sovereignty and the idea of ‘natural’ territory, as a result of the nomadic dispersion of the Galician community, and the presence of its stateless emigrant communities outside of Europe. As María do Cebreiro observes, Pato relies on Deleuze’s concept of the horde (notably, she builds on this concept explicitly in Hordes of Writing) and the notion of ‘immanent territoriality’ based on movement rather than permanence. Therefore, do Cebreiro explains, “the poet places herself closer to an immanent territoriality — as defined by Deleuze and Guatarri in A Thousand Plateaus — than to an identitary essentialism” (90). Distinguishing the movement of the nomad from that of the migrant, Deleuze and Guattari propose that for the nomad, there is no “reterritorialization afterward as with the migrant, or upon something else as with the sedentary (the sedentary’s relation with the earth is mediatized by something else, a property regime, a State apparatus)” (381). The territory of Pato’s nomadic subject is one of constant becoming, not a fixed unity. Here, Rosi Braidotti’s figuration of the nomadic subject is also relevant, as it “expresses the desire for an identity made of transitions, successive shifts, and co-ordinated changes without an essential unity,” and offers a means of political resistance to “hegemonic, fixed, unitary and exclusionary views of subjectivity” (Braidotti 57, 26). Both Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of immanent territoriality and Braidotti’s figuration of the nomadic subject are activated in Pato’s work: “The scene is only too familiar: someone rules a group and tells them their origin (an identity) and from this, forms are configured that exclude all who don’t listen to or submit to the story” (Pato, “Interview”). In this passage, Pato critically aligns the concepts of origin and identity, both of which represent a fiction that cannot be accessed in reality but that bears the power to harm. Thus, the notion of identitary essentialism (unlike that of that of the nomadic subject) creates conditions of inclusion that function to exclude all who do not submit to the sovereign’s narrative.

  • 4 “The fundamental categorical pair of Western politics is not that of friend/enemy but that of bare (...)

10The notion of exclusion, according to Giorgio Agamben, is at the heart of Western political thought extending to Aristotle, where life is divided in terms of natural life (zoē) and political life (bios), according to which distinctions certain humans may or may not participate in political life, in democratic, public debate.4 How does Agamben’s notion of bios inform a reading of Secession? In a note at the beginning Secession, Pato’s work is described as a biopoetics. What sort of relationship between political life and poetics is suggested by this term, and, more specifically, how does the lyrical I participate in political life through the writing of biopoetics? Beyond the simple mirror of self-expression and beyond lyric poetry’s aporia of representation, biopoetics explicitly places the lyrical subject, the I, in relation to the political field. The I in Secession is not that of the poet relating an autobiography or expressing inner subjectivity; rather, the I issues from the poem itself, is the utterance of the poem, and also that of its future community, the polis. This requires a reconsideration of the figure of the lyric I, starting with the very first poem in Secession, which alludes to a work, La Chair des mots: Politique de l’écriture, by Jacques Rancière, on this same topic: the political function of the modern, revolutionary poetic lyric. Here, Rancière locates the modern lyric subject’s emergence in the Romantic period (not antiquity, although the Romantics’ view of lyrical antiquity was made in their own image) as a vector of revolutionary freedom, a subject authorized to depart and speak freely by the utopic, communal ‘we’ of the future nation-state. Importantly, Rancière’s theory does not reduce the figure of the modern lyric subject to an expression of internal conflict or personal reflection; the lyric mode instead is characterized as one of ‘accompaniment’ between the community of the sensible and the I because “the modern lyric revolution is not a way of experiencing oneself or the depths of one’s inner life” (20). Instead, Rancière argues, the lyric I is coextensive with what is said, which coextensivity he articulates as a mode of “accompaniment,” where the I is not defined in terms of what it represents or hides. That is, the life of the I in Secession is political and participatory and the word of this I of biopoetics is a revolutionary utterance.

  • 5 The text of ‘departure’ is an alternative terminology for the more commonly used ‘source’ text or ‘ (...)

11On the other side, we have the sparks of origin, embers, warmly glowing on the shore of the translation, where the imagery of the politicized lyrical I connects to the sensible community. For example, on pages 70 and 71, facing pages in Secession with Insecession, the reader finds distinct but interrelated accounts of two funerals. On the right-hand side, we read Pato’s account of the burial of a grandfather, Manolo of Almorfe, in Galicia, a narrative that reveals accreted layers of generations of political struggle. On the facing page, we read a narrative written by translator Moure describing a funeral she went to with her father in Ottawa, Canada, which leads eventually to the fortuitous discovery of documents confirming the Galician identity of her own grandfather. Moure’s text is addressed to Pato, comprising a personal, genealogical stake in the revolutionary poetics of Pato’s that she translates. The translator’s text, direct in its confession of intentions and desire for the Galician language, builds on a series of affinities between the experience of one and the other. This economy of desire is not one of loss. Across the page, both sensible and metaphorical affinities lead the reader into several locations at once, tenuous figurative unifications across a series of dislocations. “Dearest Cambria: Yesterday we buried Manolo of Almorfe, we wandered lost down the highway until we found the funeral home:” thus commences Pato’s text, while on the facing page, Moure’s begins: “Dearest Chus, the only funeral I ever attended on my father’s side was my Uncle Dick’s in Canada’s capital” (70-71). Here is a history of nomadic migration, there of the frayed nets of belonging. The translator transports the reader doubly by casting a figurative frame around the translation — a frame that also functions referentially, even as it delineates a field — a second, exterior mode of figuration. Comparison and figuration: these are modes of reading suggested by the literalization of a third text (one that is situated somewhere between or beyond the translation and its source) and the complicated lyrical I that emerges as a political subjective utterance in Pato’s biopoetics and a doubled coextensivity of the lyrical I in Moure’s “echolocation.” If translation is a matter of bringing across, the reading of translation should be a matter of reading across, of reading as a vector and a transport. In this way, Moure’s memoir text Insecession can be seen to function as a possible third text, in lieu of that hypothesized by Paul Ricoeur: albeit not as an ideal that can be used to measure both the text of departure and the text of arrival, since the two cannot be measured simply against each other, but as an archival supplement.5

Le dilemme est le suivant : les deux textes de départ et d’arrivée devraient, dans une bonne traduction, être mesurés par un troisième texte inexistant. Le problème, c’est en effet de dire la même chose ou de prétendre dire la même chose de deux façons différentes. Mais ce même, cet identique n’est donné nulle part à la façon d’un tiers texte dont le statut serait celui du troisième homme dans le Parménide de Platon, tiers entre l’idée de l’homme et les échantillons humains supposés participer à l’idée vraie et réelle. À défaut de ce texte tiers, où résiderait le sens même, l’identique sémantique, il n’y a pour seul recours que la lecture critique de quelques spécialistes sinon polyglottes du moins bilingues […]. (Sur la traduction 14)

The dilemma is the following: in a good translation, the two texts, source and target, must be matched with one another through a third non-existent text. Indeed, the problem is saying the same thing or claiming to say the same thing in two different ways. But this same thing, this identical meaning, is not given anywhere in the manner of a third text, whose status would be that of the third man in Plato’s Parmenides, a third party between the idea of man and the human examples that are thought to participate in the real and true idea. In the absence of this third text, where the actual meaning would lie, the semantic original, there is only one recourse, i.e. the critical reading of a few, if not polyglot then at least bilingual specialists […]. (On Translation 7)

12Between Moure’s text and Pato’s (via Moure) text, the complex series of comparison along nodes of affinity do not bear on a greater unity. Rather, the parts rub against each other, not locking together, neither adhering nor repulsing the other from within. We might even say that Moure’s correspondent text, operating at times in the confessional mode, as memoir, produces an excessive subjectivity, that it exceeds containment, that it spills onto the facing translation, affects, infects or transforms it. In this case, the third text, which allows the reader to read across, operates in a figurative mode that bears most resemblance to the allegorical. Its disruptions, further, fragment the text and the reading of the text. Most importantly, such fragmentation is at the heart of the figurative incompleteness that characterizes any poetic practice. As a way of reading translation, “reading across” thus thrums with the vitality of the third text and the performance of the translator’s bodily presence, now the very medium of the field of the sensible.

13The revolutionary lyrical I, the poetic I authorized by the community of the sensible to speak of and from the political sphere, is important to both Moure and Pato and for the particular demands of poetics within a context of minority language politics and deterritorialized nationalism. Accordingly, the ‘discordant’ production of lyric is the most important point of affinity between these poets.

The Count and the Signature: One More Word

  • 6 Languages supported under the arts council translation grant rubrics are French, English and Aborig (...)

14While certain affinities might be located in the minority-language politics and independent-nationalist yearnings of Chus Pato’s Galicia and Erin Moure’s Québec, or the nationalism of Erin Moure’s Canada for that matter, in Secession with Insecession, nationalism informs the work not so much as a thematic affinity but rather as the structuring device of the literary work itself, shaping its production by necessitating the third text as a matter of policy. As noted previously, this is Moure’s fourth translation of Pato’s work — three previous books were jointly published in the United Kingdom by Shearsman and in Canada by Bushekbooks. With Secession, Moure sought a Canadian literary publisher, with the knowledge, however, that a Canadian publisher would face funding restrictions if they chose to publish her translation from a foreign language, because the national arts council, the Canada Arts Council, does not support literary translation of works by foreign authors.6 Since most Canadian literary and academic presses depend heavily on government subsidies, there is naturally a great reluctance among publishers to publish unfunded books.

15In fact, in 2005, Erin Moure and Canadian writer Robert Majzels campaigned to change this policy. Appealing to Canadian writers, intellectuals and artists, they circulated a petition for extending national arts council support to publications of translations of foreign-authored works. As a plea for the vitality of Canadian literature, their manifesto critiques a prevalent form of national insularity to redress the potential situation of cultural isolation such policy limitations propagate. Concluding their appeal, Moure and Majzels address specific policy points by enumerating solutions. The first of their demands, which was not achieved, is pertinent to an understanding of the policy that inadvertently shaped Secession with Insecession, a policy that its “third text” challenges:

  • 7 This proposal was originally circulated in an email from Erin Moure and Robert Majzels to a group o (...)

Canadian literary publishers should be allowed to use a set proportion of their block grants (funding without which it is impossible to publish a literary book in Canada, especially books that open up practices apart from the mainstream) to publish the work of Canadians translating from languages other than English and French, and from works of literatures outside Canada by writers who are not Canadians. This major change can be accomplished without any cost to the Council, and with great benefit to the literature. (Mclennan)7

16Since such a change was never realized, the publication of Moure’s fourth Chus Pato book-length translation, Secession, necessitated a subversion of the mandate so as to render the work eligible for funding. In this case, because a poetry publisher can publish a book by a Canadian poet as long as the author is Canadian and their work accounts for more than 50% of the book, Moure chose to write a second text in parallel to Chus Pato’s Secession and in the process of doing so, ensured that the word count of her text was at least one word greater than Pato’s text: one additional word would enable Moure’s text to qualify as sufficiently Canadian and thereby eligible for arts council funding. As a result, the ‘encounter’ of translation would be made explicit because of the imperative to count the words of Moure’s contribution and to quantify her contribution as a qualifying national poet. Here, the author’s signature would depend on the word-count of her text, like a thread-count, to determine the work’s authenticity.

17By creating a new genre, in effect — a hybrid text that is just under one half translation, the other half personal memoir — Moure was able to introduce a translation of a foreign work into the official Canadian publishing market and to circumvent national arts council criteria. The final poem in Secession with Insecession, titled “48, or 49,” sardonically begins, “I still owe 48 words + 1,” an allusion to the necessity for her part of the book to be greater than 50% of the total content. “48, or 49” represents an excess of ironically quantifiable Canadian subjectivity required to justify the book’s publication. In the process of translating and writing Secession with Insecession, however, Moure did more than subvert a nationalist and protectionist funding structure — she created a text that utterly resists categorization.

18In the case of Secession with Insecession, Moure, as both translator and author within the same work, renders visible the encounter between the translator and the text in question, and along with that, the material that is most often lost, what she calls the ‘intranslatable’ material. The third text, however, is more than a simple metanarrative on the process of translating Pato’s book. As a supplement, Moure’s third text provides lines of flight from the exclusionary mandate of the arts council and related notions of fixed or essentialist national identity defining who or what voice can belong, who or what counts. As a literary text, the supplementarity of Moure’s third text is complicated by the fact that it is placed before the translation of the literary text to which it responds.

19Given its hybrid format, the first problem the double structure of Secession with Insecession poses to the reader is, where to start? How should one read this book? On the verso page, one reads Moure’s memoir as a series of responses to and anticipations of ideas elaborated on the recto page, in Chus Pato’s text. Both are lyrical memoir projects that neither situate nor conceal the place of the translator and poet as subjects in a socio-political landscape. In the lyrical mode, which neither announces the I as representative of the poet nor presents it as a fictional construct, the precepts of direct representation are subverted, and neither is time linear nor place fixed. Further, it may happen that Moure’s text anticipates an image from Pato’s at one point; at another, the translator’s memoir is prompted by images from the translated text and responds to them. In this way, the notion of origin again is elided: the source text is not posited in a singular linear relationship with the translation; it is not an ‘original’ text, but, in Moure’s words, a ‘departure’ text — a point of departure, of beginning. Of this process — in secession — Moure writes: “Translation (the poetry of Chus Pato) is a way of bringing — into the secession or cut — another voice, a human voice, markings in words from a culture across a far border, to mark these words (her words) into new ears and onto new bodies, just under new skin” (Secession with Insecession 144). If the secession is a cut, the potential of language forms the figurative new skin of the translation. It is a cut that appears before the text, and then as the potentially different text that separates the text of the translator and author.

20The cut of ‘secession’ also evokes a physical wound: a bodily wound where there is bleeding but also where boundaries between inside and outside blur, such as on the indefinite frontier of the potentially abject state. If in Pato’s Secession, we encounter the subject as a member of an independent-leaning nation positioned within the Spanish state, in Moure’s Insecession, we encounter the translator whose positioning is identified within conditions of secession, where the translator grapples with representing the sovereignty of the narrator in the context of the received sovereignty of the translator’s voice. The cut opens a liminal zone of the voice where it is ambiguous where or even whether one thing begins and another ends. Similarly, in the double structure of Secession with Insecession, a potentiality emerges in the elusive cut between these interlocking texts written from overlapping subject positions, a text that points to the experience of the translator on one side and the author on the other, where the translator’s text reverberates with her translation. Between these two, finally and definitively, we are confronted with a more literal cut in the simple gutter margin of the page, where all potential presents itself as a crossing, and which the reader’s gaze must eventually traverse.

The Ruin and the Scaffolding

  • 8 “In this way, we are all vestiges, remnants of the humanity that was destroyed in us, but not total (...)

21In “Ruin,” the final poem in Secession, “the voice” — a dislocated and perambulatory haunting — “is interested in figuring out the difference between remnant and fragment” (167). This lyrical ‘voice’ might be singular or travel in a horde, but in either case it inhabits the ruins of the text as a ghostly voice. The ‘voice’ places the artifact and the remnant on a continuum with memory. First, the remnants of human lives the poet encounters at the museum at Auschwitz provoke a reflection that hope for humanity, although devastated, may not have been totally destroyed. The poet, faced with evidence of the brutality of conditions of bare life at Auschwitz, calls the death camp museum “dark lightning, a perfect oxymoron” (65).8 Here the remnant distinguishes itself from the fragment because it points from death into collective memory.

22The remnant — i.e. material that is captured, that endures in time — might share with the fragment a pretense of pointing to a destroyed totality, yet the remnant itself by definition has resisted destruction; it persists as that which remains. In its persistence, it insists on the presence of the real. Further, the remnant points beyond the singular individual (an integrity) and into the collective memory, while the fragment speaks primarily to conditions of integrity. While both the remnant and the fragment participate in the logic of synecdoche, the part that indexes an unstated or unrecoverable whole, they differ in terms of their indexical modality. The remnant, a piece of the real, seeks to position itself in time (even as the past might escape history), whereas the fragment, by contrast, is defined primarily as a part detached from a whole and in this sense, it is detached from time and the political implications of history and narratives of power as well. The fragment is not defined in terms of temporality or remembrance except insofar as it may be a detachment from a notion of whole time, and in this interpretation it can be read as an aspect of the destruction of time’s ‘grand narrative.’ Still, the existence of the fragment does not necessarily imply the passage of time or any endurance, unlike the remnant, which thus comes to represent the memorable aspect of ruins. We might further conjecture that the movement of the ruin-remnant is one of collapse or downfall (as ruin is primarily defined in the Oxford English Dictionary), a downward movement while the movement of the whole-fragment is a lateral motion, if indeed there is any motion implied at all in the breakage that constitutes the fragment. The ruin collapses toward the earth, decaying with the forces of natural history, and resisting such narratives of natural history with its indestructible hauntings of collective memory.

23Further, the placement of the poem “Ruins” at the end of Secession, a self-referential gesture that suggests a mise en abyme of the poetry book itself, contracts the poetic word into a variously signifying wellspring for the memory of language and its poesis. As Pato (via translator Moure) writes:

a poem is a conjunction of ruins, but these ruins are the drives of the language; they belong to imagination and from there emit their signals, which desire writing—these ruins are really us navigating birth and emerging into life—thus a poem is not composed of fragments but of ruins that are remainders of an earlier collapse or of one still to come, or that never happened, that are ghosts and despite this memorable (169).

24Here, the poetic word takes the place of that which cannot write because it is crumbling. The ruin’s active capacity derives from its place within collective memory, where it is not merely the site or embodiment of memory but the means and materials of remembrance itself: “these ruins are really us.” In Pato’s metaphor, the poet’s language figuratively animates the ruin from which it emerges and resurfaces it from any sinking narrative of passive decay. Since languages are inherently impervious, if not more resistant, to the forces of gravity than buildings, Pato’s metaphor supplants the narrative of linear collapse with the ruin-language’s archival dynamism and contingency on human vitality, the ghosting lyrical voice, nonetheless memorable despite its ghostliness.

25Since the poem “Ruins” suggests the text’s mise en abyme as the ruins of poetry (and, doubly, of Pato/Moure’s poetry book in particular), it points us back into the book, reframing our reception, recasting our vision of Secession’s poetry as textual architecture. Just as Walter Benjamin saw in the ruin the emergent matter of memory in the production of allegorical thought, the ghosts from Pato’s ruins can be found haunting the pages of Moure’s memoir, either as translational vapours or as the building stones of poems or finally as the cobblestones of the revolution that undo the narrative of progress and endurance proper to history. In this sense, it is as though a pattern of flames were already imprinted in the grain of the wood that burns, the pattern of fire already archived in the wood. The translational ruin is ablaze with its imagery that leaps from the allegorical grain of thought, from the text of departure where its metaphorical tracks (of transport) are emblazoned in its heart.

26If it has been noted previously that any translation must work in a mode of fragmentation, across irresolvable gaps, might it be more precise, in this case, to consider the particular task of lyrical translation as a translation of ruins — ruins implying as they do the collapsed remains of something in time? If indeed the poem is not composed of fragments but of ruins that are remainders of an earlier collapse or one still to come, then the encounter of translation takes place on a transmedial scaffolding spanning the surface and its gaps. Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that on the cover of Moure’s book there is an image — on the inner surface, sheet metal, and on the outer, wooden scaffolding and in between a bird’s nest. Here, we find represented the closed and the open, the thing made and the thing that is being built — one text that is impossible to scale, inaccessible, untranslatable, and another text that provides a scaffolding. Scaffolding that suggests the open, contingent and ongoing process that is any translation — an exterior support, skeletal perhaps, but something of the transmedial that it is possible to grasp nevertheless. And in between the two, the rough structure of a nest, of beginning, and the potential of flight.

27The location of the lyrical voice, either in motion and nomadic, or as a horde of voices, haunting its impermanent scaffolding, is always shown against its potential dislocation, as a comparative phenomenon: almost somewhere it is not, almost something it is not, an I that is both like and unlike another I. The lyric as prompting metaphorical, allegorical or figurative reading, evades representation of either a group or an individual in terms of identitary essentialism. The metaphorical text represents only its own constant changing and thus continual comparison: “and they are metaphor because they are dislocation, praxis that unites what is dislocated” (169).

28The structure of Secession with Insecession is based on conditions of metaphor. It confronts the reader with his or her resistance to looking across the gutter margin to the other side, to traverse the cut. To read this work means to engage in a process of comparison on several levels, to read across in anticipation of similarities between Moure’s text and her translation of Pato’s text, and within the lyric for its metaphors, fragments, proximities, ruins. On the one hand, either text can be seen to function as an abstraction of a text given its dislocation from an ‘original,’ in which case the process of comparison dissolves into an incommensurability of abstractions. Instead, a unification occurs through praxis, on the threshold of points of affinity, from one text to another, anarchic seed bombs or points scattered as unpredictably as by the wind, even then as vegetation that creeps up and along the ruins of representation.

29Because the ruin exists in time, it is never monotonous, as monotony is atemporal. Instead, it signifies slow change and collapse. Rather than monotony, the ruin exists on the axis of mourning. This takes the form of a longing for a lost communal past (the rural farming life of the ancestors), as the ghosts of past generations live on. Yet, under what conditions might the nation cease to mourn if its very identity as a nation has yet to be acknowledged?

Yes, as I tell you, the war never ended, identity crumbled from us bit by bit. The ruins? It took us a long time to see them, the whole country was crumbling around us, houses, I already told you so. Bombings no, dear, there were no bombings: the bombs were
time-bombs (107)

30Identity, a problematic Pato raises in an interview excerpted at the beginning of this paper, is a barely visible ruin, a ruin still in the process of ruination: “it took us a long time to see....” The vestiges of identity are particularly difficult to see when the whole country is crumbling, when ruination is a part of ordinary life. The ruin as a figure for identity offers an alternative reading to the illusory notion of original identity that Pato critiques, prompting a number of questions as to how the figure of the ruin might be activated. Might the ruin-figure for identity supplant any reductive or exclusionary constructs of identity of a politic of nationalism might summon? Does it allow for a conception of nationalism beyond the aporia of sovereignty, of a national community beyond the very politics of statehood that disempower the community or even threaten to render it unthinkable? What is the place of writing, of poetry, outside the ‘fold,’ outside the ‘flag,’ in relation to the national community?

31For Agamben in The Coming Community, the ‘singularity’ allows for an alternative production of community and therefore of the notion of belonging: that of the community-to-come. The singularity can only be understood as that which it is (which it is coming to be) — it cannot be ascribed properties that are the conventional conditions of belonging:

In this conception, such-and-such being is reclaimed from its having this or that property, which identifies it as belonging to this or that set, to this or that class (the reds, the French, the Muslims)—and it is reclaimed not for another class nor for the simple generic absence of any belonging but for its being-such, for belonging itself (1-2).

32For Agamben, belonging itself and not the conditions of belonging (identity-based essences or properties that yield sets based on similarity and difference) will form the community-to-come. Agamben’s project, therefore, is to present a new ontological order, based on the singularity in lieu of the set, and proximity, in order to undo the political problem of the state of exception: in other words, to undo the logic of sovereignty because, as Pato affirms, “sovereignty and the law that fill all space available to them are nihilist.” Thus the urgency “to violate the state of permanent emergency that oppresses us. To exist beyond sovereignty,” which also entails a reconsideration of the subject’s constitution as sovereign subject to a subject-hood of proximity and relation (157). In The Coming Community, since constituent power is never free of constituted power, Agamben reconsiders political theory in terms of ontological potentiality, relocating the subject from the politics of power to the possibility of a politics of ontology, through which a political theory free from the “aporia of sovereignty” might be conceived.

33Undermining the vital event of inscription is the problem of neutrality: the supposition that language can be translated with transparency and that the invisible translator does not intervene in what he or she writes. In the process, a voice is elected to cross the border, a body is discovered and lost, the performance of the cut sealed and absorbed, a gutter traversed without declaration or resistance. If the lyrical I by definition challenges the sovereignty of the subject and voice, then its translation does so exponentially. In the first place, the I is neither the voice of the poet nor the representation of a sovereign subject; in the second, the I is neither the voice of the poet, nor of the translator, nor the representation of a sovereign subject. The translator’s encounter is more permanent and less indifferent than the narrative of neutrality suggests, more than a matter of word-counts, fidelity and authenticity against which the signature of the author is compared. The encounter of translation is captured as an archive of residual inscriptions on the glass surface of authenticity, another signature, a supplemental text, a shiver in the surface of the neutral.

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1 Lawrence Venuti, in his seminal work The Translator’s Invisibility, considers two contrasting approaches to translation, the first of which he describes as a process of domestication and the second as foreignization. In the first case, a text is absorbed into the translating language according to an illusion of fluency and thereby ‘domesticated’ by the translating language as its cultural specificity is erased in the process of translation and book production. Domestication is the result of a desire for slick readability and linguistic transparency that afflicts the book market in general. The discursive effect of transparency also renders translators invisible, in effect, as they disappear into the easy readability of their work. To resist this trend toward domestication, Venuti suggests alternative translation methods, which he characterizes in terms of ‘foreignization’: any method that draws attention to the fact the work has been translated. The translator’s resistant, foreignizing strategy may be manifested either in the process of translation or in the original choice of text to be translated. These two approaches offered by Venuti — that of domestication versus that of foreignization — can be seen to elaborate on a distinction made by Friedrich Schleiermacher who famously asserted that there are two methods of translation: in the first case, the translator brings the writer to the reader and “leaves the reader alone” and in the second, the translator brings the reader to the writer and “leaves the writer alone.”

2 Moure’s friend María Reimóndez warned her that translating Chus Pato’s m-Tala would be impossible (Moure My Beloved Wager 250). Elsewhere, in an interview, Moure discusses this point further: “‘Impossible’ is what people said when I wanted to translate Chus Pato. Translation is often called impossible. In fact, I am most often attracted to translating ‘impossible’ texts, texts that are not served well by the worn paradigms of translation based on a contrast between fidelity to the word (much more than this goes into translation, and in different ways than the paradigm supposes) and transparency or fluidity of the text in the target language” (“An Autobiography of Translation”).

3 Moure was born in Canada and has lived in Québec for over thirty years; Pato was born and raised in Galicia.

4 “The fundamental categorical pair of Western politics is not that of friend/enemy but that of bare life/political existence, zoē/bios, exclusion/inclusion. There is politics because man is a living being who, in language, separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time, maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion” (Homo Sacer 12).

5 The text of ‘departure’ is an alternative terminology for the more commonly used ‘source’ text or ‘original’ text. Erin Moure rejects the metaphor of shooting (‘target,’ ‘source’) implied by the English terms, favouring instead the Galician trope of the voyage (‘departure,’ ‘arrival’) as a metaphor for translation: “[…] translation for me is not a task in which we seek equivalents for words, in which we try to tame the source language by making something readily recognizable in the target language. Something accommodating. My tactic is to listen to the text of departure, and let the text speak” (Moure My Beloved Wager 246).

6 Languages supported under the arts council translation grant rubrics are French, English and Aboriginal languages; furthermore, original works must have a Canadian author to be considered eligible. National publishing, largely supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, originated as a protectionist nationalist endeavor and is by definition invested in representing national culture. This has been its mandate since it was founded in the wake of World War II, during a period when “arts funding was connected rhetorically to the collective search for cultural sovereignty and national independence” as well as to the need for solidifying national defense (Berland 24). At this time, the 1951 Massey Report surmised the nation’s need to invest in the Arts along the following lines: “it has been suggested to us that one measure of the degree of civilization attained by a nation might fairly be the extent to which the nation’s creative artists are supported, encouraged and esteemed by the nation as a whole” (Massey Report 182).

7 This proposal was originally circulated in an email from Erin Moure and Robert Majzels to a group of Canadian writers in 2005.

8 “In this way, we are all vestiges, remnants of the humanity that was destroyed in us, but not totally: not the suitcases, the orthopedics, the shoes, the eyeglasses. All we write are traces of a literally razed poetry…” (65).

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Angela Carr, « One More Word: The Translator’s Archive in Secession with Insecession »Sillages critiques [En ligne], 23 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2017, consulté le 25 septembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Angela Carr

The New School University
Angela Carr is the author of the poetry books Ropewalk (Snare Books 2006, nominated for the McAuslan First Book prize), The Rose Concordance (BookThug 2009) and Here in There (BookThug 2014, nominated for the A.M. Klein prize for poetry). Her most recent book-length translation is Ardour by Nicole Brossard (Coach House Books, 2015). Angela Carr has a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Université de Montréal, and she teaches poetry and Creative Writing at The New School University in New York City.
Angela Carr est poète, auteure de trois recueils dont Ropewalk (2006), The Rose Concordance (2009) et Here in There, son dernier recueil publié en 2014 chez Book Thug Press à Toronto. Traductrice d’œuvres poétiques telles que Ardeur (2015) de l’auteure québécoise Nicole Brossard, les poèmes d’Angela Carr connaissent un lectorat international, étant traduits à leur tour en plusieurs langues (français, espagnol, portugais, slovène et allemand). Originaire de Montréal où elle a soutenu une thèse en littérature comparée, Angela vit aujourd’hui à New York et enseigne la poésie et le creative writing à The New School for Liberal Arts.

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