My “statement” on translating “Besotted Desquamation” by Charles Bernstein (With Stings, 2001), presented in the big Finnish-Swedish poetry reading at Ugglan, Stockholm, Sept. 16, 2006

”I’m going to read a poem by Charles Bernstein, ’Besotted Desquamation’, in Finnish. This poem can be seen as consisting of 27 sections, with all the words in each individual section sharing the same initial letter. When I sat down to translate the poem into Finnish, I was disappointed, confused even, to find that the words my dictionary suggested for replacement seemed to begin with just about any letter. Nothing of the harmony and order of the Bernstein original to be found there! I began to feel desperate, and to have doubts as to the very fundaments of the profession of translation. I mean, how can we imagine to translate anything, when we cannot even get the first letters right? Eventually, I think I did find a problem to the solution. What I did was to put the original away – for good, I never looked at it again. And why should I have?After all, as with all poems (and as we all only too well know), it was only a pale shadow of the original intentions of the poet, whatever these may have been. I also closed the English-Finnish dictionary I had been consulting, opening a Finnish-Finnish one instead, as I think Charles had done with an English-English one in his time. I then proceeded, not to translate, not even to rewrite, but to write the poem, exactly the way Charles had done before me – here perhaps echoing the project of the immemorable Pierre Menard, in that story by Jorge Luis Borges, to write Cervantes’ Don Quixote in the early Twentieth Century. I feel confident that the results of my experiment not only prove the validity of my approach, but also go a way to redeem the honour of the business of translation in general. Can there be a better guarantee of the faithfulness of a translation than when the translator has gone through exactly the same motions with the originator? To this day, no one has been able to point out in my poem any of those small changes in tone, or field of reference, of individual words and phrases that are so frustrating in even the best translations of poetry – not to speak about outright errors and misunderstandings, as when someone once made Count Basie a nobleman (Furst Basie), or another had a famous General, by name Assembly, speak in a big United Nations event. In stead of being riddled with these kinds of uncertainties and ambiguities, slips and lapsuses, my poem, for once, is the real thing.”