Andrés Claro. “Transportation is Civilisation.” Ezra Pound’s Poetics of Translation.
Lecture at the University College London, 2013. Web.

review by Rhett Forman




“Transportation is Civilisation:” Ezra Pound’s Poetics of Translation is a promising start to an inquiry into Pound’s method as a translator. The lecture, by Andrés Claro of the Universidad de Chile given on December 12, 2013 at University College London, offers a finely crafted argument and intricate analyses, but given that it is not a published article in a peer-reviewed journal and makes no use of the work of other Poundians, it must be considered rather rudimentary. Claro’s brilliantly conceived thesis is that, for Pound to be understood properly as a translator, readers must also understand Pound’s views on culture and history, for it is Pound’s preoccupation both with promoting a learned and refined culture and with revitalizing the great art of the past that determine his method of translation.

Claro develops this thesis over the course of three main sections, the first elucidating the development of Pound’s methodology, the second analyzing its particular principles, and the third—and most important—section demonstrating Pound’s practice. A fresh look in the world of Pound studies, Claro’s lecture does not overwhelm the reader with a heap of historical and biographical information, but keeps its focus squarely on understanding Pound’s translations and their relations with their originals. Claro’s approach alone, in addition to his compelling argument, makes the lecture a worthwhile read for all Poundians, many of whom are so intent on discovering impertinent minutiae about Pound’s life that they miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

The first section, “‘Transportation is civilisation:’ the cultural and historiographical programme,” begins with a helpful discussion of the primary cultural problem Pound’s practice as a translator seeks to remedy: the provincialism and single-mindedness of modern, Western people. The two subsections of this part, the first dealing with “space” and the second with “time” (Claro offers no clear explanation of why this division is necessary), demonstrate effectively how Pound sought to enrich English—and Western poetics generally—with poetic devices borrowed from outside the Western rhetorical tradition. This section also explains the way in which Pound viewed translation as a means to illuminate parallels between historical and contemporary societal issues. The first component, that of enriching the language, serves the added function of widening and deepening thought itself, the second of securing remedies for the ills of Western imperialism.

Claro then moves on in his second section, “Transportation of the ‘Poetic Meaning:’ the semantic/stylistic principles,” to address how exactly Pound’s method of translation accomplishes these two tasks. Claro ingeniously uses Pound’s threefold schema of poetic meaning as a roadmap to guide his understanding of Pound’s vocation as a translator. According to Claro, for Pound a translator must decide which category of meaning—melopoeia, phanopoeia, or logopoeia—is most significant in the original poem and then reproduce an approximate effect in his/her own language. Claro’s explanation of how Pound uses these three categories to generate “semantic/stylistic principles” to govern his translations is perhaps unrivalled in Pound studies for its clarity and invention.

What Claro must overcome—and what he succeeds in overcoming—is the difficulty of explaining how Pound is able to translate melopoeia and logopoeia when, according to Pound himself, these two categories of meaning cannot be translated. In the third section, “Pound’s early legacy as a translator (1908-1919): the Modernist revolution of poetic language,” Claro scrupulously offers close readings of three Pound translations from three languages according to each of the three modes of poetic meaning. First, Claro analyzes the melopoeic elements of the opening “Alba” in Langue D’Oc, demonstrating how Pound recreates the way in which the Provençal piece uses open and closed vowels to mimic the tension between day and night.

Claro then examines Pound’s translation of Mei Sheng’s “The Beautiful Toilet” with respect to phanopoeia. Here he finds how Pound, taking liberties in his translation, adopts the Chinese method of juxtaposing objective and subjective images in order to study how the external world works upon human beings. According to Claro, such a technique was previously unknown to Western poetics, and it is to Pound’s great credit that he forsook a literal translation in favor of highlighting the most important element of the original.

Finally, Claro turns to the Homage to Sextus Propertius, arguing that Pound attempted to translate its logopoeic irony, an irony which is lost in the philologists’ attempts at literal translations, but which is clear if one considers the affinity between Propertius’ political situation and modern imperialism. Both Pound and Propertius, Claro argues, undermine the readers’ expectations, and the genius of Pound is that his very method of translation, in undermining what it means to be a translation of a classic, embodies Propertian irony.

Unfortunately, Claro’s lecture stops after its analysis of Propertius, offering no synthetic conclusion to understand how these principles of translation might present themselves in Pound’s other works, say, in The Cantos. For this reason, and because the lecture fails to engage the secondary literature on either Pound or on the authors he translates, Claro’s work begs to be expanded into a book. Until this happens, however, we must be content with Claro’s compelling, if incomplete, account of both Pound’s methodology as a translator and his argument about what the translator is and ought to be a catalyst for making language new.

Andrés Claro is a professor at the Universidad de Chile. He studied at the Universidad Católica de Chile, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales of Paris under Jacques Derrida, and at Oxford University where he earned his Doctor of Philosophy. His research focus includes the history of language arts, and it is no stretch to imagine how this lecture on Pound and translation might fit in with Claro’s work in that regard. He has published both translations and scholarly books and articles, including La creación: figuras del poema, configuraciones del mundo (Creation: poetic figures, world configurations, 2014), La Inquisición y la Cábala, un capítulo de la diferencia entre ontología y exilio (The Inquisition and the Kabbalah, a chapter on the difference between ontology and exile, 1996, 2nd. ed., 2009), and Las Vasijas Quebradas, cuatro variaciones sobre la ‘tarea del traductor’ (Broken Vessels, four variations on ‘the translator’s task,’ 2012).

The lecture reviewed here can be found online through the University College London Translation Studies website: