Friday, 13 June 2008

Voice-Over: Re-Translating Harun Farocki

The classical set of questions:
How much do you lose when translating a text, and how much do you win?
How much does a voice and its intonation change when another person speaks in another language?
How can you imagine an author if you are only able to hear his or her double?
How can he or she speak for him/herself if actually it is you speaking for them?

Translation as Voice-Over: Harun Farocki uses his own voice to speak “over” images; his critical analysis adds layers of contextual information to the selected images and movements, covers their edge with sub- and meta-titles. Or, putting it the other way around (not as addition, but as subtraction): “The uncovering of images from the many layers of their encoding”, says the translator, “Die Bilder von den Ablagerungen ihrer Kodierung zu befreien”, say the editors of Harun Farocki’s texts, “To liberate the images from sediments of their encoding”, say I, maybe not in correct English, but in admiration of the image the editors have chosen to describe Harun Farocki’s “archaeolo-analytical” device.

“Re-Translating Harun Farocki” is a simple operation (I will re-translate the English translation of some of his texts into German) but has rather complex implications: Farocki synchronizes moving images with his line of thought, rewinds them, holds them, comments them, synchronizes his voice with the movement of the images. “Winding back and forth” (“beim Hinundherfahren”) a third element emerges out of text/voice and image/movement. Edited in a book, the texts still hold a certain performative quality of synchronization; their translator needs to move “back and forth”, using his or her own voice to perceive the presence inherent in the printed words, like in a drama. But again: the imagination of images that move(d) along with these words is still present, like a visual echo that provoked itself a voice (the performative quality of Echo’s words, forcing Narcissus to react and to set into motion another series of echos…).

How to translate a visual echo that lingers in your memory in disguise?
If the way we remember images differs so much from how we saw them from how they are recorded from how they were revisited, then a translation (that loses of what is thought of what is written down of what is remembered) can only win if marking this embodied difference, this mental subtraction Deleuze praised as “minotarian memory”.

Let’s start with what an editing room is (“Was ein Schneideraum ist”, Harun Farocki, 1980).

Constructions of Home

Extract of a text written for "O Fascinio de Ulisses", Galeria Luís Serpa, Lisbon


First site: Praça Onze, Rio de Janeiro, around 1915. Entering Tia Ciata’s house in the evening, you might get immediately stuck in the ballroom, where musicians, politicians, neighbours and visionaries meet and listen to improvised songs. If you follow the long dark corridor, you will reach the kitchen, dinner hall, pantry, heart of conversations, rumours and specialities from Bahia. But wait: there is still the garden in the backyard, a fertile ground for jamming and dancing, for Samba and Candomblé, its ritual objects hidden in a small wooden shed in the very last corner of the territory .. The front side and back side, the entrance hall and garden lot – they belong to the same festivity, yet different events. Not that these aspects of concert, conversation, dance, dinner and ritual could be separated completely. Visitors might mix them up, if they knew how to read the house. Its architectural body serves more as a kind of bond for moving centres and rhythmic sound. Permissive membranes between different territories fold one into the other: the representative, the cultural, the ritual, the convivial, the excessive… Though none of them is directly attached to the house itself, they can only come into being (can only be territorialized) in the intense gatherings, the crowded corridor, the hidden garden.
House (1): construction site for a temporary present home based on a collective act and attitude.
House (2): architectural body transformed by certain rhythms and circles of sound.

Second site: Rue Fleurus, Paris, around the same time. First, some friends came to dinner at Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Toklas’s apartment. They looked at paintings by Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, they looked at walls covered with frames and messages and they brought more friends who brought more friends who drank a lot of tea and listened to Gertrude and Alice. A Saturday evening tea party, an intellectual jam session divided in two: (gay) men and (unmarried) women around Gertrude, (married) women around Alice.
“Her apartment was the most fascinating place in all Paris because everybody went there” said Janet Flanner , she was also from the Left Bank and she went there and Picasso and Fernande, they all went there and Sylvia Beach and Natalie Barney and Pavel Tchelitchew and Allan Tanner and all the other writers and composers and painters and undiscovered talents who went there - their motive: the paintings; their real motive: the presence of thoughts evoked and articulated by its majestic centre Gertrude Stein, marked and objectified by the framed painting in all their abundance. If Gertrude and Alice gave the motive, the internal impulse, then the walls built the melodic landscape, the external circumstances, the counterpoint that attracts the listener even before the leading (and often laughing) voice can be heard.
Home (1): marking of inside and outside, intimately strange in the presence of thoughts.
Home (2): a counterpoint/melodic landscape that gives impulse to motives, attracts and turns one territorial assemblage into another.

Last Site: West 21st Street, New York, around seventy years later. A crowded ballroom with an improvised stage in the centre. The house of Extravaganza walks . To perform the real woman, the real soldier, the real beauty, the real drag. To belong to a “house” means to get a new name, a new mother, a new gang that walks with you in the streets half dancing, half cheating, half vogueing. Your house is a performance, an expression of proper qualities, of colours, gestures, steps that might cause you trouble in the straight white world but bring fame in the ballroom, the only home zone left after you leave your first family as teenager. “How very important it is, when chaos threatens, to draw an inflatable, portable territory. If need be, I’ll put my territory on my own body, I’ll territorialise myself”
House (3): a physical and mental performance of lived belonging
Home (3): a transcoding passage between different milieus, a deterritorialisation of your body by putting your territory on your body

And now? The sites might have had the potential to create a territory (by singing, thinking, vogueing), a home beyond individual landmarks. But how can we set up another route of deterritorialisation if we try it again on our own? We need one for the road, a refrain to be hummed (we don’t need another hero). Some cover version or fake translation, that’s what we need right now.

Bettina Wind, March 2008
(Written in the train from Vienna to Berlin, the Swiss café, at home in Berlin)