E is for Errand (East Coast of Africa)

1 August 2014

Introduction

‘E is for Errand’ is an extract from the draft of a libretto named The Bones of the Epic. As it stands, it is a work from regress – not in progress. Regress because the current text is a portion half-way. The Bones of the Epic is half-way to what it will be: a script for a puppet master (Delfim Miranda), translator/convener (Miguel Martins) and Lisbon noise band (A Favola da Madusa) – to make of it what they will.

The final script will be the basis for a puppet opera to be produced in Portugal; half-way from a computer-generated translation of only those parts of Luis vaz de Camões’s famous epic Os Lusiadas, a recounting of Vasco da Gama’s journey to India, in which the Renaissance poet records the exchanges between the Portuguese sailors and the so-called Natives, eliding the compromised languages in which communication actually took place. By using a computer to ‘translate’ those sections of interaction, the machine produces a formality not unlike the universalism of Esperanto or the hollowness of Global English.

On the one hand this draft text fills me, its author, with an arrogance – to dare plagiarise Camões! – and on the other with a shame – the revelation that I have plagiarised the explorer-poet with my mock-translation, my ‘Americanism’ akin to that kind of bad habit Ezra Pound initiated by claiming to be a translator from languages he didn’t really know (a habit that has affected subsequent English-language poets much more than poets-translators from others linguistic worlds). Our special kind of imperialism?

Alongside my poem sequence for vocal performance, From a Thorny Place, which was based on rewriting the propositions of Spinoza’s Ethics by using a surrealist re-figuring of its metaphors (following the ideas proposed by the cognitive scientists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson), E is for Errand is part of a querying – a mocking? – of the late 20th Century’s poetry’s cannibalising and of the strategies of Dada, Surrealism and Futurism.

The forthcoming Portuguese-language puppet opera The Bones of the Epic will have a central figure named ‘Jau’ – now absent – who will be both narrator and protagonist. With his name suggesting ‘João’ and ‘Java’, he was the long-serving Javanese servant of Camões and the hero of the 19th Century play Camões e o Jau by the Brazilian poet Casimiro de Abreu.

So, herewith a decomposing, literary work from 16th Century Portuguese verse, via the Internetet and its translating machines, on its way to being the shadow profundity of a yet-to-be-devised Luso-African puppet-opera …

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