‘Energy is Art’s force’: Dan Disney in Conversation with Joyelle McSweeney

By and | 15 September 2022

DD: The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults surveys with astonishing acuity so much 20th century art promulgating that ontological skepticism. In the chapter, ‘Translation, the Slavish Mold, the Filthiest Medium Alive’, you critique Matthew Barney, Hannah Weiner, Andy Warhol, Divine, others by way of arriving at a consideration of mediumicity, wherein ‘[t][he metaphor of translation is used almost compulsively to describe multimedia Art, an Art that’s ‘translated’ from medium to medium’. Switching from thinking of mediums to materialities, and keeping in mind your own co-translations with Don Mee Choi of the work of Korean modernist exemplar, Yi Sang, I wonder if you can talk a little about what is important to you in shifting between languages: what is translated? I am thinking (again) of Benjamin, who defines inferior translation ‘as the inaccurate transmission of an inessential content’ … to flip this, then, if translation is the accurate transmission of an essential content, what was essential in the Korean source that found its way into the English language? What was lost, and what was discovered or invented?

JM: I think in terms of the Korean itself, and the Japanese, that’s a question better answered by Jack Jung and Don Mee Choi and Sawako Nakayasu, the primary translators. But then there’s the question of what impulse of modernity and modernism did Yi Sang’s poetry and art ‘catch’ from the world at large, and from Korean society, and from the Japanese occupiers, and how did his Art act like a kind of dynamo, capturing this energy, amplifying and converting it among media and means of phonology and inscription, radiating it outwards again to delight and trouble the fabric of existence ever since, in Korea, on earth, beyond? This radiant, flexing, signaling pulse is still shocking in his work today. It’s an energy signature which I as a reader and translator am especially attentive to. That’s why, in working as a co-translator of the prose, Don Mee called upon me to perform such cheeky, Yi-Sangian tasks as creating a lost ‘original’ for an ostensible Cocteau quote. That’s what translation is: it continually bends and re-bends the light of Art, without ever losing its intensity.

DD: In terms of intensities, on your website, the pull quote asserts ‘I love spectacle, overload, magic materials, magic words, incantation and litany, incarnation and possession, spilling and wounds. Art as a sacred event’. If art is sacred, what do you find to be sacrilegious?

JM: I think these words are bio-identical, and biohazards. Necro-identical, and ‘necrohazards’. I am an orthodox Bataillean in my thoughts about the sacred. Something is made sacred by being sacrificed, being destroyed. This is the edge at which Art always exists.

DD: Thank you for these brilliantly persuasive, erudite, considered responses, Joyelle McSweeney! I hope readers of Cordite rush toward your important work. A final, simple question: which contemporary poets-in-translation are you reading / recommending? Which emergent poets (in translation, or English-language) are you excited by most recently?

JM: I am currently moved to tears by Antonio Gamoneda’s Book of the Cold, translated by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodríguez Núñez, and by the forthcoming translation of Lara Dopazo Ruibal’s claus and the scorpion, translated from Galician by Laura Cesarco Eglin. I adored Writing with Caca by Luis Felipe Fabre, translated by JD Pluecker, as well as their previous collaborations. The upcoming Action Books title Zakwato & Louglêdou’s Peril, by Azo Vauguy, tr. Todd Fredson, is going to crash into the Anglophone poetry world like a stone on fire. And Zumbido, Enrique Winter’s translations of Emily Dickinson, recently published by Editorial UV (Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile), is a work I’m dying to spend more time with.

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