Author Archives: Emily Jean Goedde

Masterful Translation Through Collaboration

Attending the performance at the Hill Auditorium of “Celebrating Tagore: Translations through Music, Dance, and Poetry” last Thursday was a truly incredible experience. It was my first time attending an event at Hill–which in itself is breathtaking–and I was blown away by the passion that I felt from the incredibly talented performers on stage.

Earlier in the day in “22 Ways” class, the choreographer Sreyashi Dey, and the composer–who also played the flugelhorn masterfully at the performance–Ed Sarath gave a sneak preview into the event the class would see later that night. During the presentation, Dey introduced the concept of bhava, which she explained briefly as the most basic and deep emotions of love, sorrow and anger among others. She went on to explain that, “Ideally, the performance creates these feelings in the hearts of the audience members,” adding, “A successful performance is one that is able to bring out these emotions.” And I am very pleased to say that given this measuring stick, the performance was more than a success.

There was one part in particular that I found extremely intense that evoked a deep connection with the performance. In this moment, the orchestra, choir and dancers were all performing with such tempo and liveliness that I noticed my feet tapping uncontrollably, my posture was tense and upright, and my heart was racing. I was feeling the exact emotion that was created on stage. Not long after I became conscious of my bodily and emotional reaction to performers, in an instant, I was slouching forward–head leaned in toward the stage–as the racing tempo was replaced by the slow, calming yet dreary sound of only the stringed instruments and piano.

Due to my lack of familiarity with many of the Indian cultural components, I was clueless to the exact story being told during this transitional moment; but I suspect the details are not of primary importance. Personally, the most powerful aspect of the performance was its unique ability to translate the bhava through singing, instrument and dancing. Reflecting on the experience, I believe this collaboration was exactly what gave the performance the strength to overcome my ignorance to cultural detail and allowed me to feel the emotion of the story.

Translation through Emotion and Imagination

On Monday December 3, 2012, I had the chance to attend the Film screening and discussion with Trinh T. Minh-ha and Sarah Bouyain. It took place at 7:30pm in 2435 North Quad. I didn’t actually have time to stay for the discussion part, but I watched the two clips from the two films.

The first clip we watched was the ending of a film that had both French and Dyula languages spoken in it. I couldn’t understand the name of the movie, I apologize. It was about a girl named Emmy who is of mixed race. She lived in France with her father but is originally from Burkina Faso. She had learned the language Dyula, of Burkina Faso, as a child when she lived in Burkina Faso with her mother. However, upon going to France to stay with her dad, she learned French and forgot Dyula. She decides to come back to Burkina Faso and she stays with her aunt. Neither understands the other’s language and mostly communicate through hand gestures.

I thought their form of communication was a great demonstration of how people actually try to communicate when they don’t speak the same language. They also used another girl as a translator because she spoke both languages. It was interesting to see that even though they didn’t understand the words spoken to each other, they seemed to understand the emotion of the words. It was more of a translation from sounds to emotion. I think that though they don’t understand each other’s language, they can hear the emotion of the words which can convey similar meaning to the original words themselves. There was also the element of silence which sometimes makes scenes more dramatic because it makes you focus on other aspects.

The second film, which I also did not catch the name of, was about 2 girls and a boy that were having adventures through different places. This film kind of confused me, though it might have been because we watched different scenes through the movie and fast-forwarded through parts as well. This had a less serious mood as it had some magic and things in it. I felt that this one depicted translation through imagination. It seemed like imagination coming to life in each different adventure the kids went through because it visualizes something that another person sees. This isn’t really a type of translation I saw mentioned this semester and found it to be interesting.

Although I couldn’t stay for the discussion part of the event, I still feel like I learned about translation in a new way than before. It was a fun event to attend.

-Sasha Kenkre

Tagore or not tagore

Rabindranath Tagore is a Bengali polymath who is known for reshaping his region’s religion and culture.  His poetry and works of art are world renowned and highly praised by many.  On Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege of attending the performance, “Celebrating Tagore: Translations through Music, Dance and Poetry,” honoring the 100th Anniversary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize Winning accomplishment as well as Tagore’s efforts.  The performance included the University Choir, String Orchestra as well as classical Indian dancers.  There were many different groups that went into this collaboration, and it was well worth the effort.

The performance opened with an Indian singer, the orchestra, as well as the dancers performing.  It was so interesting watching the dancers perform, because I do not have a very knowledgeable background on classical Indian dances, so I was learning while the performance was going on.  The dancers matched the orchestra perfectly, and the orchestra worked so well with the singing.  With so many different forms of expression on stage, one might think that it could be too much, but they made it work to their advantage.   The second performance of the night was the most moving to me: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.  Each part of the performance represented a god, whether the music and dancing started slow representing Brahma, or sped up while in Vishnu and Shiva.  During the part representing the Vishnu, there were ten avatars introduced in the dance, each avatar having their own pose represented in the dance.  It would have been harder for me to pick that out the certain moves in the performance if I had not received a preview of the performance the same week.  The dancing is so intricate and detailed, that you have to let it all soak in and not think too much about what is going on and feel the performance.  I was able to pick out certain gods that we had seen in our class and understand the performance more because of the preview we got in class.  The gods were being translated out in the performance through the dancing, music and the songs.  These three art forms worked together so skillfully and in unison to get the full message across to their viewers.

The live performance with music and dance made Tagore’s poetry more meaningful.  Throughout the performance I started to feel emotional and get so enthralled, that I would have not been able to do in just a poetry reading.  All these aspects led to a much greater performance then ever imaginable.  It helped me enter into my own imagination of translating Tagore because with simultaneously on in the performance, I was able to interpret what was going on and how it could relate to my life.


On Monday, December 3rd at 4:00 in the afternoon, I walked into the Rackham Amphitheater, aka the greenest room I have ever seen, to hear a talk about silence. I had never heard of Trinh T. Minh-ha before that talk, but I knew that she was quite famous and it was a rare occasion for her to agree to come and do lectures. When she began her talk, “Speaking Nearby: Voices from Silence,” I was first struck by how softly she spoke. Silence seemed to be present in her voice and, as her talk continued, I realized that it was more than that. Silence was a great part of her life.

We have spent so much time in this class discussing the translation of languages, the translation between disciplines, the translation of works of art, and the list continues. We did not, however, ever discuss the translation of silence. Silence is such a powerful and complete entity. Silence can be translated in countless ways. The ambiguity of silence is stronger than even the most untranslatable of texts. The translation of silence varies between cultures and requires knowledge of context and human emotions. For Trinh, silence in the night meant both the expectation of attack while she was still living in Vietnam during the war, but it also meant peace when she was living in the United States. These differences, however, did not become evident to her overnight. Silence as meaning the “calm before the storm” had completely perpetuated her being. It wasn’t until she was able to take complete notice of the silence that she was then able to place meaning to the differences between the forms. It is in this sense that silence defined her life.

I was then struck by how silent the room was. This was odd in this culture of constant noise and communication. I realized how seldom I take the time to just listen to the silence and, even more, to appreciate the meaning of the silence. I take this opportunity now to reflect on the questions that surround silence. When does silence speak louder than words? How can silence be used? Why has our American society chosen to abandon the practices of silence, except on the large and organized level? How do we gain access to silence? And, above all, how does silence define my life? And how does it define yours?

-Naomi Spoelman

Loud Silence?


     Reading a couple short bios on Trinh T. Minh-ha, I was excited for the opportunity to listen to such an amazing and powerful Asian-American women talk about her experiences that merge together so well with the theme of “translation” we have been looking at from all angles over the course of the semester. Her career has seemed to emphasize “translation through silence”, and as this is a type of translation we haven’t talked about, I eagerly desired to hear what she had to say.

     At the Silence and Translation Symposium, I had the opportunity to hear Trinh speak about her tumultuous past as a young child in Vietnam during a time of incredible political instability and how, as an adult, her past has influenced the way she approaches creative works. She stressed the fact that “Silence communicates meaning, Silence speaks” and led with stories from her childhood, where during the time of the Vietnam War, “Silence in the night took an uneasy presence.”  Previously asking the panel audience whether or not “Silence is translatable,” these stories of her past answered that question for me.

     After the panel ended and throughout the week, I wondered how silence is translatable. To her, it was the fact that during her time in Vietnam, silence was translated into a feeling of uneasiness. As the “calm before the storm,” the halt of the loud sounds of bombs dropping and guns firing only lasted so long. However, how is silence translated in my own life? Similarly, it can also be that uneasy calmness, where nothing is said before you take a test, or before screaming and yelling ensues from an altercation. Yet, it can also translate into some of the happiest feelings one can feel. That silence accompanied by two lovers looking into each other’s eyes, or even that feeling of ecstatic happiness, where all you can do is sit and smile. Thus though there isn’t only one way to translate silence, in my opinion its importance should not be overlooked.

Sicilian and Italian: Two Different Languages

Attending Alison Cornish’s lecture “Translations at the Origins of Italian” taught me a lot about my heritage that I was able to apply to my home life. Her lecture explained the migration of European texts from being written solely in Latin to being written in each country’s vernacular, beginning with the writings of Dante and Bocaccio in Italy. She also mentioned the difference in dialects found throughout Italy.

I can relate to this because I had always grown up speaking Sicilian, a dialect native to the southern island of Sicily. My Nonna and Nonno, who had just immigrated to America and spoke almost no English, would babysit me during the day while my parents worked so I grew up speaking a mixture of the two languages. To this day, my Nonna still understands very little English so we communicate mainly in Sicilian. I had never realized that I was specifically speaking “Sicilian” until  I was able to read. I noticed that the language I grew up speaking was very different from the formal Italian written in my Nonno’s books. This is when I first realized that there was more than one type of “Italian” language.

At first, I assumed that the different dialects found in Italy were similar to the different dialects in the United States. Here, regions like the South have their own slang and use different words (like “soda” instead of “pop”), but the language is generally the same throughout the country and English speakers can transition between the two dialects with ease.

This is not the case in Italy. My Zia Fran, who speaks both formal Italian and Sicilian, describes the Sicilian language as being a more informal version of Italian with its own phrases and slang terms. She has no trouble switching between the two dialects, yet my mother, who has had no formal training in the formal Italian (she moved to America when she was only 6 years old), cannot read or write in formal Italian at all. It is very interesting to me that  the different dialects found throughout the Italian peninsula and surrounding islands are so different from one another that even natives of the country cannot understand other region’s dialects without some kind of training.

It was very interesting to hear Cornish’s point of view on the dialect differences during her translation theme semester lecture. She explained the origin of these differences, which was very enlightening since I never understood exactly why the dialects were so dissimilar. It was also interesting when she showed an RAI commercial in different Italian dialects that was shown to the different regions in Italy. I had never realized that even Italian television operates according to the different dialects.

I have begun studying formal Italian recently and have definitely noticed the difference in the two. My background in Sicilian has given me a very basic understanding of Italian, but it is still amazing to me how different the two languages are from one another. It truly is like learning two separate languages.


Inter-Semiotic Improvisations

The goal of our experiment was to examine the process of inter-semiotic translation. Often when we think of translation, we think of it as being limited to a small realm of language scholars and dictionaries.  We do not regularly think of translation as occurring constantly inside and around us between different media, such as electrical impulses, sound waves, or light rays.   An utterance, for example, manifests as a pattern of neural firings in one person’s brain and translates into the movement of air through vocal chords, sound waves, pressure against another person’s ear drum, and ultimately neural activity in a listener’s brain. We could break this process further down into other intermediary inter-semiotic translations. When a message is translated from one person’s brain to another’s, what exactly is it that gets translated?  In trying to answer this question, Katie and I decided we would do our own experiment in which we would use a NASA recording of the sound of Uranus as the background of an improvised story, which we would then translate into a poem and finally adapt into a painting.

In theory, we can translate anything to anything with the right algorithm.  Some procedure, or algorithm, that maps objects in one set to objects in another set would be necessary. The algorithm that would relate the two sets could be as complicated as we would need it to be.  For example, we use infrared sensors to translate the distribution of heat in the environment into colors of the visible spectrum, viewable on a screen.  Indeed, ocean waves are constantly translating the forces of the environment, such as the moon and the wind, that affect their flow.  Ocean waves are thus translations of the forces of the moon and wind.  If we adopt this disorienting view of reality, in which anything can be translated into anything,  we must shift our focus from the product of translation, and instead look at the process, the algorithm that relates the sets.

With this perspective we are free to observe our own impulsive reactions as translation algorithms.  We started with the music of distant planets as a source text.  This source text, of course, was already a translation to begin with, rather than an “original.”  A few of NASA’s circulating satellites captured the radio signals emitted off of several different planets in the solar system, and so translated electromagnetic radiation into music.  While listening to the haunting, hollow sounds of Uranus, which are easily accessible on YouTube, we improvised a story and recorded ourselves. The goal was to create the story impulsively, live, collaboratively, and without judgment, in order to maintain a dialogic, improvisational character to our reactionary translations.  This was important for blending our voices, both visually and verbally.  The planetary music ended up being both a conversation partner and a setting for our story.

Next, we each translated the story we had recorded and improvised into our own poems.  We then traded our poems and responded visually to each other’s poem.  Not only did we translate our story, which included Uranus as a voice, into poetry, but we also translated it between us in visual form.  In this way, the information of the original story was refracted in multiple ways through our improvisational translations.  It was no longer possible to delineate our voices even within works that we did independently, or to separate the visual and verbal languages.

I was especially inspired by the visual/verbal collaborative experimentation between Allen Ginsberg and Karel Appel and Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers detailed by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean in Improvisation, Hypermedia, and the Arts Since 1945 (175-189.) In each experiment, improvisation was an important element because it allowed for an immediate reaction between verbal and visual media.  The artists could respond to each other as though in a conversation, and the visual and verbal elements were not isolated from each other.  In other words, the artists created an inter-semiotic dialogue that began to merge text and image, in part because of the improvisational immediacy of the response.  In the first pair, Appel drew while Ginsberg wrote in a color of his choosing.  The second pair, O’Hara and Rivers,  created a lithograph with image and text that could be read both entirely as text and entirely as image.  Images acquired a symbolic, referential capacity, while the visual impact of words was also emphasized.    The title of one of O’Hara and River’s collaboration, “US,” merges text and image in this way.

Our visual pieces do have an illustrative relationship with the text we created.  In my painting, Katie’s pin that holds the universe together is attempting to pin down the loose, jumbled network.  In Katie’s painting, the apple core is visibly moving through the space.  The apple core image was something Katie had first uttered in our story.  The pin also happened to be an image I had first described with words.  We ended up instinctively translating the same metaphors we had created, both verbally and visually, but we passed them between each other.

Neither of us can really claim ownership of any of the elements, since they acquire their full meaning within the context of our entire collaboration.  The images are a fitting visual metaphor for the translation process, which is jumbled, messy, knotted, but gets to the chewed-up core of meaning.  Or rather, the core is being thrown out, as in Katie’s painting, because it is not really important.  There is no core meaning, and there is no original work, but only a series of transformations that take place within a person who is making meaning at a moment in time.  Each work is a documentation of a specific transformation in time, and only one of countless possible versions.

In answering the question we started with, “What is translation?” we discovered that there might not be an essential kernel of information, but simply series of reactions.   We are free to play with and observe the transformations that take place all around us  to uncover the hidden ways we make meaning all the time.  We encourage you all to have fun and play!

Uranus is screaming

her siren howl

through a dark hole.

I’m a picture

of a voiceless

gaping scream, forever

falling, a chewed

apple core hurtling

towards a trash

heap of cores.

Drowning in a sea of air that holds us suspended

the sky can’t be pinned down so I gave up trying,

I had been sorting my own shadows refracted on the surface

I hiccuped from lack of oxygen, holding for longer than I needed, lost my footing and fell in to you.


A tingle formed at base of my spine, it caught and ran my back

pulling you in

Pitched together, bobbing in the black water of uncertainty

Expecting to wake, hoping the dream this time would last

As the minnows nibble at the dead skin on my toes

I remember the seeds in my pocket

They shivered, wet against my thigh at the possibility

to grow.

Cultural Learning Through Art- Chatting with Nayda Collazo Llorens

On December 3rd, the Department of American Culture brought Nayda Collazo Llorenz to discuss her work in experimental art and film. I can honestly say that after the “charla,” I have developed a greater understanding and appreciation for both the depth and power of work like hers. Although on a surface level the work may seem similar, when analyzed, the art is deeply complex. I would like to focus on her piece, “Revolu*tion.” The work, a mural on the facade of a church in Puerto Rico, is extremely powerful. The mural consists of solely words and phrases.  Phrases like “the iguanas are attacking” and “the apocalypse is near” are all based on true stories and news from the surrounding area. The fact that the mural uses an old church as its canvas makes the message of craziness and disturbance much more powerful.

In relation to the theme semester, Nayda prides herself on her connection of Spanish and English in her work. Such examples are “Random Triggers” and the “Escaperucita” use both Spanish and English to convey their message. The special thing is that natives of both cultures can understand the power and message of the work without knowing the other language.

In closing, the chat with Nayda was a great experience—one where students had the chance to meet an interesting person and artist, but also a chance to truly experience the power of “Translations.”

Theme Semester Newsletter #11

Translation Showcase, December 10

Welcome to the final week of the theme semester, which begins this evening (5-8) with our Translation Showcase in North Quad! There will be exhibits of student projects and prizes for theme semester contests. Winners listed below!

There will also be an opportunity to play That Translation Game! at the Showcase. The game was created for ipad as a theme semester project, to play inside and outside the classroom. Read more in LSA Today.

That Translation Game! was funded by a NINI Grant from LSA Instructional Technology. The development team was led by Christi Merrill (Comparative Literature) and Johnathon Beals (Language Resource Center), with help from staff and students in LSA and the School of Engineering, the School of Information, and the School of Education, including Hans Anderson, Caitlin Barta, Alex Migicovksy, Evan Moss, Pranay Sethi, Patrick Tonks, and Jen Steiner Tonks.

Upcoming Events, December 10-14

Translation Showcase—see below
Monday, December 10, 5-8pm, North Quad

Global Arabic Poetry Reading—Enjoy recitations in Arabic by the poets themselves and translations into English by Michigan students. Eight poets will join live via videoconferencing: Zainab Laith (Bahrain), Ahmad Al Shahawy (Cairo), Nizar Chakroun (Tunisia), Driss Allouch (Morrocco), Saadiah Mufarreh (Kuwait), Musa Hawamdeh (Jordan), Ibtesam Al-Mutwakel (Yemen), Abdul Nabi Bazzi (Lebanon-Canada).
Friday, December 14, 4-6pm, 2011 Modern Languages Building

Schedule for the Translation Showcase
Monday December 10, 2012

4-6:00 pm Student Exhibits, “Translating Medicine: Medical French” in North Quad Media Gateway
5-6:30 pm Student Exhibits, “Translating Medicine: Medical Spanish” in North Quad Media Gateway
5-6:00 pm Presentation of Theme Semester Prizes in 2435 North Quad
6-8pm Exhibit in 2435 North Quad of student prizes, theme semester activities, and projects for theme semester courses, including the Sophomore Initiative Course: “22 Ways To Think About Translation”

Presentation of Theme Semester Prizes
5-6pm, in 2435 North Quad

Video Contest, sponsored by LSA Translation Theme Semester: Where in your world do you see translation? (Winner to be announced!)

  • Finalist: Miranda Ajulufoh: “Students at UM: Where do we see translation?”
  • Finalist: Madeline Moore: “Kopitonez A Cappella Group: We sing songs in different languages”
  • Finalist: Rena Steed: “UM Undergraduate Composers: We translate silent film into music”

Creative Translation Prizes, sponsored by LSA Translation Theme Semester: Translate a poem into another medium

  • Komal Govil and Unique Moffett, “Tu Risa” (poem by Pablo Neruda “translated” into choreography for two dancers)
  • Ah Sun Kim and Katherine Marion, “Vitamina X” (poem by Luis Llorens Torres “translated” into lullaby for two voices)
  • Anthea Mitchell, “Ape” (poem by Russell Edson “translated” into graphic art)
  • Corey Smith, “l/a” (poem by e.e. cummings “translated” into a musical composition for solo piano)

Theme Semester Essay Contest, sponsored by the Department of Political Science and LSA Student Government: How do you translate justice?

  • Jennifer Xu, Essay on writing an article about autism for The Michigan Daily

Translation Theme Semester Contest, sponsored by the Modern Greek Program: “It’s All GRΣΣΚ to Me!”

  • David Catalan, “Touch of Spice” (translation of a scene from a Greek film)
  • Sundai Johnson, “Where” (poem) Abbey Roggenbruck, “Meditation on Ruins” (essay and photograph)
  • Nicole Sappingfield, “Agora at Thessaloniki” (prose poem)
  • Dimitri Roumanis, “The Pyrgo of Elia” (travel essay)

Theme Semester Prize, sponsored by Contexts for Classics: How do you translate Homer?

  • Ana Maria Guay, “The Parting of Andromache and Hector” (poem)

German Department Open-Book Translation Contest

  • 1st place, Steve Bareis
  • 2nd place, Brianna Felten
  • 3rd place, Nils Stannik

Theme Semester Prizes in Literary Translation, sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature

  • Brianna Felten, “On the Waterfront” (from “Am Ufer” by Heinrich Boll, translated from German)
  • Katherine Klaric, “Bone to Bone” (poetry by Vasko Popa, translated from Serbian)
  • Todd Maslyk, “The Lay of the Nibelungs” (stanzas 913-998, translated into prose from German)
  • Libo Zeng, “Autumn” and “Winter” (poems by Mu Dan, translated from Chinese)

Michigan Daily coverage of “Celebrating Tagore” event

Nobel prize-winning poet Tagore to be celebrated at Hill Auditorium

By MAX RADWIN, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 5, 2012

“He binds with his mace / all things to Law, / imposes the discipline / of metre and rhyme … Age after age after age is slave to a mighty rhythm.” These are the words of Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet, songwriter and painter who this year would turn 150 years old. On Thursday, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance will be putting Tagore’s Nobel-prize winning poetry to its own mighty rhythm in celebration of his birthday.

The show, entitled “Celebrating Tagore: Translations through Music, Dance, and Poetry,” will also be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation, in addition to showcasing the University’s 20-member string orchestra and 90-member choir in their winter concert.

“You’re going to get some incredible solo playing by some of the leading jazz soloists in the world,” said Associate Director of Choirs Eugene Rogers, the show’s conductor. “You’re going to have Ed Sarath, Geri Allen, Robert Hurst … in a solo performance at one time.”

Jazz Prof. Ed Sarath will be bringing back his 1998 piece set to Tagore’s “Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.” Alongside the world-famous choreographer Sreyashi Dey, student organization Michigan Sahana will be doing Srishti dances to accompany the piece. Professor Sarath will be presenting a new composition as well, set to Tagore’s poem “Sorrow Persists, Joy Prevails.”

Tagore was born in Calcutta and started writing poetry in his native Bengali. Only after translating his poetry into English did he gain international recognition, becoming the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in poetry in 1913. In addition to painting and writing short stories later in life, Tagore was also a composer.

One of his songs, “Aguner Parashmani,” will be performed in the show. Demetrius Nabors, a MT&D graduate student, arranged the piece, and Public Health Prof. Mousumi Banerjee will perform a solo in the composition. The show will be an artistic collaboration from many facets of the University, according to Rogers.

“I love collaborating,” he said. “This goes right along with my personal philosophy of what I think students should be doing: not just studying the traditional western canon, but exploring other forms of singing … It all just works together.”

The performance will be presented as part of the LSA’s Translation Theme Semester organized by the Comparative Literature Department, which has encouraged the study of translation through poetry, dance, singing and composing throughout the semester.

“If you really like singing and orchestras and you like dancing, … instruments, and you like poetry — it’s all going be there in one shock,” Rogers said.

Keith Taylor of the English Language and Literature Department’s Creative Writing Program will be speaking and doing a reading at the show, in addition to speaker Amitav Ghosh, the International Writer in Residence.

“It’s everything,” Rogers said of the performance. “It’s truly going to be an evening of all of the arts coming together. How often do you get to see that onstage, really?”