Interview with Bogdan Ghiu, writer, essayist, columnist, mediologist and translator








Bogdan Ghiu began his career as a poet in the 1980s, and became very successful after 1990. He is also an essayist, cultural journalist and commentator, and has written for many magazines, worked for a daily newspaper and several radio and television stations, becoming an expert in « media criticism. »

He has published articles for Ochiul de sticla -Texte privind televiziunea (Glass eye – texts on television ») in 1997. As well, he has written scholarly essays on communication and the post-modern world. Another dimension of Bogdan Ghiu’s intellectual personality led him to take courses with Jacques Derrida in the early 1990s in Paris, and then took him to the philosophical lectures of major French authors of the past century, such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Bourdieu, of whom he has translated many books.

In 2004, he was awarded the « Order of Cultural Merit » by the president of Romania. He has published with Cartea Româneasca, « Poemul din carton » (« The Poem in cardboard ») and readers can read and listen to his poems on the CD accompanying the book, because Bogdan Ghiu is a poet who can be read and listened to with equal pleasure. He is a genuine talent in written and oral forms. This double talent permits him to transmit the flavour and ingenuity of his poetry, whether spontaneous or prepared, in readings.



Poetry is an act of translation, it is architecture.





Rodica Draghincescu: – Bogdan Ghiu: More than a major name in Romanian literary culture. More than a founder of the poetic generation of the 1980s. More than a translator of the biggest names in contemporary French philosophy. More than a representative of La Francophonie in Romania. More than a theorist on the professional practices of translation and interpretation. More than a defender of a literalist practice of translation as a constituting act of culture. More than a columnist – mediologist. An ingenious jack-of-all-trades, with many areas of interest, involved in a variety of domains. A cultural man of action.

Bogdan, in the beginning of that beautiful career, the word was Ghiu’s and the word was in the poem and the poem was Ghiu’s, I would say, paraphrasing the Prologue of the Gospel according to John. Are you a poet above all or after all? Is poetry the source of all your passions, like a horizon structure, a possibility of permanent openness?


Bogdan Ghiu: – You’ve really put your finger on it!! You guessed it, or more precisely, you knew it very well already, better perhaps than I do myself – that’s precisely why we’re talking now, isn’t it? Even (but perhaps, especially) writing all the time, constantly, (only) poetry, one lives and acts as a poet, one spatializes, one spatially metaphorizes poetry, one lives in the metaphor, with a sole difference (as far as I’m concerned) of position and « spatiality, » precisely: poetry is (for me) not at the beginning or the end, not before or after, not above or below, but always BETWEEN: it’s by the BETWEEN that we BECOME. Poetry is precisely the « nothing » that makes you (me) move, shift, pass through, leap, apparently disappear, make way. Poetry is air or water, the little space of freedom, movement, passage and incursion (for others, for strangers, for the unforeseeables). Poetry is an act of translation, it is architecture. In other words, it is wisdom. Poetry restores, remakes the planarity, the imperative ethical « platitude » of the world, its upside-down meaning obliges without any thought of hierarchy.


RD: – And now you’ve written your first book! How did you experience the beginnings of the young upcoming/becoming writer BG? Was your journey as a writer predictable over time? Is there a beautiful story about that, some kind of trigger event?


BG: – I don’t know of it’s a beautiful story, but if « beautiful » means full and above all unique, distinct, mixture of life and history, « lived history, » as Artaud would say (i.e. neither « life, » nor « history, » but « lived history, » « autobiographical animality, » as Mehdi Belhaj Kacem said in his brilliant essay Artaud et la théorie du complot [Artaud and conspiracy theory], (Tristram, 2015), indeed, yes, a very beautiful story. But first of all, I have to say that I’ve never written a book.


RD: – Is that so?


BG: – I compose books, I articulate books, I put together books, but for me each text has the value and ambition of « book. » Therefore my books are always « books of books » and « books from books. » Then, « historically lived » is the fact that I had to begin, because of the aberrations of the politico-editorial system before 1990, three times: twice collectively (first in Cinci [five], in 1982, then in Nouã poeți [nine poets], in 1984 – so you see how my beginnings have been quite marked by arithmetic!) in, finally, a third time, strictly speaking (i.e. individually, like any other author), in 1989, just before the revolution, with Manualul autorului [the manual of the author], which included only one third (!) of the book submitted several years before to the publisher.


RD: – You’re marked by arithmetic…


BG: – I am marked not only by arithmetic, but also by repetition and by more or less « elective » micro-communities. Since then I have never stopped beginning and multiplying myself, passing and leaping, « making » collectives. In addition, that first poetry collection was also marked by a rather interesting phenomenon, which I called « censorship through addition, » not by subtraction: to finally be admitted to publication, I had to overcome my fear of censorship through my unrelated texts, without predictable context, I was therefore advised to add titles, spatial and temporal locations, and recipients, therefore all kinds of « my loves, » i.e. specifying the general tension of addressability underlying all my poems, my need for poetizing. Beautiful history(ies), right?


RD: – Writing a book is often a vital need for expression. A book is not inevitably intended for publication. Or quite the opposite, it is necessarily intended for publication and the public. The level of requirement is never the same. In the former case, it’s a possibility of freeing oneself or healing oneself of one’s fears and concerns or constructing truths for oneself. In the latter case, a work intended for readers, for the public. What do you have to know before starting to write a work? What are the questions that you ask yourself before you start to write?





BG: – Writing is really always for publication. Not publishing in time is very harmful to the texts and the writing, because you tend to come back to them endlessly, and that rehashing becomes unhealthy: a trap, a vicious circle. I am what you might call a « serial » poet, working in « bricks » and « blocks, » who writes rather rarely but each time a lot, in « drafts. »


RD: – Do you revise your poems?


BG: – I never revise my poems, I never come back to them, I always write them again, as many times as necessary, I defer them and I string them together. I don’t set myself any problems « before » writing, for me there is no « before » writing, one writes all the time, in all directions and sometimes literally. As I already mentioned, I have never written a book, like The Book, books are not written, but rather are composed, fitted together, constructed, « architectured. » Books – poems, essays, everything – they are rather exhibitions or installations, when I write I see myself, I tell myself that I am producing material, and when I « curate » books, I act rather, therefore, like a « curator, » like a « commissioner » of an exhibition, an agent between the writer and the publisher. But that’s maybe why I don’t write prose. Prose, a novel, as a book, yes, that is written as you say.


RD: – In Romanian literature, BG has left a textual imprint made up of the philosophy of dislocation, deconstruction, de-signification, the tearing apart of the signifier, a kind of leap to the philosophical perch above the transgression of the poetic approach. A multidimensional linguistic world (backwards textualization of the poem toward a conceptual landscape). A writing based on and revolving around lived words and as such given as points of view, in the manner of the gaze that submits to the author and defines the poem. Bogdan, is originality something that is or can be earned? And what about style, writing techniques?


BG: – Always as a « lived history, » I have been forced into originality, I was original « by default. » At the very beginning, 40 years ago already, during the period of the Monday literary group, I had to stop writing ascetically, heroically since I had been writing for a year to differentiate myself from my brilliant colleagues such as Traian T. Coșovei, Ion Stratan, Florin Iaru, Alexandru Mușina and Mircea Cãrtãrescu. When we came together to remake Romanian literature, no more, no less, in 1977, when I started university, I was already writing, without knowing it – a matter of the Zeitgeist, if you wish – like them, and so I had to immediately stop producing poetry. At the end of almost one year of silence, of a-poetry, I re-emerged with poems that were non-poems, the space between the poems, they said (and they always say) to quickly make « meta-poems, » I had been graciously relegated outside poems, placed outside poetry (as it was conceived and written at the time – and ever since) – and that there, that included outside, which I had to write and which I have been writing ever since. I don’t write poetry, I write in poetry, toward poetry (!), I write to it, I write to poetry. « Style » is intensity, the transmitting and transposing, the telegram, the tribal signal. No technique of poetry, the poetry is the technique, but a technique of life, an art not so much of living well, but just living(!).


RD: – The critics say that your poetry relies on a goldsmith’s craft. How do you feel it?


BG: – Perhaps, but a goldsmith who at least intends to invent the objects that he shapes. But no, I’m not at all like a goldsmith, because, as I said, I’m not obsessed with objects, with perfecting them, I produce quickly, I toss out (publishing means throwing yourself on the public thoroughfare; creation is much like garbage, I even wrote that once in an « Essay on garbage ») and I pass along, like a « plein air » painter, and it’s precisely the movement of this passing that writes, that is writing. And so then I am unifying everything into « phrases » or « utterances » at a higher level, which people have to give themselves the time to read, to perceive. With my books of poems or essays I practise a kind of land art, you have to take the airplane of imagination to see what is being written with what has been written. The poetry is written, the writing is written in the plan, and that’s why to write means issuing each time a plan (of battle and of life), have a plan planned, in the grand plan of life and world. I am therefore instead a counter-goldsmith, I write instead to profane – the silence, the silenced, the forbidden. I silence the silenced (as the imposition of silence, suitability of silence) by saying « silenced » to it, by con-voking it.


RD: – Your books of poetry have the precision of a scalpel. A refined, minimalist world, dominated by reality, emptiness, nothingness, and their essential objects, where the poet is king of absolute waiting. A poetry of awakened consciousness and its utopias. The words outline sentimental inventories and the poet seems to be a cultivated, sensitive torturer.

What are the words that trigger for you and in you, such poetic processes?


BG: – Thank you for your astute observation on my duplication, which I was trying to define, along another dividing line. It’s rather the position of the words that induces me to write, their arrangements in a space that does not precede them, but that they form together. Not the positions of the words with respect to other words, but the position that the words, all together, define or rather that a little « initiative committee » of words is proposing to the world, to the whole of words. It is this situation, this position, or this suggestion, proposition, promise of a position that makes me write, to try to develop, to build, to see what is being proposed, what is being constructed « as a model. » Poems are ontological models, political programs. Because they are always, as we know, crapshoots (in the face of the world, of history), I practise a kind of « logomancy, » I look at the position of the words a little as omens that I immediately after (in fact, simultaneously) take very seriously, by trying to take it to its conclusion, to extend its line, to build it, to simulate its existence in the face of the world. I write to put the words into a prophetic situation. But I have to be honest with myself: I am more the « interpreter, » the « exegete, » the « engineer » than the embodied Chance Architect (the « Chancitect » or « Chancitext ») of the word-situations exposed by my poems.


RD: – Throughout your poetic works, some of which I know almost by heart, there is the same army of words and the same « arms, » but each time, you wage a new fight and above all you give them new meaning. A bitter struggle between reality and the imaginary of thought « after the fact. » Your poetry psychoanalyzes the already said and already done and the between the 2 of being. In your poems, the present is worse than a past, it is the abstraction of the lack of future. How do you combine your life with poetry? And vice-versa, dare I say.


BG: – Thank you once again for your wonderful observations! The same army (finite, but always more limited, decimated by life) of words for new struggles (from life and world), it’s an extraordinarily good find! Or rather the opposite: the same battle with fewer and fewer words, given that they are permanently corrupt, compromised, used against themselves as lies, killed in their relationship with reality. Yes, I, we, write to « combine » our lives with poetry, to try to live the famous « one, » to be not Being, but of Being, to make being be, therefore combine it by putting in open, plural, unexpected combinations. However, that can only be experienced by writing oneself. When one writes it, it is already being written, and life is only « deferred » or out-of-phase writing. One writes to see and to re-feel what one experiences, in order to live well (i.e. intently, truly, really), to write yourself what is written, to enter writing, to take part in it. But let’s say that because of this « placement, » sometimes I live a little in order to rest, to step out of, precisely, that life of word(s). Therefore I live by « dying » to life-writing, to « viviwriting. » But that is an error, of conception or perception, I don’t know.


RD: Is the act of writing, in poetry, in a way an act of self-translation?


BG: – Well that, for me, has become THE question. I have already written, as you know, a book about that (Totul trebuie tradus. Noua paradigmã (un manifest) [« Everything must be translated. The new paradigm (a manifesto)], Cartea Româneascã, 2015), and I am working on another on the explosive educational, formative and research potential of translation seen as a procedural model. But here we have to be very, very careful not to fall into cliché, into the falsely obvious. Translation and in particular translators are a bit in fashion now, but this simplifying excess of fashion should be read as a symptom of hypercompensation of the millennium, of the structural occultation, marginalization, secondarization of translation and the translator. The true revolution, not only cultural, but political, ethical, « habitational » (how to inhabit the Earth, the space as such), would be recentring on translation, and it is precisely perhaps because of this peril, on the horizon of the danger of this true possible revolution that we throw the idea of translation into the arms of fashion: in order to evacuate it, to bring it into the indefinite cycle of forgetting that necessarily follows bedazzlement. I therefore reject all haste, all simplification, all « nuancide, » all « clichéization, » all « sloganization » about it.



       Copyright : LAURE LEDOUX
       Collège International des Traducteurs Littéraires, Arles, France 2012



RD: – Does writing sustain the action of translation?


BG: – Writing is steeped in translation, it is saturated with it precisely because translation is BETWEEN, where I have also found myself positioned, being. Our « viviwriting » is terrestrial (and hence territorial), but translation is aquatic, maritime, aerial. There is and there will be translation everywhere, but the modelling, the precise, precious paradigm of translation has to remain inter-linguistic translation, i.e., the border made and guarded, cultivated, to be permanently passed by, surpassed in every sense. We must not dream, attempt to avoid or « skip » translation, like the illusion that we are presented with today through the promises of automated translation. That would mean unburdening ourselves of translation, it would mean eliminating the other, the others, politics and ethics, since translation is precisely the opportunity to finally bring the two together. Translation in its inter-linguistic sense is the most difficult, the most restrictive, and the most common and the most « trivial »: contingent. We are territory-beings or possessions demarcated by the limitations of even relative, « uncrossable » untranslatability. No, we are, as shown brilliantly, for example, by Tristan Garcia in his Nous [we] (Grasset, 2016), bundles or « piles » of identities, we are ourselves living borders, border beings, « territories » of limits in passing, in translation, at the same time lines of separation and lines of passage – lines of editing, lines of production (it’s the title of one of my recent books on – or rather with – contemporary art). But lines that do not compose portraits, we are abstract in ourselves and others, monsters of abstraction and barbarians of abstraction, unfigurable, while politics has to continue working in the mimesis of representation (the nation as « realistic, » i.e. recognizable landscapes-and-portraits). We live in translation and as translation. We are translators and translation. To « play » once again with the words, we are « êtraductions » [« beinglations »]. Writing « comes after, » arises from those possibilities that we are taught to live with as limitations, as frustrations, as priva(tiza)tions.



       Panel on translation, ICR, Stockholm, Sweden 2017



RD: – When you write, do you translate yourself oneirically?


BG: – In order not to drown and dissolve – and therefore fail, lack, lose – translation in a kind of « all-translation, » I have to instead say that when I write I am not translating myself per se, but I devote myself to translation, the translator is always (an) other, I therefore always depend on the other as translator, I am in his power to save me, to carry me across the border (which is always a border of being, the crossing of which marks the entry into being), to lead me to the expression of « myself » by « betraying » myself, by translating. I expose myself to the other so that I can translate myself. It is always the other, an other who translates. Translation is the included Other of the culture: the only operator of universality. When I write, I abandon myself to the other. Translation is a « social » obligation: each one depends on an other-translator and is an other-translator for another. « I » is barbarian, idiomatic and glossolalic, incomprehensible without the translation of others, without the other as translator (without « otherlation »). That is why I said before barbarians of abstraction.

In addition, I have to recall the wonderful words of Édouard Glissant, « I write in the presence of all the world’s languages. » That is what poetry is, writing as poetry: the co-presence of all languages in writing poetically conceived and practised, trans-translation. And that is what makes possible effective translation, strictly speaking, which constitutes the other « intensive » side of translation.


RD: – As a matter of intimacy, musicality, language games and forms, of rhythm and breath, poetry resists translation. And yet poets are translated more than novelists. How can you translate poetry while keeping it intact and without worrying about inaccuracy?


BG: – This is a difficult question, because it raises a lot of problems that are related to the most fixed, most weighty tradition (imposing because it is weighty, deafening because weighing down), marking thus a kind of relapse or at least a swing back: just as, in politics, the fears maintained and cultivated (they make a « culture, » as one speaks of the culture of mushrooms, for example) to return the old leaders to power. This type of disparaging, fearful accusation against translation is the expression of a kind of cultural populism. Therefore no, poetry does not have to « resist » translation, it is, as I have already said, in translation and in view of translation, it already speaks « transversally, » « intensely » all languages, across all languages, rediscovering the « linguistics » of and in all languages. If not, we would not have this impression of betrayal, as if the primary text was an Order, a Commandment, a Law.


RD: – Is it?


BG: – I think not, or else I, at least, I would just stop. Everything. Simply everything. And the « original » would smother and die alone and sad, invisible, from not being, precisely, translated. It would die the way a dead language dies.





And then, it’s absolutely normal that what is the most impossible to translate, the most « untranslatable, » is the most translated. But this fact is not a sign of powerlessness, but of wealth, I don’t understand why we should complain about it. Quite simply because the question of « damages-and-interest » with respect to translators is a lesson we are taught in school and an everyday litany in the dominant culture. Translation is one of the main « discontents of culture, » to quote Freud’s famous words, in translation in the text (psychoanalysis being, precisely, an enormous attempt at therapy, healing through translation, which as such has always provoked so much « resistance »: we have to be patients).

There is no need in literature (or in fact, anywhere, only in ethics) to talk about « exactness » or « intactness, » about « intacticity, » it is precisely on the margins, through the play of differences that we transmit anything at all, always in multiple ways. (Literary) culture is « broken telephone. »

And after all, why do we say « translator » instead of « author of translations » or, even more simply, « writer of translations »? Tell me! And be sincere! And honest!



       Translation workshop, ICR/CNL, Paris 2016



RD: – There, you’ve dotted the i of the verb WRITE, or written it as a capital letter. In fact, how would Bogdan Ghiu define the translation of a literary masterpiece?


BG: Another literary masterpiece, even more so, all the more so, we could say. With only one alteration, an essential one, that THE translation does not exist, there are TRANSLATIONS, in the plural, resistance to translation coming precisely from this « affront » that it inflicts on claims of originality and of originarity by multiplying the « original, » thus marking it as a creator of peoples. Could you write or even say anything without translations? It is already language, or languages, that are, essentially, structurally, the results of translation, that is, « mistakes » and « inexactnesses, » it is precisely those non-adjustments, those dis-adjustments that offer the possibility of literary culture. Because there are « translation errors, » we write, let’s say, to remedy them, to remake the truth. Otherwise everything would already have been said and written, and then we would finally be « exact » and « intact. » In other words, once again, dead.


RD: – Could there be a philosophical negotiation of translation?


BG: – Yes, with translation, and in particular with the translation of poetry, we are in full – I wouldn’t say « philosophy, » that presupposes a more or less well-ordered discourse one could formulate – in the fully « philosophical. » By translating, poetry especially, we « act, » we « perform, » we « act » philosophically, we become true philosophical animals, true animals of thought, whose thought is « fierce » instinct, everything we do and everything we see therefore is « philosophy, » we lead true « philosophical lives. » We can, of course, « objectify ourselves » and make a discourse, philosophical discourses, on philosophy about it, but through poetry-translation we are, let’s say, already eminently in the « philosophical. »


RD: – With respect to the author-subject, where is the translator-subject situated? In duality? In the shadow of continuity? In the beyond the Other? In the turning point?


BG: – On what I call a « production line » or a productivity line, which is a line of translation-modulation, the idea, the schema (and even the theory) of which I have presented and begun to discuss in a couple of experimental books, Linia de producție. Lucrând cu arta [« The production line. Working with art » (Tact, 2014), not translated into French, and Totul trebuie tradus. Noua paradigmã (un manifest) [« Everything must be translated. The new paradigm (a manifesto), » not translated into French]: pre-linguistic auto-translation, intra-linguistic translation (or intra-idiomatic, better known by the deceptive, ideologized term, « communication »), inter-linguistic translation (or translation « strictly-speaking, » which has to remain, because of its difficulty, the matrix of all translation), intermediary translation (between what is called – or designated – the arts), inter-cultural translation (close to what is presented, between the West and China, by philosopher/sinologist François Jullien), inter-religious translation (or theology as traductology, at least the great monotheistic religions « of the Book » being « translations, » and here we must remember at least the work of Jan Assmann). Translation is (meta-)(archi-)translated.





With the essential, fundamental, structural act of translation, we are not in the realm of copy, replica, repetition, reproduction, mimesis (all impossible because « inexact »), but in the multiplication, the dissemination, the spinning off – in the living that is unpredictable and each time remarkable, therefore plural, in all senses and in all directions. We move, we live, we meet each other and we produce: as us, now and always.


RD: – What is the main task of a good translator? And how do you become one?


BG: – « The task of the translator, » according to the inexhaustible phrase of Walter Benjamin, is to ensure, as he says, the « survival » of the work. That is what the responsibility of the translator, or translation as responsibility, consists of. We are, as translators, those mainly responsible for an author and a work, which, by the very structure of literature, which presupposes, as Blanchot said, absence and death, non-presence as a « motor » of communication, is in our hands and in our power: exposed, the most exposed that there is.


RD: – What is a good translator?


BG: – Good translators are steadfast, mobile, cheerful and above all honest, who do not try to hide, to gloss over the difficulties of their work, but, quite the contrary, expose them to discussion, they are authors, but, as authors, they are several, they work in multiplicity, on a « production line » that is, in fact, a translation line. An infinite one. Good translators are exceptional researchers, producers of knowledge and techniques, of unique, remarkable, irreplaceable craft. No one, in the domains of culture, does the research that a translator does, and no one invents the techniques, processes, procedures, etc. that a good translator has to invent, a true translator, any being who begins to translate, therefore any being. We are now at the precise moment where the activity of translators is starting to be seen as research in itself, distinct, where we feel the need to establish their work as heritage and to study their archives, the traces of their research that is not like that of others, and where we are beginning to build autonomous schools of translation (like the one imagined, in a ground-breaking work by Olivier Mannoni under the auspices of France’s Centre National du Livre [national book centre]), organized as encounters among translators themselves, therefore not (only) as master classes on translation attached to universities, which have played and still play a decisive role. This is the moment when translation is made school, proposing itself as the School itself – this is what I’m working on myself now, preparing a school of literary translators (« literary translation » not being the translation of literature, but what is not to be confused with « technical » interpretation and translation: translation considered and practised, « in itself, » if you wish, with everything that that « in itself » of translation might have that is paradoxical) as Schools of the School. The headline or the general motto under which I work now is: (At) the school of translators, in the name of which I have already organized a real little conference, a panel in 2017, at the Salon du Livre de Paris.



       Copyright : MARIUS CHIVU
       Tescani, Romania 2007



RD: – Translation from one language to another is a long journey toward more or less unknown horizons. The concern of good translators is to reduce as much as possible the gaps between the source language and the target language. They seek to show their loyalty to the author, an artistic loyalty, not a literal one, they offer themselves to make the voice of the author heard, with all its intonations and ambiguities. The French translation of Umberto Eco’s book, Dire presque la même chose (Grasset 2006), is subtitled « traduire, c’est dire presque la même chose » (« to translate is to say almost the same thing »). (The phrase does not occur in the English version, Experiences in Translation (University of Toronto Press, 2001, 2006, trans. Alastair McEwen)). That almost hides all the questions translators ask themselves, and all the frustrations they face. How far can that ALMOST go?


BG: – I remember a witticism of my teacher (you can tell, can’t you?) Jacques Derrida, who once said: you have to aim « just to one side, » no not just right, exactly, but to one side, but not just anywhere to one side, but just to one side. The almost infinite of translation also reminds me of a « messianic » outline of rabbinic thought quoted by Giorgio Agamben, in The Coming Community (translated from the Italian by Michael Hardt, University of Minnesota Press, 1993), which recalls that Walter Benjamin, remembering, in turn, having heard Gershom Scholem say it, wrote in Spuren: « The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different. » This is the « reductive » or « inaccurate » interpretation-« translation » by Benjamin of an overview otherwise broader and more incisive outline by Scholem, who had said, « told » – and we are now in full « hearsay » or  » broken telephone, » therefore fully in the tradition of « acted, » « performed »: « A rabbi, a true cabalist, said one day: In order to establish the kingdom of peace, it is not at all necessary to destroy everything and give birth to a completely new world; it is enough to barely move this cup or that shrub or this stone, thus making something completely different. But this barely is so difficult to achieve and it is so difficult to find its measure with respect to this world that men are incapable of it, that is why the coming of the Messiah is necessary. » That is what translation is. The translator is a secular Messiah, an « any one » but acknowledged, literature itself being a « second » world, a world remade and saved, a barely world.



       Copyright : TUDOR JEBELEANU
       BG on the terrace of the Museum literature of Romanian, Bucharest, Romania 1996



RD: – What authors have you translated who have shaken up your literary consciousness, your « literarity »? Charles Baudelaire? Henri Bergson? Jacques Derrida? Giles Deleuze? Antonin Artaud? Michel Foucault? Pierre Bourdieu?


BG: – I translate (write with) thinkers-writers, people who cause/make language think, and writers who make us think, « performers of thought, » as I once said. Good, high philosophical animality, therefore. And therefore Jacques Derrida, because deconstruction is an idea of translation in action, which I am seeking to develop and « translate » practically, strictly speaking, and in theory. And Deleuze, Deleuze-Guattari, Foucault – but I’m going to devote a little more time to the great monster of thought, Artaud. In translating, I have always done my studies in public, each translated book is a diploma, and I bitterly deplore and vigorously denounce the disqualification and non-recognition of translation, philosophical, for example, in the new University knowledge police, which prefers, guiltily, to promote paraphrase, require quotation and, in doing so, « subtle, » « policed, » plagiarism, i.e., the repetition and reproduction of privatized and financialized, commodified knowledge, while carefully and hypocritically avoiding the infinite educational, liberating and empowering possibilities of translation, while diverting the new arrivals of translation, which reconcile pragmatism and ethics, which are therefore above any politics. The next school, the revolutionary school, if you wish, will be around translation. Or will no longer be a school, but something else.



       BG & Jacques Derrida & Ciprian Mihali, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2001



RD: – We are in the midst of economic, political, cultural, etc. globalization. We can already state that in recent years, globalization has even become obsolete. It is unjust and the source of all evils in our society – including economic crises, cultural conflicts and ethnic migrations. In culture, globalization leads to the erasure of diversity. We speak more and more often of a globalizing hyperculture that affects languages and cultures. In all that, translation is a vector of interculturality, a tool that is both intercultural and sociological. Bogdan, what is the position of translation, literary or not, in this ecosystem?


BG: – You could say that we translate more than we write, for a simple reason: there is a kind of « Hollywood effect » in world literature, which does not mean « Americanization » in the old sense, but is based on the fact that there are more and more authors who write explicitly to be translated, who « pre-translate » themselves, for example, by avoiding specific characteristics or by cultivating only the ones that could « become fashionable » at a given moment. Paradoxically, it is sometimes cinema, not literature, though idiomatic, that is able to propose particular, idiomatic styles (I would avoid saying « national »). But we know very well that in the publishing world there are huge disparities and enormous asymmetries between the English-speaking world, for example, which is translated but translates others very little, and post-hegemonic cultures such as France, which is said to be the most translating, perhaps, of contemporary cultures. Translators are the fundamental junction, the essential component of that whole global mechanism, but in many cases – in Romania, for example – they are actually mistreated. Translation is like the Holy Spirit: everywhere and nowhere, and more and more authors become « translators, » by writing already-translations, at the same time as advances that are not technological, but literally mathematical – more precisely, algorithmic – apply their pressure toward automation on living and lived translation, on the humanizing experience, an ethico-political de-« machinalizing » of translation as a living experience.



       BG & Ioana Craciunescu (Romanian actor and poet)



RD: – The phenomenon of internationalization…


BG: – But, generally speaking, I think that this phenomenon of « internationalization, » which could herald the beginning of another era, should also be observed in its positive aspects in that it is becoming more and more normal to be translated « automatically, » « simultaneously, » to be already translated, to exist, as an author, at the same time and simultaneously (or very shortly after), in several languages and cultures, to become, therefore, a plural, multiple author. Translation, multilingual existence through others, in translational co-writing with others – translators – production-translation coextensivity becomes the new normal of the writer’s existence, being translated is no longer an exception, a kind of prize, a happy accident, but already constitutes the new condition (and situation) of the writer. We can no longer conceive of literature other than as being translated, in translation, the translation permanently accompanying the « original » as its shadow – or its double – always projecting it forward and to one side, which could lead to a decisive step in the « objective deconstruction » of very traditional politico-economical concepts, despite all the criticisms and the « destructions » they have had to face, as « author » or « original. » How many originals? Translation, the fact of being translated, multiple, relaunched, « re-origined » through translation is now part of the project, of the program, of the action of a book; translation is no longer (only) a « survival » of the work, as Benjamin said, but already its very life. Which does not mean that we are all « automatically » translated. But it is in these terms we should begin to see ourselves, to conceive ourselves, to understand ourselves and to act as writers. The history of literature becomes more and more its geography, books become spaces, they are spaced out, they spread, create worlds within the world. True rhizomes, to confirm what Deleuze-Guattari said. What happened in the visual arts – the movement from history to geography, its cartographical « turning point » – is happening, already, in literature too. The only danger – great but, ultimately, insignificant –would be the possible cynical desire of some for the opportunistic instrumentalization of this phenomenon.


RD: – As an author, I have attended many international book fairs, and everywhere the translation sector remains economically fragile. Are translators the poor relations of literature? Why this publishing policy that is reticent about the act of translation of our contemporaries?


BG: – Yes, translators continue to be the poor relations of literature, even if they attract more and more attention, are discussed more and more, made more visible, but that only because of the pressure of present time, the Zeitgeist of which is more and more in translation, as a kind of temporary concession. As translators, we have to come out of our isolation, we have to come together, meet and work together, as a school, for example – we have to create a school – we therefore have to act as if we were a sexual, religious, ethnic or other minority, while being a majority, the speaking and communicating majority, we have to recognize one another as translators, « translate » ourselves as translators; We therefore have to wage a struggle for recognition, we are a minority in the production of knowledge, the carriers (not yet very conscious of themselves) of an enormous and even « explosive » cultural potential. Translators find themselves, currently, in the position of the Marxian proletariat of the nineteenth century: the « precariat » par excellence.


RD: – In an interview in the press, you stated: « Trapped in self-referentiality, Europe is getting lost. A rebirth renaissance can only come from the ‘peripheral’ cultures, whose move toward Europe is still recent. » Is there really a Europe of translation? If so, would translation be a form of liberation for the languages and voices of Europe (the program of the Traduki international network, etc.)?


BG: – Eastern Europe finds itself in a situation homologous with translation, the countries that recognize themselves there are like translation, on the margins but between, between the imperial (and imperious) blocs, obliged to forge for themselves and negotiate their own independence and sovereignty through all kinds of « translations » that are micro- and even nano-liberating, that benefit precisely from translation’s margin of non-identity. The new imperialism has matured and no longer wants to occupy and colonize, which is no longer possible economically, but to have itself replicated more or less identically through a local, submissive, « plagiarist » self-governance that does all the work instead of the masters (that is sometimes called « self-colonization, » but I try to avoid false assumptions and false recognition – a Bergsonian concept! – regarding situations). We Romanians, for example, have experienced Ottoman-style imperialism, which economically delegated and designated power in local elites that could only become all the more tyrannical and oligarchic, but through « patriotism, » as being « ours, » not « foreigners, » « invaders. » What an illusion! Translation is (like) the situation of Eastern Europe, and thus an example of interest to the world. It is to show this, too, that I am working. In my view, one of the missions of eastern Europe, as a doubly marginal periphery, therefore not excluded, but conflictually included, is to demonstrate the liberating potential of translation – for the whole of humanity!


RD: – In your volume of essays, with the very explicit title Everything must be translated, you state optimistically: « In the current global culture, translation occupies an ambiguous position. » Debates on translation are also as old as literature. To translate, to be translated or to translate oneself? Are translators authors themselves? What are the main pitfalls to be avoided?


BG: – The main pitfalls in all this enormous conversation are, as I said already, the false assumption, the false recognition. We have to judge the situation of translation according to translation itself, on its own terms, not according to a tradition of translation that would like precisely to continue to minoritize and dominate translation while exploiting it – literally – but without promoting it in its true place, without recognizing its true position and its true role. Culture should not be destroyed, but refocused, translated « messianically » according to, precisely, that barely or almost or just to one side we talked about above. Culture should be translated according to the principle of translation itself. Without revolutions or rupture, but barely.

Concretely, I don’t encourage self-translation, translation by authors themselves of their own already written, and that for one simple reason: I find this kind of translation impossible, or fatal. When we translate, we inevitably change, we rewrite. So translating yourself to rewrite yourself, yes, but otherwise, no: there are translators for that, the translator is always an other. But to experiment, to « duplicate » oneself, to experience oneself in multiplicity, in translation, in order to do creative research (but not « creative » in the sense of adaptation and submission), to change your mind by yourself and try to root out the flatly, stupidly metaphysical clichés on the originality and the originarity of the creation, yes, we absolutely have to try self-translation. To write oneself as if one were translating (oneself): multiply other, therefore highly educational.





RD: – To conclude our discussion, Bogdan, I again quote BG: Art teaches us first and last how to re-construct ourselves, i.e., how to come closer to and assume the principle of human constructability, reaching nevertheless the state of objects, becoming subjects, always collective, some with and by others, together, always (excerpt from the article de-clic(k), atelier ouvert. L’Art (un) manuel d’utilisation (quelques fragments sur la requalification du travail [trigger, open workshop. Art (a) user’s manual (a few fragments on the requalification of the work)], in L’Observateur culturel, Bucharest, 15 September 2017). I sense you are a well-structured and motivated author, a theorist of committed speech and action. Do words, written or spoken, commit us as much as actions?


BG: – « When to say is to do »: we remember the phrase. I would say even more, because actions are « silent, » don’t « say » anything, in other words they are not self-denouncing. But if we speak, we are already in the public domain of the law: the one who speaks is, through the simple fact of committing himself through speech, a legal subject, a subject of law. Because, at least in Western culture, the law is not shown, not sung, not drawn, not danced, but written. When I said that « Everything must be translated, » I was saying, more broadly, more generally, Everything must be written, precisely to go beyond irresponsibility, the words spoken or written being the Law that establishes itself and commits itself to respect itself. Ideally, of course. The « translation »-transposition in writing as « intermediary translation » constitutes, in fact, the principle of my collaborations with artists: I am trying to formulate in terms of Law and even of Constitution, therefore of ontology, their « silent » gestures, to make them even stronger and to oblige society to take them into account. I force both « the work » and « the public, » by trying to enforce the Law of the former and to make them, all, sign a contract, to make them be social, I oblige them to be political, i.e., to gather together, to « join, » as Deleuze-Guattari, once again, would say. Writing comes close to the Law, because the Law is written. I meta-translate, therefore, what artists show us, I try to say what is seen, more precisely what is shown, in the arts yesterday vaguely called « plastic, » today (for a while) « visual, » since they are the arts of showing – that I am striving to duplicate, to support through demonstrations. Just like literature, trapped these days by the ideology of the « story, » of « history, » of « storytelling, » in described reality, made of images, being therefore rather of the order of sight, of the visual, of the visible. I try to force, through legal passage through words, people to see what artists show, to make people see, but they prefers not to look, not to see, i.e., to silently overlook, not to « translate » into words, therefore into action, into revolt and into causally inevitable moral commitment – we already know this, thanks to the rage of the huge artist Alfredo Jaar, who prefers to hide, temporarily bury (but perhaps for all of History) the images of terror in the world that people prefer, choose, decide not to see. It is at these junctions that I like to work.



      With Gao Xingijan by Andy Spot



RD: – What are you doing for the Other (the challenges for the humanitarian actor, culture of the other, culture of otherness)? What don’t you do for You?


BG: – I try to think and write as accurately as possible (even though, for that, in a one side that I am searching for, that I measure all the time), that’s all. That is, I try to translate: for the other that I translate and for the others for whom I translate. I therefore try at the same time to do Law and produce spaces of liberty, the margins of liberation in and through the Law: the Law as liberation from encounter, like liberation from responsibility. Yes, that’s right: liberation from responsibility, because we are held to be irresponsible, we are kept, we keep ourselves shut in, confined in irresponsibility.


RD: – Paraphrasing Henri Bergson, I would like to add at the end of our conversation, this thought, this wish: May the future no longer be what is going to happen, but what we are going to do with it! What new future projects is Bogdan Ghiu planning?


BG: – My immediate projects are to finish the projects I’ve begun, in order to be able to finally go on to actual projects. Which are also ongoing projects, projects of explication, of formulation, of simplification, of radicalization, of enunciation of what I have already done, stupidly, as a living person: to observe myself and describe myself as an animal of writing, as a producer of symptoms of life and reality. To show life signs of life.



Translation: Howard Scott (Canada)




Interview conducted by Rodica Draghincescu




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