Thursday, June 11, 2009

Triumph of the Bill

A while back, Albert Min mentioned to me that Williams’ “so much depends” resonates with the common Spanish phrase “todo depende.” These translational resonances are afoot in my retooling of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers into Los Ladrones de Cuerpos with Williams’ Paterson in the subtitles. I had originally intended to get the dubbed Spanish version, and hack the English subtitles. When a mislabeled BitTorrent served up the original English versions with a Spanish subtitle file, I was initially disappointed. However, by using poorly understood Spanish as the source text, I was able to inject a little more indeterminacy into the process, especially when I kept myself from looking at the actual film (I have yet to watch more than half of the whole movie, even though I’ve been watching it for the last couple months). While I’ve had to shape the subtitles, to a certain extent, to the speed and logic of the image, I’ve not been slavish to these requirements, sometimes gleefully inserting flashes of text that could not possibly be read within the temporal constraints of the film, as if the subtitles were a foreign language, an ambience of exotic chatter. And this is poetry, after all . . . not as foreign to Santa Mira as are the pods. Doctor Miles Bennell not once but twice gives way to reciting some bit of doggerel to charm his constituency; in some of the next episodes, we’ll meet his literary buddies. But Miles—or in the translation, Dr. Bill—does not recognize language’s body-snatching powers for what they really are. He toys with them a little too casually. It thus seems appropriate for the repressed to return in the form of cameos by William S. Burroughs (the police and the psychiatrists, natch) and Jack Spicer (we’ll meet him in future episodes). So far, if you caught them, there was a bit part played by Marcia Nardi, some quick homages to the early subtitle art of Frank O’Hara and Guy Debord*, and nods to The Matrix. Keep your eyes out for other special guests. I’m working on Duchamp and Genet right now. Some early plans not put aside just yet included a William B. Williams character (he’s probably the first DJ, the guy who came up with “Make Believe Ballroom”). While we’re at it, why not William D. Williams (you know, Lando Calrissian?) and maybe William E. Williams, William F. Williams, and a William X. Y. Z Williams? The Bill is in the mail!
By turning William Carlos Williams back to “Carlos,” we can maybe get at some body snatching at the heart of not merely Paterson but Williams’ language practice in general. However, I don’t imagine any return to some authentic resonance with a Spanish origin, but rather hope to multiply the possibilities for movement of the poem. When Danny Snelson was in Seattle this spring, we worked through some of these possibilities with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os for a performance we put together. I have been thinking about these issues a lot since our confabulations, inspired by his particular take on the act of translation. I’m sure if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have tried to translate a poem in Cyrillic this morning. Now that’s hard, although we all know that that the most common English translation of that funny little Russian “x” is “spider-vehicle.”
*actually I didn't realize until now that "Can Dialectics Break Bricks" is Vienet's not Debord's, although I did know that it is more of a redubbing than a resubtitling, even though the subtitles will of course seem at first the locus of detournment to English viewers.

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