Juan Gelman in translation

The Argentinian newspaper Clarín published an interesting story in its cultural section, Ñ (Revista de Cultura), about the translation of poet Juan Gelman‘s text into a sculptural red dress by the well-known Spanish design duo Victorio & Lucchino, which caught my eye because it is an unusual example of what Roman Jakobson has described as “intersemiotic translation,” or transfer from one system of signs to another. Typically this is seen in the translation of a text into a work for stage or screen or into a figural painting, for example, the numerous canvasses dedicated to the representation of Greek mythology.  The dress is on display at the Instituto Cervantes in Madrid.

Gelman, who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Monday, is in Spain to show his support for the work of Judge Baltasar Garzón and receive the prestigious honor of being named “Escritor Gallego Universal” – essentially a lifetime achievement award for writing in Spanish.

Discussing the choice to give the award to Gelman, the Galician Minister of Culture, Roberto Varela, indicated that Gelman

es un poeta con una lírica excelsa, a veces empapada de ternura y otras encolerizada por la injusticia

and stressed his political activism and passion for championing universally held values. Gelman, whose poetry addresses themes of displacement and social injustice (he lost two children to the military dictatorship in Argentina and spent 12 years in exile) and is recognized for its complex relationship to language and lyrical construction, has not been widely translated into English, but a few works are available (two full collections and appearances in various anthologies). I hope to see more in the future.

Another article on Gelman’s being named “Escritor Gallego Universal” can be read here in Spanish.


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