Arguably, there have been three major media transitions that altered how the written word was produced and consumed in the West. Historians of the book have demonstrated that transitions from scroll to codex, codex to print, and print to “networked and programmable media,” have each in their own way transformed writing and reading. ((N. Katharine Hayles, “Translating Media: Why we should rethink Textuality,” The Yale Journal of Criticism 16.2 (2003): 282.)) With these transitions there also came new aesthetic practices. Print technology, for instance, had a fundamental impact on the phenomenon of the novel, and its fortunes as a literary genre are closely tied to material changes in modern book production in the eighteenth century. ((Peter Hinds, “The Book Trade at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Eighteenth-Century Novel, ed. J. A. Downie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 7; John Feather, A History of British Publishing (London: Routledge, 1988), 150.)) In our current age, the so-called born-digital literatures, while refashioning important aspects of the medium of the book and film, are putting into practice new textualities and poetics, including of translation. ((See Rebecca Walkowitz, Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature (New York: Columbia University press, 2015).)) Conversely, these same digital media have prompted a rethinking of print repertoires, as evidenced by literary works that play with the multimodal possibilities of digital technologies in the “old” medium of the book, such as Anne Carson’s Nox (2010), which is as much an exercise in poetry translation as in media translation. ((Nox translates Catullus’s poem 101 and presents the original and her translated fragments in a book whose overtly digital surface so incorporates analog sources (crumbled pages, handwritten and typed notes, and Xeroxed and pages) and pre-print forms (scroll, codex) as to make the overall result “un-Kindle-isable” as Carson puts it. See Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, “Re-vision as Remediation: Hypermediacy and Translation in Anne Carson’s Nox,” Image and Narrative 14.4 (2013) 20-33. For an image of the book, see <http://accordionpublications.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/anne-carson-nox-new-directions-new-york.html>.)) Such interplays demonstrate how old and new media perpetually remediate each other, a point that Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin derived from Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” ((Bolter and Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999); McLuhan, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), 15-16.))
If media play a constitutive role in shaping literary output – that is, transform the matter, form and content of literary writing – might this not also be the case with regard to literary translation? It is evident that the computer generally, and machine translation specifically, have engendered new kinds of “translation-arts.” ((Examples include John Cayley’s digital translation-poems, such as “translation 5.5” or RiverIsland; or conversely in print form, machine-translation experiments such as Mark Amerika’s Locus Solus (2014), a cut-and-paste remix of the proto-surrealist novel by Raymond Roussel of the same name.)) But what impact have older screen-based technologies had on literary translation? I am thinking here not only of film, but also its precursor media. Although historians of the book and reading have paid some attention to the media transitions that occurred when animated and projected images first began to rival the print medium, the implications of the shift from print to screen cultures seem to feature more prominently in media and film history. ((See, for example, David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, eds, Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).)) For instance, with the arrival of cinema, critics feared that motion picture technology was a threat to the continued existence of literature and would lead to the demise of reading culture, ((See Anton Kaes, “Literary Intellectuals and the Cinema: Charting a Controversy (1909-1929),” New German Critique 40 (Winter, 1987): 7–34.)) while others sought to bring outmoded reading practices into line with modern film-viewing. ((For instance, Bobby Carlton Brown’s reading machine proposed in 1930, which would enable literature to be absorbed more quickly.)) Crucially also, as recent research in Victorian and Modernist visual studies has suggested, film and its precursor media gave rise to a host of new literary forms of expression, frequently referred to as proto-cinematic literature. ((David Seed, ed., Literature and the Visual Media (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005); Julian Murphet and Lydia Rainford, eds., Literature and Visual Technologies: Writing after Cinema (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).))
Drawing on such studies, this essay gives a snapshot of the mid-Victorian period to address the ways in which Edward FitzGerald, wittingly or unwittingly, co-opted optical media into his translational practice and theory. His stance on translation – like that of his contemporary Dante Gabriel Rossetti – while imbued with older cultural beliefs and practices, such as the transmigration of spirits and souls, is also strikingly contemporary when it comes to one of the key media technologies of his age: the magic lantern. My focus on these little noticed connections between translation and optical media is intended as a step towards a more comprehensive media history of translation that pays attention to translation not only in the familiar contexts of oral and written cultures, but also in visual and screen cultures.
Metaphors of Mind and of Translation
As Friedrich Kittler has shown in Optical Media, there is a “historical tendency to employ technical media as models or metaphors for imagining the human or the soul.” ((Kittler, Optical Media, trans. Anthony Enns (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), 35.)) This is evident in the ways in which mind has variously been described as a wax tablet (Plato), blank sheet of paper (Locke), palimpsest (de Quincey), or camera obscura (Leibniz). ((Plato, Phaedrus, trans. H. N. Fowler (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1925), 405-579; John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 104; Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an Opium-Eater and Other Writings, ed. Robert Morrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 135. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding. Abridged Edition, trans. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 145.)) From the late eighteenth and right through the nineteenth century, as optical media proliferate, references in literature and philosophy to Hirngespenster (Kant’s “brain phantoms”), mind as magic lantern (Schopenhauer), kaleidoscope (Butterworth) or phantasmagoria (Yeats) appear and disappear like the ghostly apparitions themselves, and in direct proportion to these media’s popularity. ((Immanuel Kant quoted by Stefan Andriopoulus, Ghostly Apparitions. German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 11; Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), 153; C. H. Butterworth, “Overfeeding,” Victoria Magazine 14 (November to April 1870): 501; William Butler Yeats quoted by Terry Castle, “Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie,” Critical Inquiry 15 (Autumn 1988): 48.)) Sometimes even dead media resurrect, as in a novella from 1952 that features the zoetrope as a metaphor for mind. ((Theodore Sturgeon, “Baby is Three,” Galaxy Science Fiction 5.1 (October 1952): 17.)) The twentieth century updates mind in tandem with its own Leitmedia: mind as photographic apparatus (Freud), cinema (Andreas-Salomé), and computer circuit (Turkle). ((Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 5, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1953), 536; Lou Andreas-Salomé quoted by Stephen Heath, “Cinema and Pychoanalysis: Parallel Histories,” in Endless Nights, ed. Janet Bergstrom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 26; Sherry Turkle, The Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 9.)) These shifts suggest, first, that cognitive functions such as thought and memory are successively remodeled in accordance with historically specific media and, second, that as technologies multiply, so do our models for understanding mind.
Translation, too, has been subject to a host of metaphorical regimes. In Western discourses many of these, unsurprisingly, adhere to the term’s Latinate roots in transferre and focus accordingly on the species of transition translation is. Apart from spatial metaphors that foreground carryings across, organic ones that emphasize flowering, or corporeal metaphors that compare translation to a corpse, a carcass or a reborn body, there is also a metaphor-set that highlights mediality. ((Theo Hermans, “Metaphor and Imagery in the Renaissance Discourse on Translation,” in Manipulation of Literature, ed. Hermans (London: Crook Helm, 1985), 103-135.)) One such group, rooted in a Judeo-Christian tradition, includes oral metaphors that stress “utterance” and “acts of speech,” drawing as they do on the myth of Babel as a story of the multiplicity of tongues. ((George Steiner, afterword to After Babel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 471.)) Such metaphors hark back to an oral culture, whereas scriptural metaphors that cast translation as a form of “rewriting” belong to a chirographic and typographic culture. ((Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. Translation, History, and Culture (London: Pinter, 1990), xi.)) Among this array of medial metaphors are also those that foreground an ocular or optical dimensions. While not immediately or obviously related to what a translation is or how it presents itself, they nevertheless reveal important facets of translation’s history and materiality. These are chiefly metaphors that have to do with vision and visibility: window, glass, mirror, portrait, photograph, lamp, and cinematography.
Translation is regarded as a “pane of glass” ((Norman Shapiro quoted by Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation (London: Routledge, 1995), 1.)) that is transparent and seemingly unmediated, “in a glass” ((Sir Edward Sherburne (1701) quoted by T. R. Steiner, English Translation Theory 1650-1800 (Assen/Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1975), 35.)) or as a “mirror” ((Anonymous review (1792) quoted by Venuti, Translator’s Invisibility, 74.)) that reflects and thus verifies even as it inverses the original, as a “portrait-painting” ((Stephen Barrett (1759) quoted by T. R. Steiner, English Translation Theory, 38.)) that produces either an idealized copy or a distorted likeness, a “daguerreotype” with “a certain stiff […] fidelity,” ((John Stuart Blackie (1861) quoted by Susanne Stark, “Behind Inverted Commas:” Translation and Anglo-German Cultural Relations in the Nineteenth Century (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1999), 84.)) or a “photograph” that merely replicates a two-dimensional image. ((Ezra Pound quoted by Venuti, Translator’s Invisibility, 187.)) Some images foreground visual perspective, evocative of eighteenth-century practices of painting as in “taking a view,” or cinematography as in “zooming.” ((Matthew Reynolds, The Poetry of Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 6, see especially Part IV.)) Others stress gradations of light and shade: negatively, when translation is regarded as the “shadow” of a sparkling original, subdued “candlelight” as opposed to bright “sunlight,” or conversely as illumination or the means by which to bring something forgotten or hidden to light. ((John Florio (1603), Joost van den Vodel (1660) quoted by Hermans, “Metaphor,” 115.)) These metaphors are linked not only with particular scopic regimes but also with specific media that variously frame, reflect, project, refract, or diffract. Translation is filtered, as it were, through media that let in light, disperse it, throw shadows, and/or create illusions. As one might expect in the Victorian period, receptive as it was towards spiritualism, and from a translator who regularly partook in séances, ((See J. B. Bullen, “Raising the Dead: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Willowwood’ Sonnets”, in The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, ed. by Matthew Bevis (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 429-444 (432-3).)) Rossetti’s medial metaphor turns into a “mediumistic” one, ((This term is used by Cecil Day Lewis, On Translating Poetry. The Second Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture (Abingdon: The Abbey Press, 1970), 22.)) when he compares the translator’s task to Aladdin’s search for a magic lamp, thus bringing together translation, technology, and the supernatural. ((Rossetti, preface to The Early Italian Poets. From Ciullo D’Alcamo to Dante (London: Smith, Elder and Co, 1861), x.)) The connection with the supernatural in “mediumistic” metaphors ranges from translation as spirit-channeling as advocated by FitzGerald and also by Ezra Pound, ((FitzGerald, “Letter to Cowell,” in The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald, Volume 2: 1851-1866, ed. Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 335; Pound, “To A. R. Orage,” Selected Letters: 1907-1941 of Ezra Pound, ed. D. D. Page (New York: New Directions, 1971), 149.)) to the translator as a “ghost” inhabiting two worlds “but belonging fully to neither.” ((Michael Emmerich, “Translation, Ghosts and Metaphors”, In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, ed. Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 50; Douglas Robinson, Who Translates? Translator Subjectivities Beyond Reason (New York: State University of New Press, 2001), 82. For a brief history of divine inspiration as well as a post-rational account of spirit-channeling, see Robinson’s fascinating book.)) Here, mediums and media are, as it were, kindred spirits. ((On the link between media and mediums, see Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media. Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2000).))
Metaphors tell us a great deal about the ways in which translation has been perceived and understood, just as their historicity tells us of changes and shifts in those understandings and perceptions. Francis William Newman’s 1856 remediated metaphor for translation is a case in point, not least because it grasps the impact of photographic technology on the fine arts: “we need a translation executed on the principles rather of a daguerreotypist, than a fashionable portrait-painter.” ((Newman cited by Stark,“Behind Inverted Commas,” 78.)) The shift from the artisanal to the mass-produced, entailed by this statement, not only implies that translation should be addressed to the “unlearned public” rather than the select scholar (which is entirely in keeping with Newman’s democratic, anti-elitist impulses and stated aims elsewhere in his work), but suggests additionally that readers be given a naturalistic representation to enable them to judge the work for themselves, unmediated by the flourishes a “painter” might add. ((Newman, “The Unlearned Public is the Righted Judge of Taste” (1861), Western Translation Theories, ed. Douglas Robinson (Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 1997) 256-258 (256).)) Medial metaphors thus disclose the shaping of self-consciousness by those very media that mediate it, and in which the history of its self-recognition – the mediology of spirit – is recorded. They also reinforce Kittler’s claim as to the role that technical media play in shaping the workings of mind and memory, or indeed the fruits of mind’s labors – one of which is translation.
“Media determine [the translator’s] situation”
The idea that media technologies are internalized by the mind, or as Walter Ong puts it, have been “interiorized, incorporated into mental processes themselves,” ((Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy. The Technologizing of The Word (London: Methuen, 1982), 172.)) and so shape how thinking itself thinks of thinking, and how thinking thinks about the human brain, presents a serious challenge to humanism and its tendency to put the human at the center of all things. In media-philosophical terms this is best encapsulated by Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation about his typewriter: “Our writing instruments also work on our thoughts.” ((Nietzsche, “An Heinrich Köselitz in Venedig,” in Briefwechsel. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Vol. III.1: Briefe von Nietzsche: 1880–1884, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1981), 172.)) This dictum, re-emphasized by Kittler, suggests that our instruments or tools are not merely technical support, but have the power to “enframe,” altering the character of what is thus enframed. ((Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. and intro. William Lovitt (New York and London: Harper Colophon, 1977).)) Here, it is not Geist (spirit, soul, higher consciousness) but instruments, tools, and “media,” as Kittler famously puts it, that “determine our situation.” ((Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. and intro. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), xxxix.)) In other words, we cannot think without or outside of media technologies; they environ thought and mediate it accordingly. This is why they shape cultural practices like writing, reading, translating etc.
The simple idea that media set the framework not only for the ways in which we write, or translate, but also shape the matter, form and content of this writing, becomes a complex history when we consider how and in what ways media transitions effect changes in the self-conception and practices of writing and translating. Elsewhere I have addressed the constitutive role that technologies have played in the history of Western translation in the media contexts of oral, scribal, and print cultures, largely drawing on insights from book history. I showed how translation changed over the course of history in accordance with the material and technical resources at its disposal. ((“First Steps towards a Media History of Translation,” Translation Studies 4.3 (2011): 261-281.)) A related line of enquiry concerns the effects on translation of the predominantly visual mediascape that emerged rapidly in the nineteenth century, is most readily associated with cinema at the turn of the twentieth century, and remains active with the computer screen at the turn of the twenty-first century.
Thomas Elsaesser’s point that cinema has become “part of us” and that “there is no longer an outside to the inside” because “cinema [is] in our heads,” entails that cinema shapes not only minds or “mindsets” but also forms of cultural expression other than film. ((Elsaesser, “The New Film History as Media Archaeology,” Cinémas: Journal of Film Studies 14.2-3 (2004): 76, 107.)) The self-conscious borrowings of filmic techniques, especially montage, in works by John Dos Passos and Alfred Döblin bear this out; as do the parallel, converging interests of literary modernism and cinema in T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. ((See David Trotter, Cinema and Modernism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).)) That film inspired, even invigorated, literary practice is also evident in the postmodern appropriations by fiction writers Thomas Pynchon, Angela Carter, and others, of qualities so readily associated with cinema, such as surface, depthlessness, and simulation. If we accept that there is such a thing as film-infused literature or filmic literature, might there not also be such a thing as filmic translation? Here, Christopher Logue’s War Music (2001), freely translated from the Iliad or Norbert Hummelt’s Das öde Land (2008), the most recent German translation of The Waste Land (1922), serve as two such examples of translators deliberately drawing on cinematic images and techniques. For instance, Logue uses establishing shots followed by close ups to set particular scenes, thus structuring his translation in accordance with filmic techniques. Both Logue and Hummelt also draw directly on cinematic images: Logue calling to mind gangster films, and Hummelt re-recording an aural memory of an eighteenth-century song into a visual memory of a Hollywood film from 1990 when he translates Eliot’s line “When lovely woman stoops to folly” into “Wenn Pretty Woman sich getäuscht hat” (“When Pretty Woman has fooled herself”). ((I have addressed this in “‘In the Beginning’… an Intermedial Babel,” SubStance 44.3 (2015): 112-127; see also Reynolds, The Poetry of Translation, 220-234.)) Similarly, filmic techniques are at play in innovative digital translation-works, such as by the artist collective Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries that use the affordances of digital mediation to blur the lines between literature and film. Using flashing techniques derived from film and film-related media (e.g., photographic, tachistoscopic), their multilingual online translations make visible the translation process on the screen. ((See Jessica Pressman, Digital Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 78-100.))
In the context of this essay, however, the salient question is this: if literary translation, like literary writing, has adapted to film culture, in what ways did optical media mark literary translation during the period that defines the prehistory of cinema? A considerable body of work in art history, film and media history, and in nineteenth-century literary studies has suggested that the literary and fine arts were finely attuned to emergent projection, screen, and motion picture technologies, which had become sufficiently culturally important to be appropriated by, and incorporated into, poetry, novels, and other aesthetic forms. ((Notably, Lynda Nead, The Haunted Gallery. Painting, Photography, Film c.1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Helen Groth, Moving Images. Nineteenth-Century Reading and Screen Practices (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).)) If optical media are discernibly present (whether as theme, motif, or metaphor; as structuring technique; or as aesthetic principle) in a range of literary expressions and genres – such as novels by Dickens, plays by Strindberg, or poems by Tennyson – it would seem reasonable to assume that this would also be so in works of and on translation. ((See Grahame Smith, Dickens and the Dream of Cinema (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); Walter Baumgarten and Thomas Fechner-Smarsly, eds., August Strindberg. Der Dichter und die Medien (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003); Isobel Armstrong, “‘The Lady of Shalott:’ Optical Elegy,” in Multimedia Histories. From the Magic Lantern to the Internet, ed. James Lyons and John Plunkett (Exeter: The University of Exeter Press, 2007), 179-193.)) Resting on this assumption, therefore, this essay explores the ways in which the magic lantern, especially in its phantasmagoria form, marks FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám both structurally and aesthetically. Here we should keep in mind Lynda Nead’s point that “art, magic and technology overlapped continuously in this period.” ((Nead, Haunted Gallery, 85.)) In pinpointing “the conceptual bond that brought these elements together”, namely, “the theme of metamorphosis – the possibility of visual transformation, of the transmutation of inanimate objects into living flesh,” Nead foregrounds issues that should be treated as significant for understanding the relations between translation and mediality in FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát. ((Nead, Haunted Gallery, 88.))
The magic lantern, with its parade of ghostly and shadowy figures, is a machine that produces apparitions and illusions. It is also a filter through which world, mind, and creativity is understood. When FitzGerald compares the lantern with the medium of the book, it is clear that the lantern creates little more than a short-lived and fleeting experience. Referring to a popular novel by Benjamin Disraeli that is read out aloud to him – a phrase echoed in the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s “Gerontion” – FitzGerald remarks:
Altogether the Book is like a pleasant Magic Lantern: when it is over, I shall forget it: and shall want to return to what I do not forget, some of Thackeray’s monumental Figures “pauvre et triste Humanité,” as old Napoleon called it: Humanity in its Depths, not in its superficial Appearances. ((Edward FitzGerald, “Letter to Anna Biddell,” Letters, Volume 3: 1867-1876, 328 (emphasis added).))
The passage makes explicit hierarchies between good and bad novels (a bad novel is as superficial as the magic lantern spectacles) and between major and minor media (optical media are “light-weight” compared to the Leitmedium of the book); yet it also brings together media and memory. While the print medium is capable of imprinting itself on one’s memory, the magic lantern show merely leaves a hazy impression and is therefore as much about the forgettable as about forgetting. Optical media nevertheless do exert a hold on FitzGerald’s (optical) unconscious, as is clear from his writings elsewhere. ((Walter Benjamin uses “optical unconscious” to describe how photography mediates experience and structures perception, see “Little History of Photography”, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 2, Part 2, 1931–1934, trans. Rodney Livingstone et al., ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1999), 510-12.))
In a manuscript note reprinted in Hallam Tennyson’s memoirs of his father, FitzGerald claims to have recalled a recital of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” – a poem that itself is a “thesaurus of optical images” with “its own optical consciousness” – through the lens of an optical device. ((Armstrong, “Optical Elegy,” 179.)) FitzGerald states:
Well I remember this poem, read to me, before I knew the author, at Cambridge one night in 1832 or 3, and its images passing across my head, as across a magic mirror, while half asleep on the mail coach to London“in the creeping dawn” that followed. ((Quoted in Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson. A Memoir. Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 116.))
That “Fitzgerald was fascinated by optical technologies,” as Michael Nott points out, is evident also in other personal writings where memory of multiple incidents is described in similarly proto-cinematic ways. ((Nott, and the Problem of Translation in FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát,” Victorian Studies 58, 4 (2016): 662.)) For instance, FitzGerald describes something he saw as “an almost obliterated Slide of the old Magic Lantern,” and elsewhere, he makes reference to Louis Daguerre (who found a way of capturing fleeting images from the camera obscura by fixing them on glass) when he describes a memory he had as “all Daguerreotyped into the mind’s eye now.” ((FitzGerald quoted by Nott,“Photopoetry,” 662.)) That this “venerable Remembrancer,” as FitzGerald self-described, ((“Letter to E. B. Cowell,” Letters 4: 1877-1883, 343.)) in effect accesses memory by way of optical media is grist for Kittler’s argument that the wax tablet might have served Plato as a model for memory but has since “technically advanced and transformed.” ((Kittler, Optical Media, 35.)) Revising the point slightly, it is not that the lantern slide is technologically superior to the wax slate; rather, magic lanterns are not dead media (the wax tablet is dead – although of course it is remediated and lives on in the magic writing pad, iPad, etc.) but vibrant and alive in the public and private life of FitzGerald and his contemporaries.
Thus, Josh March reminds us of the lantern’s ubiquity “from the 1860s to 1890s, when perhaps twelve hundred lantern lecturers criss-crossed the county by railway and lantern companies splurged on studios, supplies and slide catalogues that were the size of bricks.” ((Marsh, “Dickensian ‘Dissolving Views:’ The Magic Lantern, Visual Story-telling and the Victorian Technological Imagination,” in Cinematicity in Media History, ed. Jeffrey Geiger and Karin Littau (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 21.)) And stressing its cultural importance across Europe, Tom Gunning points to its multiple uses:
The lantern show was adapted to every possible task of entertainment and instruction and adopted by a huge range of institutions and practices from travelling entertainments, to temperance lectures, to the promotion of both religion and science and the conveying of distant lands and current events to masses of people. […] The magic lantern was the first medium to contest the printed word as a primary mode of information and instruction.” ((Gunning, introduction to Laurent Mannoni, The Great Art of Light and Shadow. Archaeology of Cinema, trans. and ed. Richard Crangle (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), xxvii.))
Perpetually modified and upgraded since its first appearance in the seventeenth century, the magic lantern is essentially a box that by means of a natural or artificial light source, refracted from a mirror through a magnifying lens, projects shadowy images onto a surface. Although its motion effects were merely a “sideshow to its key roles,” as Gunning is careful to point out, its capacity for projection (making images appear suddenly, enlarge or retreat, and vanish) and its facility for dissolving views when used in tandem with another lantern (resolving one image into another perfectly orchestrated) are among the techniques that inspired early cinematography. ((Gunning, introduction, The Great Art of Light and Shadow, xxvii.)) They are also techniques that inspired literary imaginaries. FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát is just one of many literary works to make direct reference to the magic lantern show and to evoke, though latently, its formal and aesthetic logic.
Attributed to the eleventh-century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyám, the Rubáiyát is a collection of rubá’i or quatrains, each representing an independent poetic unit. Their arrangement – not unlike the slide-show of the magic lantern – is “flexible and recombinant in its design,” a structure therefore that “does not inherently resist revision by the knitting of stanza to stanza.” ((Christopher Decker, introduction to Edward FitzGerald, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: A Critical Edition, ed. Decker (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1997), xxxii. For a detailed account of the poem’s authorship and transmission history, see this introduction.)) It is also a structure that lends itself to loose translation and retranslation. Of these Omarian quatrains, FitzGerald rendered some, but not all, in what is widely regarded as a free translation; in his own words, translating “none literally,” and “generally mash[ing] up two – or more – into one.” ((FitzGerald quoted by Decker, introduction, xxxvii.)) Much of his Rubáiyát is mediated from Persian into English via the Latin version he produced first; and much of it he retranslated obsessively between its initial publication in pamphlet form in 1859 and its fourth edition of 1879. The pamphlet (which he self-financed and which appeared anonymously) failed to sell. Discovered by the Pre-Raphaelites, championed by Rossetti, parodied by T.S. Eliot, and admired by Pound, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám remains one of the most popular, if academically neglected, works in the English language, available in a staggering number of different editions.
For Adrian Poole the “secret of its appeal” is the “playful spirit,” in which the poem presents its otherwise grim and fatalistic subject matter about the arbitrariness of life, shadowed by the inevitability of death. ((Poole, introduction to FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: Popularity and Neglect, ed. Poole et al. (London: Anthem Press, 2011), xxi.)) This levity is evident in quatrain XXIX (1879):
Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing. ((Throughout this essay I refer to the critical edition by Decker.))
The Rubáiyát’s metaphysical probing of life and death and of endings and beginnings makes metamorphosis central not only to its themes and its recombinant structure, but also its retranslations by FitzGerald (and others’ adaptations that live off those retranslations). That is to say, the poem is about “the uncertain continuance of life after death” just as translation is; ((Reynolds, Poetry of Translation, 269.)) after all, while in Benjaminian terms, translation constitutes for the original the possibility of continued life, it is by no means certain how much of an original lives on in translation. ((Walter Benjamin, “Task of the Translator,” Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (London: Fontana, 1973), 73.)) What translation and the magic lantern share is that both are media for animating the dead or returning them to life.
The Rubáiyát not only “embrac[es] the inevitability of change” but “oblivion” too, as Erik Gray explains: “the poem is so concerned with the transformation of dead selves – how everything dies only to be reborn in different shape. Every rose was once a king; every lost friend is now grass on which we sit; and we shall soon be grass for others.” ((Gray, “Forgetting FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát,” Studies in English Literature 41.4 (2001): 771, 775.)) On the one hand, the poem is cyclical, beginning at dawn and ending at dusk. On the other, the perpetual cycle of life and death in Gray’s reading becomes, more appropriately, “an example of recycling” given the “constant changes that bodies undergo:” “the garden has a lap (XIX), the river has a lip (XX), and so does the earthen urn (XXXV), which is capable of speaking and kissing.” ((Gray, “Forgetting FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát,” 776. The references are to the 1879 edition.)) Daniel Schenker surrealistically suggests that “the Rubáiyát remains a veritable butcher shop of dismembered flesh: eyes in the earth, runaway moving fingers, and organs of speech all over the place.” ((Schenker, “Fugitive Articulation: An Introduction to the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam,” Victorian Poetry 19.1 (1981): 57.))
The foci on, or “close-ups” as it were of, body parts like “The Moving Finger [that] writes; and having writ,/ Moves on” (LXXI, 1879) uncannily recall the lanternist trick of enlargement, which Horace Walpole knew how to deploy so well in The Castle of Otranto (1764) with its numerous references to oversized limbs: a “giant” of a “hand,” a “gigantic leg and foot.” ((Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 37, 102.)) Walpole’s novel not only initiated the Gothic genre, but it did so by drawing on the magic lantern tradition of the floating or disembodied head. Such heads (a famous example being the floating head of Benjamin Franklin that magically transformed into a skull) appeared out of thin air, seemed to advance by the trick of enlargement, and disappeared again “by seeming to sink into the ground.” ((See Castle, “Phantasmagoria,” 38, for an eyewitness account of Paul de Philipstal phantasmagoria show of 1802; see also Groth, Moving Images, 139.))
Similarly, the ever-changing focal perspectives that FitzGerald deploys in the Rubáiyát from earth-bound (“Ground,” “Garden,” “Grass”) to skyward (“Heaven,” “Moon,” “Stars”) and back down, and back up again (“Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate/ I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate”), repeat the operations by which the magic lantern show dispenses with a stable, central perspective in favor of shifting and multiple perspectives (“the Tulip […] from the soil looks up;” “The little Moon look’d in”). ((See FitzGerald, Rubáiyát,IV, V, CI, XLIV, XC, I and XXXI (1879).)) But more than that, the perpetual transformations and dissolutions that Gray picks up on, I want to suggest, not only intimate (coming back to Lynda Nead’s point) “the transmutation of inanimate objects into living flesh” (“Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn,” XXXV), but also “the possibility of visual transformation.” Put differently, I am suggesting that there is something distinctly “lanternist” about the succession and dissolution of images in this poem. What Herbert Tucker calls the “rapid-fire delivery and ready solubility” of the poem’s metaphors, what Annmarie Drury sees as the poem’s preference for “interruption and rapid metamorphosis over continuity,” whereby “one stanza typically offers little hint of what the next may contain,” giving instead “flickerings of inter-stanzaic pattern,” and what Nott describes as the poem’s restless serving up of images, “conjur[ing] sights that are dismissed, modified, refracted, or postponed as rapidly as they are introduced,”are characteristics that are also visible in the techniques of the lanternist, whose slide arrangements present viewers with a succession of unconnected, although not unrelated, images. ((Tucker, “Metaphor, Translation, and Autoekphrasis in FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát,” Victorian Poetry 46.1 (2008): 71; Drury, Translation as Transformation in Victorian Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 155, 157; Nott, “Photopoetry,” 662.))
Indeed, Coleridge chastised Goethe’s poem Faust, ein Fragment (1790) on precisely such grounds, blaming its lack of cohesion on lanternist techniques: “there is no whole in the poem; the scenes are mere magic-lantern pictures.” ((Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “February 16. 1833,” in Specimens of the Table Talk (London: John Murray, 1836), 197.)) That such techniques should also be operative in Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) is perhaps not surprising given that the poem “evinces a complex parodic attitude to the Rubáiyát.” ((See Drury, who draws on Vinnie-Marie D’Ambrosio’s argument, “‘Some for the Glories of the Sole’: the Rubáiyát and Fitzgerald’s Sceptical American Parodists,” in Popularity and Neglect, ed. Poole et al., 194.)) Its fragmentary structure, which Leonard Unger aptly describes as “a series of slides,” each containing an isolated image, seemingly draws on FitzGerald’s lanternist aesthetic. ((Leonard Unger, T. S. Eliot. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers No. 8 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970), 22.))
The point is that Eliot sees something in FitzGerald that remains obscure to FitzGerald scholars. Despite Tucker’s exploration of ekphrasis, or what he calls “autoekphrasis,” the poem’s depiction for instance of “alternate Night and Day” (XVII, 1879), so readily applicable to the magic lantern’s alternations of dark and light displays, is not read through the prism of optical media, but through another medium: as signs of “printed textuality,” with night signifying “[j]et ink” and day signifying “white paper.” ((Tucker, “Autoekphrasis,” 79.)) Similarly, the lines “We are no other than a moving row/ Of visionary Shapes that come and go” (LXXIII, 1879), which literally refer to lantern-projected phantoms (as we shall see below) are treated by Tucker as an “allegory of reading” and interpreted as textual marks on the page: “alphabetic strings” activated by the motion of the eye during reading. ((Tucker, “Autoekphrasis,” 80.)) Equally suggestive as well as revealing is Drury’s deployment of the term “flickering” in relation to the poem’s structure. Despite using a term that is “the tell-tale signature of the lantern” and that captures accurately what is going on in the poem, her insight reveals a blindness, as Paul de Man might have said, to the ways in which optical media are arguably operative in the poem. ((Paul Carpenter, “Mimesis, Memory, and the Magic Lantern: What Did the Knock Witnesses See?” New Hibernia Review 15. 2 (2011): 105-6.))
In his edition of FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát, Daniel Karlin suggests that FitzGerald makes manifest the phenomenon of the “translator as editor,” basing his insight on FitzGerald’s unusual practice of customizing his own library books, even paintings, literally, with scissors and glue. ((Karlin, introduction to Edward FitzGerald, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, ed. Karlin (Oxford World’s Classics, 2009), xxxviii-xxxix.)) Editing here is understood as both a hands-on cutting and pasting and a textual practice; editing also, however, belongs to screen practice, whereby separate images, one might say, are “most ingeniously tessellated” into a larger picture, or chain of pictures. ((FitzGerald uses this term to describe his translational practice, see “Letter to Cowell, Letters, Volume 2: 1851-1866, 323, see also 294.)) Arguably then, apart from undertaking interlingual translations from Persian via Latin into English, and intralingual translations from one edition to the next, FitzGerald furthers his “lanternism” by translating optical media into the medium of writing.
The World is a Lanthorn
In 1871 FitzGerald’s artist friend Edwin Edwards designed a frontispiece that was to be included in the third edition of the book for the London bookseller Quaritch, but never was. It depicts a lantern “held out by a truncated arm” (Figure 1). ((G. S. Layard, “On Omar Khayyam Curiosity,” Bookman No. 127, Vol. XXII (April 1902): 15.))
According to G.S. Layard, whose 1902 essay prints for the first time this etching, it is “a very different thing from a mere translation of the words into pictorial form. It is far more than this. It is an illuminator of the meaning, and accentuates its spiritual significance.” ((Layard, “On Omar Khayyam Curiosity,” 15.)) But so too is translation an illuminator of meaning. Here, I want to set the scene by way of an analysis of the shifting meanings of the quatrain to which the illustration above refers, in retranslations of it, including FitzGerald’s own.
For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go. (1859, XLVI)
In this quatrain the world presents itself as a “Magic Shadow-show,” lit by the sun, and its players are mere shadows that “come and go” without meaningful volition. But what is the nature of this “Magic Shadow-show?” FitzGerald describes Omar’s lantern in his notes as follows: “Fánúsi khiyál, a ‘Magic-lanthorn’ still used in India; the cylindrical Interior being painted with various Figures, and so lightly poised and ventilated as to revolve round the lighted Candle within.” ((Decker, Critical Edition, 113.)) The heat that causes the lantern to rotate projects the painted figures as shadows onto the walls, making them traverse around the room. Such lanterns are still commonplace today as optical toys in children’s bedrooms. While Victorians would in all likelihood have associated the “Magic Shadow-shapes” with magic lantern shows, a writer in the Magic Lantern Gazette is quick to point out that FitzGerald “did not put words in Old Omar’s mouth. (At least not in this instance.) Because, of course, Omar would have known of moving figures not only in puppet shadows but also in the shadow shows of those early Persian times.” ((“The Tentmaker’s Lamp,” Magic Lantern Gazette 5.3 (1993): 5.))
A host of translators, including John Payne, translator of The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (1882-4) and contemporary of FitzGerald’s, opted for the medium of the “Chinese-lantern.” ((Quatrain 545, The Quatrains of Omar Kheyyam of Nishapour (London: Villon Society, 1898), 134.)) The Chinese shadow play is one of the oldest known forms of entertainment of this kind, which uses backlit screens for projecting cut-out puppets on sticks or string; this suggests a world where humans are insubstantial shadows and the objects of a puppeteer’s manipulation. Equally, the quatrain might be taken to refer to Plato’s simile of the cave, where the shadow theatre’s created illusions spellbind their viewers to the extent that they prefer the false pleasures of the simulations to reality’s offerings outside the cave. While in Plato’s parable there exists a world outside the cave, there is no outside for Payne (or FitzGerald): “the world is the lantern.” ((Quatrain 545, The Quatrains of Omar Kheyyam of Nishapour, 134.)) Since FitzGerald makes reference to a shadow-show played in a “Box,” it might more readily therefore allude either to the camera obscura (a “dark chamber” with a small aperture through which light passes, receiving “live” and life-like pictures from the outside to be projected on a surface inside); the peep-show (generally speaking, a portable box with an eyehole through which a miniature scene can be seen, with a mechanism for changing scenery to form a continuous story and accompanied by an aural narrative given by a showman); or the magic lantern (a box made of wood, copper or other materials using images from lantern slides that are either hand-painted, colored picture transfers, or photographic prints on glass and that are projected from inside the lantern outwards). All three of these “boxes” have taken various forms over the centuries, and each tends to be associated with different ways of seeing and understanding the world.
From Lantern to Flickergraph
We should keep in mind here that there were countless such optical devices and hosts of different kinds of magic lanterns, including hybrid lanterns, and that each device depends for its definition on mechanism, context, use, and geography. Apart from conflicting accounts and interpretations of which contraption emerged when, what complicates matters further is that there was little consistency in nomenclature as well as frequent misnaming. The magic lantern’s change in nomenclature to “stereopticon” in American English after the 1850s is just one such example; ((David Robinson, From Peep Show to Palace (New York: Columbia University press, 1996), 1.)) as are conflations of camera obscura shows with lantern shows by contemporaries. ((Koen Vermeir, “The Magic of the Magic Lantern (1660-1700): on Analogical Demonstration and the Visualization of the Invisible,” The British Journal for the History of Science 38.2 (2005): 129-30.)) The difficulty therefore of how to translate Fánúsi khiyál and the multiplicity of formats it might refer to – an Indian lantern, resembling an old Persian one, or a Chinese lantern – is indicative of the difficulty of translation itself. That translation should be understood as interlingual and intercultural transfer and crucially also as intralingual and intermedial transfer is borne out by the following retranslations.
We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumin’d Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show; (1879, LXVIII) ((Decker, Critical Edition, 105. It should also be noted that in the 1868 edition FitzGerald opts for “visionary Shapes” (LXXIII) rather than “Magic Shadow-shapes.”))
FitzGerald’s reworked quatrain from 1879 now makes explicit reference to a “Lantern,” as if to give some clarity as to the nature of the box. However, in circumscribing one box it opens up another, that is, it opens up the possibility that the world that is the lantern is a phantasmagoria show. In such shows, magic lanterns were used to animate or breathe pneuma into ghosts and other phantoms in eerie spectacles of the lifeless alive. These phantoms appear and disappear, or “come and go,” out of the darkness and back into it. The reference to the “Lantern” alongside the “Magic Shadow-shapes” conjures up the phantasmagoria, a connection all the more tangible since the darkness engulfing the show, suggested by “Midnight,” is a defining characteristic of these shows, plunging their audience into utter darkness before the show starts. Even the phantasmagoria lanternist (and unlike the lanternist of the magic shadow-show) – represented here by the newly introduced “Master of the Show” – would work “behind the screen, in total darkness, hidden from the audience, with ‘pseudonecromantic’ effect.” ((Marsh, “Dissolving Views,” 23.))
When Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs opt, in their 1981 translation of the same quatrain, for the media technology of the “diorama” (“Let us consider this wheel of heaven that amazes us,/ As if it were a diorama.”), ((No. 105, The Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyam (London: Penguin, 1981).)) they are not introducing “an unwanted modernism,” ((Stephen R. Wilk, How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap: Odd Excursions into Optics (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013), 107. Wilk’s account of FitzGerald’s quatrain in relation to media history is illuminating, although I do not find myself in agreement with his conclusions.)) but an archaism that calls to mind another popular entertainment of Victorian visual culture that belongs to the pre-history of cinema. Robert Graves and Omar Ali Shah’s translation from 1967 does the opposite by deliberately evoking cinema when they make the world into “a wide screen/ For countless lie-rehearsing silhouettes.” ((No. 72, The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam: A New Translation with Critical Commentaries (London: Cassell, 1967).)) Theirs is not just a displacement or updating of one media technology by another, but an implicit acknowledgement of the magic lantern as an important precursor of cinema and the active historicity of media transitions in cultural forms. Another reworking of FitzGerald’s lantern-quatrain that features a translation from one optical device into another, and that seems to have been overlooked by FitzGerald scholars, is the cinépoem “Rubaiyat of the Flickergraph” (1910) by the Australian writer Harrison Owen. Translation is at the very heart of this poem, doubly so: not only does the magic lantern show become a cinema, but “cinema” itself is translated intralingually into “flickergraph,” a term that was “in fairly regular use in Australasia from around 1904.” ((For editor’s comment and poem, see Special Issue on The First Film Fiction, ed. Richard Koszarski and Stephen Bottomore, in Film History 24.4 (2012): 460.)) The poem also includes a reworking of both the 1859 quatrain and its retranslation of 1879. Here, Owen alludes to FitzGerald’s 1859 quatrain:
This life of ours, about, above, below.
Is nothing but a flickergraphic show!
Into this theatre called the Universe
We come, and out of it again we go!
In another quatrain, Owen transforms Fitzgerald’s “Master of the Show” from the 1879 edition into “the weary operator [that] turns the wheel,/ Winds off the film, and then – stops the machine!”
With the newly introduced “Master of the Show,” FitzGerald amplifies the fatalistic message of the poem, painting a world that emphasizes not only the transience of existence, but its dependence on this “Master.” The dependency at issue is twofold: on the one hand, the mastery of illusion, like Bishop Berkeley’s God, guarantees the persistence of impermanently appearing shades, ((Bishop George Berkeley, A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge , in Berkeley Philosophical Writings, ed. D. M. Clarke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), §§ 146-7.)) and as such conjures up the magic lantern’s visual effects. On the other, the dependency of the creature on the technological environment – the magic lantern – he or she inhabits, effectively short-circuits any claim to free will. Not unlike Edwards’ etching, which gives a glimpse of this hidden master of the show, the 1879 quatrain’s inclusion of this figure suggests that human agency is diminished and that we are subject to chance and fate – nothing more than conscious automata. The quatrain’s worldview chimes, it would appear, with FitzGerald’s own. According to Drury, the underlying aesthetic that guides FitzGerald’s poetic and translational practice owes something to his belief in a “world governed by chance.” ((Drury, Translation as Transformation, 160.)) It is not just in his letters, but also in the Rubáiyát itself, Drury writes, that FitzGerald “[r]epeatedly and almost superstitiously […] invokes the power of chance and accident, which he believed enabled him to recreate the voice of a medieval Persian poet he admired.” ((Drury, Translation as Transformation, 160.)) This supposed recreation of Omar’s voice is crucial in terms of understanding FitzGerald’s lantern-inflected vision of translation.
Translation and Spirit-Channeling
John Dryden famously said that in translation “the spirit of an author may be transfused, and yet not lost,” thus drawing on the Pythagorean notion of the migration of soul. ((“Preface to Ovid’s Epistles,” Western Translation Theories, 173.)) FitzGerald makes this belief his own by proposing that translation is “transmogrification.” ((FitzGerald cited by Michael Kerney, preface to Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (New York: Doxey, 1900), 22.)) As he puts it in 1859:
I suppose very few People have ever taken such Pains in Translation as I have: though certainly not to be literal. But at all Cost, a Thing must live: with a transfusion of one’s own worse Life if one can’t retain the Original’s better. Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle. ((“Letter to E. B. Cowell,” Letters, Volume 2: 1851-1866, 335.))
Ezra Pound also sees his “job” as a translator “to bring a dead man to life, to present a living figure.” ((Pound,“To A. R. Orage,” 149.)) At the basis of such statements is the magical belief in transubstantiation: a dead man lives once more, a “Thing” is re-animated, a dead eagle’s spirit passes into another animal, a living sparrow. FitzGerald reiterates the point elsewhere, echoing Ecclesiastes 9.4, when he writes that the “live Dog [is] better than the dead Lion.” ((“Letter to J. R. Lowell,” Letters, Volume 4: 1877-1883, 167-8.)) Here, the magic lantern with its conjuring tricks comes into view once more. Not only did its spectacles raise the dead, but its transformation scenes turned heads into skulls and its dissolving views, as if by magic, transformed days into nights, calm seas into stormy ones, men into women, or a pile of sausages into a small dog, as John Henry Pepper famously did in the 1870s for his Metempsychosis show at the Royal Polytechnic in London. ((Henry Pepper, The True History of the Ghost; and All about Metempsychosis (London: Cassell & Campany, 1890).)) Just as, according to Isobel Armstrong, the lantern’s dissolving view “performs a state of ‘becoming’” that involves “both arising and passing away,” so, as it were, do FitzGerald’s animal dissolves. ((Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination, 1830-1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 296.)) For FitzGerald, transmigration does not ascend to a higher form of life, but moves base-ward from the noble, from eagle to sparrow and lion to dog. Perhaps because of a “lack of belief in his own creative, originative power,” FitzGerald lets himself serve as the medium through which the spirit of Omar speaks. ((Karlin, introduction to Rubáiyát, xxxviii.)) According to Marina Warner, “[t]his way of writing is a form of channeling,” and for Jorge Luis Borges it is a miracle of reincarnation. ((Warner, “Ventriloquism,” London Review of Books, 9 April 2009, 13-14.)) Borges, whose father had produced his own translation of the Omar-Fitzgerald Rubáiyát, goes as far as to speculate: “perhaps, around 1857, Omar’s soul took up residence in FitzGerald’s.” ((J.L. Borges, “The Enigmas of Edward FitzGerald,” Selected Non-Fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger (New York: Viking, 1999), 368.)) On such a reading, translation is metempsychosis – wittily encapsulated in FitzGerald’s reference to himself as “Edward FitzOmar.” ((“Letter to Bernard Quaritch,” Letters, Volume 3: 1867-1876, 232.))
That Rossetti – who had been FitzGerald’s champion and part of the group of poets who had rescued the 1859 Rubáiyát from oblivion – changed his name from Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, while translating Dante, suggests that translation is a special circumstance of channeling the spirits of the dead. But there is another aspect that remains to be drawn out here as regards the “redelivery of poetic inspiration.” ((This is how Charles Eliot Norton described FitzGerald’s translation achievement in North American Review (1869), reprinted in Karlin, Rubáiyát, 98-104 (103).)) What Fitzgerald, Rossetti and Pound share is a sense that translation is possession by non-human forces. This comes across most prominently in Rossetti’s analogy of the translator with Aladdin, whose search for a magic lamp brings him into contact with the djinni inside the lamp.
His path is like that of Aladdin through the enchanted vaults: many are the precious fruits and flowers which he must pass by unheeded in search for the lamp alone; happy if at last, when brought to light, it does not prove that his old lamp has been exchanged for a new one, – glittering indeed to the eye, but scarcely of the same virtue nor with the same genius at its summons. ((Rossetti, preface, x.))
Although Rossetti does not spell out the importance of the genie, it is implied by this comment elsewhere in the preface to The Early Italian Poets (1861): “if only [the translator’s] will belonged to him.” ((Rossetti, preface, ix.)) Since this statement is preceded by a reference to the translator’s supposed “humility” and “self-denial,” Susan Bassnett reads it in terms of Rossetti’s “repression of his own creative impulses,” ((Bassnett, Translation Studies (London: Routledge, 2002, 3rd edition), 14.)) with the translator’s task reduced “to serve, and hence remain invisible.” ((Bassnett and Peter France, “Translation, Politics, and the Law”, in The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English: Volume 4: 1790-1900, ed. Peter France and Kenneth Haynes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 48-58 (52).)) If, however, we read Rossetti’s theory of translation in proximity to FitzGerald’s channeling of souls, then the apparent denial of agency is nothing other a precondition for possession through spell or enchantment.
The invocation of the lamp suggests that the translator, like Aladdin, unleashes the genie, imprisoned in the lamp. It is true, of course, that the relation between owner of the lamp and genie is a master-slave dialectic since the genie answers only to its master; if, however, we take the genie as the creative power on which its master – original poet or translator – relies to give life to his creation, on such a reading, it is creative genius itself that waits to be awakened. Creative impulses are not repressed but released, putting translation on a par with original poetry. The poet-translator, thus conceived, does not exchange an old lamp (original) for a new one (translation) but sees the lamp for what it is: a magic lamp and a medium for storing creative impulses, liberated or vivified by acts of magic. In such a schema there is no hierarchy between original and translation; hence, the order of priority is only local, i.e. between two derivatives, rather than absolute, with the original at its head.
This conception of creativity taps into age-old notions of what art is. For Plato, for example, according to an “ancient story,” art is imitation or possession. ((Plato’s Laws 719c. For imitation, see Republic X; for possession, see Phaedrus and Ion.)) In Rossetti’s case, Aladdin’s lamp is therefore inimitable not by virtue of some peculiarity of the lamp but rather by “virtue” of the virtu (power) it contains. The imitation of the lamp, or of its first fruits (or source text), would therefore be a counterfeit, however shiny, merely standing in for what it imitates. Hence the hope that the lamp we must seek out has not been replaced by some shiny or flash copy. The lamp then is a (technology and a) medium, contact with which produces poetic power through the possession of its “Aladdin” (frotteur) by that lamp’s resident genius (demon). Genius here is not cleverness but jinni, djinni or genie, i.e. demon. Ergo, authentic art is demonic and authentic translation is the product of possession not imitation. J. J. McGann is surely right to say that Rossetti’s translation endeavors “are much closer to ritual acts of magic than they are to Romantic acts of self-expression,” – after all, he calls back from the dead the power of the original poet, “resurrects, as it were, the vital life of the original poetry.” ((J. J. McGann, “A Commentary on Some of Rossetti’s Translations from Dante”, in Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism in Honour of William E. Fredeman, ed. by David Latham (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2003), 35-52 (37, 38).)) The same is surely also true of FitzGerald. Why else would he state that he could “feel with” Omar Khayyám, that is, that he shares a spiritual affinity with him? ((“Letter to E. B. Cowell,” Letters, Volume 2: 1851-1866, 305.)) In this context it is worth noting that the Victorians were obsessed with resurrection, whether this took the form of séances, spirit-drawings and spirit-photography, medieval revivalism, grave robbing and mummy disrobing, or the necromantic spectacles of the phantasmagoria. That this Zeitgeist should rub off on translation theory and practice is not surprising.
To conceive of translation as spirit-channeling is to conceive of it as something “mediumistic.” However, insofar as there exists, as Jeffrey Sconce argues, an “explicit intersection of technology and spirituality, of media and ‘mediums’,” the mediumistic also intersects with the medial. ((Sconce, Haunted Media, 25.)) This is precisely the case with Rossetti’s magic lamp; it is also the case with the magic lantern insofar as it provides the model for thinking about translation in mediumistic terms. The phantasmagoria, especially, summons the ghosts of the dead and thus creates the illusion, like the séance, that the barrier between the living and the dead is permeable and manipulable. Take, for instance, the following description by David Brewster, inventor of various optical media, of a 1802 phantasmagoria (and the “transmutation” spectacles) staged by the great showman M. Philipstal: “figures which retired with the freshness of life came back in the form of skeletons, and the retiring skeletons returned in the drapery of flesh and blood.” ((Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic addressed to Sir Walter Scott (London: John Murray, 1834), 81.)) If FitzGerald believed it possible to make contact with the spirit of Omar, to turn a dead poet into a living figure, it is a belief that has its source not only in spiritualism, but in the media principle of the phantasmagoria, since it intimated “that contact can be made with the psyche, the dead, or artificial life forms.” ((Oliver Grau, “Remember the Phantasmagoria! Illusion Politics of the Eighteenth Century and its Multimedial Afterlife,” in MediaArtHistories, ed. Grau (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2007), 154.)) In other words, translation as spirit-channeling in the nineteenth century is remediated by the phantasmagoria and the magic lantern, that is, modeled after it and enabled by it.
As we have seen, the connection between the works of spirit (Geist) and working with spirits (Geister) consists in their technological mediation. In consequence, it is technological mediation, and therefore media, that determine our situation or, more pertinently, the situation of spirit as manifest in the world. That is, the shapes of spirit are recorded in their mediology: written, painted, drawn, projected, etc. Translation must therefore also record and transpose the operations of spirit; it is a recording of cultural processes. Yet, as a form of spirit-channeling, translation will also be shaped by the media technologies that make it possible. Translation is accordingly not a matter of capturing, or failing to capture, the “spirit” of the original; rather, translation – like writing and thinking more generally – is inseparable from a “mediology of spirit.” It is this inseparability of the particular media technologies that determine spirit’s situation, which entail that FitzGerald’s translation practice bears the traces of what I have called a lanternist aesthetics. This is also why his translation theory of spirit-channeling is at once thoroughly technological and bears the marks of a nineteenth-century spiritualism that itself is inextricable from the shadows cast by contemporaneous projection, broadcast, and communications technologies.
There remains one further aspect we should draw out here. The magic lamp that Rossetti uses in relation to translation is deeply embedded in a nineteenth-century Zeitgeist that takes seriously the idea that acts of translational rendering involve non-human entities that haunt the living. Similarly, it is clear that for FitzGerald, translation is a phantasmagoric channeling of the spirits of the dead. These very ideas live on in Pound’s theory and practice of translation, for whom the entire “process of art” in fact appears to be a “sort of divine phantasmagoria” in which, he says, “we are “half-media & half creators.” ((“Letter to Dorothy Shakespear,” in Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters, 1909-1914, ed. Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1984), 76.)) The idea that translation is possession, either by a supernatural entity such as a genie or a ghost, I want to suggest, is a form of non-human translation that foreshadows another kind of “possession,” one with which we are only too familiar in the context of our own media environment: non-human translation by machines. Here too, non-human entities take over the machinations of translation. This is what is explored in the many “translation art” experiments by contemporary avant-garde poet-translators, such as for instance Hsia Yü or Mark Amerika, who use automated translation and automatic writing for a new poetical aesthetic that bypasses and thus undermines the conscious agency of the translator. In this sense machine translation is the exorcism of spirit (Geist) while marking another stage, therefore, in spirit’s own mediological odyssey. ((Kittler, introduction to Austreibung des Geistes aus den Geisteswissenschaften, ed. Kittler (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1980), 7-14.)) This essay gave a mere snapshot of what is a much longer history of machining translation to show that even a quaint poem like Rubáiyát by an amateur gentlemanly translator is already machined.