INTRE:FACE conference archives: Aleksandra Malecka presenting the automatic translation of King Ubu

The INTRE:FACE Digital Conference (06.02.2016-07.02.2016), organized by Katharina Deloglu and Tom Bresemann, hosted by Andreas Bülhoff, tackled many important questions regarding digital literature. In a series of articles we bring you the speeches and discussions held at the INTRE:FACE Digital Conference, dealing with problems regarding digital literature and different tools used to construct it, for example how can digital tools be used to offer new approaches to production, what digital tools already exist and how are they structured, to more applied problems, such as how can literary activists use digital means to connect with one another, how we can make most of digital material and many other interesting topics.

Aleksandra Malecka from the publishing house Korporacja Ha!art was talking about the rich history and success of their experimental publication, with specific focus to the recently translated book King Ubu, translated using Google Translate.

The publishing house Korporacja Ha!art also has a magazine and a website, as well as a physical bookstore. Their mission is to publish conventional and experimental literature in both physical and digital form. As Aleksandra explained:

We try to promote it and translate a lot of Polish literary experiments into English.  You can Google the phrase “Polish impact” and you’ll find a satire book about Polish experimental literature. It features Poland as the empire of king Ubu,  which is grand, but at the same time does not exist. Today’s presentation will be about the print project King Ubu, a book translated with Google Translate, without any intervention from the editors. We just pressed translate, formatted it and ordered a cover from our designer.

Experimental translation has a rich history, it precedes digital tools, one much known translation experiment is the one invented by the French group Oulipo, the n+7 method, where you take a dictionary and translate the text by switching the noun you translate with the 7th word that comes in the dictionary after the searched noun. The human nature is such that when we have a tool, we use it as we should, but also in a subversive way. The first website “translationparty” translates the input text back and forth between two languages, until it finds a balance between them. Another example is “visual poetry” website, where Google searches each word in images and gives you a visual representation of the text. Google translate also inspired different sub-genres, for example writing short stories in your native language in such a way, that the translation to English will not be maimed. But the question that arises with our project is who the author is and who has the copyright of the translated text? I began with checking the infromation provided by the American Copyright Office and found that copyright only applies to the creative power of mind, so it does not apply to supernatural beings, nature, animals and machines, so also computer generated translations. The translation is actually appropriation, an uncreative translation, even more; it’s an appropriation of an appropriation – Duchamp regarding his fountain states:

‘Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—and created a new thought for that object.’

So art was created not by making the object, but by the choice to put it in a new context. Also Goldsmith states:

‘Even when we do something as seemingly ‘uncreative’ as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother’s cancer operation. It’s just that we’ve never been taught to value such choices.’

Google translate is good at translating because it self-appropriates human translations available between the source and target language on the Internet. We wanted to achieve Mona Lisa with a moustache, a good metaphor about how when you have something published in print it matters more than in an electronic format, even if it’s complete nonsense, like this translation of King Ubu.


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