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The Word Is a Window:
Collaborative Poetics in the Community between Languages

University of Macau

This paper proposes a framework for theorising a collaborative poetics in the space between languages. The hope is to imagine conditions and structures that might be of practical use to those working with poetry in translation (as well as in modes of imitation, variation and response). The aim is to assess prospects for a cosmopolitan community in the space (of poetic potential) between cultures and languages.
Poetry, as a continuity in the effort to acknowledge the power of words in themselves, manages to short-circuit a transcendent wish to stand the world out of words. The position of the poet in the modernist – and later – conception is, like that of the foreigner in a new culture, one we might see as foreshadowed by Lewis Carroll’s Alice, who, in Through the Looking Glass, enters a wood where things have no names. Yet the poet finds names in this space beyond, and names the things of one world as if they were in and of another.
For the purposes of this paper, Lyotard’s différend is employed in arguing the place of poetries as situated by work of witness in the space between languages. Questions of ethics arising here concern power relations in the present and the disingenuousness of subjects who refuse to historicise the positions they occupy as languaged subjects. To envisage the cosmopolitan community demanded of poetic work between languages, Levinas’ criterial ethic is invoked – ‘the word is a window; if it forms a screen it must be rejected’.

Poetics, poetry, différend, doubt, community, language, cruelty, Dada, Lyotard, Levinas


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