Walkowitz Discusses ‘Born-Translated’ Stories

Walkowitz discusses the YH Chang story "Traveling to Utopia: With a Brief History of Technology."

On Wednesday, February 23rd, visiting scholar Rebecca Walkowitz, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, spoke in the Carondelet Symposium. Her talk, “Born-Translated and Born-Digital: Comparative Writing in an Age of Electronic Literature,” focused on the work of the group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, a pair of artists who release digital fiction through the internet.

Professor Walkowitz conveyed that YH Chang required study because their style is so different from other fiction. Their work is released at the same time in multiple languages, and no language appears to have a more legitimate foothold over another.  The work was both “translatable, and, yet, unconcerned with translation,” Walkowitz said. Not only did the work focus on the language of the story–some can have multiple languages within the story itself–but also adding in other elements such as music and imagery.

The main example from the presentation, “Bust Down the Doors,” features three different narratives are shifted across the screen only with a different arrangements of pronouns in each with heavy drums in the background giving a strange sense of anxiety in each version of the story with the words only appearing in groups of two or three at a time forcing the reader’s own pace throughout.

Walkowitz suggested the system that YH Chang puts into place was inspired by Modernist writers such as Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett, and how it is in this discipline’s best interest to formulate a new way to study work such as this, which vivifies transnationalism.

After the presentation, I myself looked through the work on yhchang.com and found not only different and interesting stories, but very different versions of the very stories shown in the presentation. “Bust Down the Doors” alone not only had an English, French, and German version, but also a version with a different drum soundtrack, one with strings, and one with an incredibly creepy robotic voice within what they know as the “Gates of Hell-Victoria Version.” There are stories where the story scrolls across the screen like a news ticker on a 24-hour news network, and others where the storyis fired so quickly, it could not be read word for word.

Graduate student Margaret Armenia said the way the text was set to go across the screen was “more like a film than literature.” And there is certainly a filmic quality across the various short stories.

More information on Walkowitz can be found at  her website, and the short stories of Young-Rae Chang Heavy Industries can be found at www.yhchang.com.

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