Literary ventriloquism: Pound, Celan, Mandelstam and twentieth-century poetic translation

2007 2007

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

"Literary ventriloquism" is the ability of a writer to speak through another author's words through translation and imitation. I begin my study with an examination of classical and Humanist imitatio, particularly the way Classical authors were used to effect the cultural rebirth of the Renaissance, demonstrating how translation and imitation are central aspects of the origin of the major European traditions.

I then apply these insights (well-established in Renaissance studies) to the twentieth century and examine what recent versions of imitatio have looked like. The main thing I believe distinguishes it is the use of "literary ventriloquism." Modern authors perform something very similar to the Humanist poets, only they do it through translation, hiding behind the original other. It is my contention that an understanding of Renaissance imitation and the "archaeological mode" (the ability to revive authors and the cultural and ethical values associated with them through translation and imitation) can help us understand the work of poets in other key times in literary history.

Modernism supplies a particularly productive example due to a shared sense of cultural crisis. In the same way that Renaissance poets imitate their models in order to revive them, but produce their own personal poetic self and develop their own national traditions in the process, so Ezra Pound appropriates past poets to create the rebirth known as Modernism. Placing him within a theory of cultural evolution, I look at the ways in which Pound's "making new" was instrumental in the inception of the Modernist movement. Paul Celan was faced with a different and more pressing problem, yet turned to the same solution. After the near decimation of his cultures in the wake of WWII, Celan began the task of resuscitating German culture through his translations and poetry. Osip Mandelstam was faced with the same problem. In Soviet Russia he confronted the destruction of Russian culture as he knew it. His translations were his way of trying to preserve the cultural and ethical values inherent in the Humanist tradition.

Indexing (details)

Comparative literature;
Slavic literature;
British and Irish literature
0295: Comparative literature
0314: Slavic literature
0593: British and Irish literature
Identifier / keyword
Language, literature and linguistics; Celan, Paul; Germany; Literary; Mandel'shtam, Osip; Poetic translation; Pound, Ezra; Russia; Twentieth century
Literary ventriloquism: Pound, Celan, Mandelstam and twentieth-century poetic translation
Dolack, Thomas William
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 68/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Presto, Jenifer
University of Oregon
University location
United States -- Oregon
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.