The ChessBard and 3D Poetry Project as Translational Ecosystems

Abstract (in English): 

Marjorie Perloff argues in Unoriginal Genius that writing in general, but more specifically conceptual writing, is “translational” in that it requires an author to be able to balance and organize multiple languages, often transforming vocabulary, sound, concepts, from one language into another. If writing itself is translational then what exactly is required to translate a word or an object from one form to another? Walter Benjamin in “The Task of the Translator” contends “The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original” and that “a real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not black its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium to shine upon the original all the more fully.” Using my work on the ChessBard ( as well as the 3D Poetry Project (, I argue that writing electronically in collaboration with digital systems is a translational and multilingual process that involves natural languages alongside and in combination with machine-languages like mark-up, code, assembly language etc that are present at both the hardware and software levels). In the ChessBard, this means translating chess games into algebraic notation then into poems; in the 3D Poetry Project, it means translating words into 3D data points into printable 3D sculptures. Such translations between languages do not aim for fidelity or accuracy but rather provides a dense, interdependent ecosystem of authorship that encourages, as Benjamin does, transparency and echoes between “original” text and their “translated” doppelganger. These translations could just as easily be labeled transformational and the two projects explore what it go back and forth between physical objects and movements and digital spaces; the works are further complicated by the “different ways” that a computer reads, for example with different 3D modelling software, that will then render different translations. Looking to the “horizons” of electronic literature, my talk with then take up a future wherein human exceptionalism in Literature may be waning and where we might begin considering electronic literature, similar perhaps to spam filters and spam bots in conversation, in which machines write and translate for other machines without any human readership.

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Ole Samdal