Raymond Roussel’s amazing and bizarre novel Locus Solus — the namesake for the journal founded by the New York School poets as well as for this humble blog — turns 100 this year. Just in time for that anniversary, the visual artist, novelist, and media theorist Mark Amerika has produced an unusual new version of Roussel’s influential novel that he calls an “auto-translation/remix.” The book, which was “composed by playfully postproducing the original 1914 version using a variety of mediocre online translation programs,” will be published this month by Counterpath Press. Amerika explains that he sees his Locus Solus “as not so much as a literal translation by any means, but as a work of performance art.”
Amerika recently posted some remarks about how he came to Roussel’s novel and the process he used to performatively remix and re-create Locus Solus. In the course of working on an elaborate remixing of Marcel Duchamp’s work, he came across the following remark Duchamp once made in an interview about important influences on his work: “Roussel showed me the way.” This led Amerika to seek out online translations of Roussel’s work, but he came up mostly empty. So, as he explains, “I decided to get an immediate feel for Locus Solus by turning to a few mediocre online translation programs that would auto-translate the first few pages, line-by-line, and see what came up.”
As he goes on to detail, the auto-translation of Roussel’s novel produced some strange results (as anyone who has ever used Google Translate will appreciate), which inspired Amerika to undertake an extended performance art piece of auto-translating and remixing Locus Solus:
“My simple late-night plan to use a translation program to better understand Roussel’s writing and why it might have ‘shown Duchamp the way,’ was immediately introduced to a severe obstacle as I tried to make some narrative sense out of the mangled text and mistranslated puns and double entedres that were given to me by the auto-translation program. My intuitive response was to not get frustrated at all but to creatively remix these mangled translations through my own experiential filters as valuable source material that would enable me to remixologically inhabit the spirit of Roussel’s own procedural aesthetic. This is when Roussel’s Locus Solus started becoming a mash-up of auto-translation and autobiography or what in META/DATA I refer to as pseudo-autobiography (an always already fictional rendering of experiential data sampled from the practice of everyday life).
That first night, I started to really get into the auto-translation / remix process and decided that I did not want to buy and read any of the out-of-print books that had already attempted to translate Roussel into English, that, instead, I would approach this experience as a work of performance art and, like so many works of performance art, view it as a kind of durational achievement. And so it was, four months later, that I had translated / remixed the entire, mangled French version into what I started referring to as
Locus Solus (An Inappropriate Translation Composed in a 21st Century Manner)
All throughout the auto-translation/remix performance I was well aware of the fact that things were getting lost in the transmission, that the stability of the narrative trajectory, assuming I wanted to maintain a certain amount of stability and even semantic consistency, was going to depend on my ability to remixologically inhabit or even embody the praxis of another artist-medium who initially communicated these messages to us a long time ago (100 years to be exact). This was a creative parameter that actually liberated me from having to feel better about myself as I assumed the role of so-called ‘translator.’ Instead, I could approach the whole system as a literary traitor, one who pirates information signals and trades in a performance art practice that imposes their own literary and artistic traits onto the one who is being auto-translated, remixed, inhabited.”
To celebrate the centennial of Roussel’s Locus Solus, check out Amerika’s interesting homage. You can also learn more about Roussel in Mark Ford’s highly-regarded biography, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams and about John Ashbery’s fascination with Roussel in this piece by Paul Grimstad.