Translators are people who read books for us. Tolstoy wrote in Russian, so someone must read him for us and then write down that reading in our language. Since the book will be fuller and richer the more experience a reader brings to it, we would want our translator, as he or she reads, to be aware of as much as possible, aware of cultural references, aware of lexical patterns, aware of geographical setting and historical moment. Aware, too, of our own language and its many resources. Far from being “just subjective,” these differences will be a function of the different experiences these readers bring to the book, since none of us accumulates the same experience. Even then, of course, two expert translators will very likely produce two quite different versions. But if what we want is a translation of Tolstoy, rather than just something that sounds good enough sentence by sentence, it would seem preferable to have our reading done for us by people who can bring more, rather than less, to the work.
As we were coming out of a Kinko’s on Market Street in San Francisco on an evening in 1995 with a box of 50 freshly photocopied, cut, and stapled chapbooks, my collaborator, Darin Klein, said: “You know why we make our own books? It’s because we’re punks.” It’s that you don’t submit to publishing houses, you don’t let the industry take control, he said. You make it yourself. That’s what being a punk is about. Klein, now a book artist in Los Angeles, was then curating underground shows of DIY books, handmade books, books that existed in only one or several copies. The show I remember took place one evening in a garage. A large crowd of people came. Books had been sent by mail from other countries: strange products of hands and cheap technology, lavish and fragile. There was a colorful one-of-a-kind book with a 3D plastic eye — it came, I think, from Norway. Most pieces in the show fused images and words in some way that went far beyond mere illustration. They had emerged from the zine scene and remained punk by preserving its cheap production values and democratic ethos. They too were made in garages and bedrooms, or else in offices by people who were supposed to be “working,” but instead were commandeering photocopy equipment. You could imagine the hands that made them.
I imagine that the exhilaration of leaving a small shop with the entire run of your newborn book in a box was something that the Russian Futurists knew well, in the years preceding World War I. They too were the beneficiaries of a democratization in printing technology. They used print shops rather than copy shops, but, like photocopying, transfer lithography — printing from a damp stone surface onto which a drawing on special paper had been pressed — allowed for the fusion of words and images. Turnaround was quick: leaflets could be picked up after several hours and books after several days. So they too made their own books, they brought them to stores themselves, and they sold them by mail and presumably also at poetry readings.
Edmond's book presents a long perspective in a compact space, illuminating its subjects in swift glimpses. It is the invariably readable story of humans lives lived richly.