On Material Argumentation

This creative project is a culmination of my study of the 1969 Dolmen Press edition of The Tain. I have created my own digital publication in response to the preservation and translation of the story of ‘Táin Bó Cuailnge’. As my research focused on the creative interventions within the material text, I concluded that it would be remiss of me to engage with such an artistic publication in a solely academic fashion. Outlined in the ‘On Reincarnation’ section above, the Dolmen Press edition engages with the essential qualities of the narrative in a way that other translations failed to. This section is an effort to outline my academic arguments in a creative material form, similar to the motivations of the 1969 Dolmen Press edition of The Tain.

I selected a passage from the text that I previously examined in the essay component of my Capstone project; Medb’s “gush of blood”, which does not appear in either the Eleanor Hull nor Lady Gregory translations of ‘Táin Bó Cuailnge’. This occurs at the end of the battle scene where Medb is cornered by Cúchulainn after “reliving herself” because she got her period. This section sets Kinsella’s translation apart from others because it engages with the fantastic and personal identities within the narrative, maintaining the essential otherness intrinsic to the folkloric genre.

The Process

I took the original text and put it through Google Translate, a free, basic online translation tool, in order to translate it from English to Irish. I then took that translated Irish passage, and put it through Google Translate again to translate it back into English. This was in an effort to highlight the importance of the translation process as outlined in Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Task of the Translator. Translation is more than an exchange of language, it is the intention of the translator that defines its quality.

I then drew a number of drawings inspired by Louis le Brocquy’s ink brush drawings. I used black acrylic paint, charcoal, marker, and pen to create them. The publication only contains the colours that appear in the Dolmen Press edition of The Tain; black, white, and red. This was done in an effort to capture the qualities of le livre d’artiste, that shaped the creation of the publication.

In terms of editing, I left the translation exactly as Google Translate reproduced it. I wanted to make the inevitable corruption that occurs when interpreting text explicit. This results in a number of mistakes. “God” is translated into Irish but cannot be translated back into English. In the Irish version, the word “dúirt” appears twice and does not make grammatical sense as a result. Finally and most noticeably, Medb’s pronoun changes in the final passage.

This text has been preserved since the twelfth-century and has been reinterpreted many times over. My interpretation functions as a comment on the life-cycle of narratives, and how they experience continuous reincarnation as different entities through their retranslation.

The Publication is attached below: