29 September 2008

Inner workings

Reading notes on Translation Studies by Susan Bassnett:

~ p. 7: "To divorce the theory from the practice, to set the scholar against the practitioner as has happened in other disciplines, would be tragic indeed."

~ p. 9: "the arrogant way in which critics will define a translation as good or bad from a purely monolingual position again indicates the peculiar position occupied by translation vis-à-vis another type of metatext (a work derived from, or containing another existing text), literary criticism itself."

~ p. 9: "It is pointless, therefore, to argue for a definitive translation, since translation is intimately tied up with the context in which it is made."

~ p. 13: Translation "belongs most properly to semiotics".

~ p. 14: "In the same way that the surgeon, operating on the heart, cannot neglect the body that surrounds it, so the translator treats the text in isolation from the culture at his peril."

~ p. 16: Translation as an act of decoding and recoding... Maybe I could compare Percy's triadic theory of meaning to translation?

~ p. 32: examining both linguistic and cultural untranslatability (words vs. concepts)

~ p. 37: "The purpose of tranlsation theory, then, is to reach an understanding of the processes undertaken in the act of translation and, not, as is so commonly misunderstood, to provide a set of norms for effecting the perfect translation. In the same way, literary criticism does not seek to provide a set of instructions for producing the ultimate poem or novel, but rather to understand the internal and external structures operating within and around a work of art." (Well, that's the idea anyway...)

~ p. 38: Bassnett quoting from a translated edition of Octavio Paz's Traducción: literatura y literalidad:
Every text is unique and, at the same time, it is the translation of another text. No text is entirely original because language itself, in its essence, is already a translation: firstly, of the non-verbal world and secondly, since every sign and every phrase is the translation of another sign and another phrase. However, this argument can be turned around without losing any of its validity: all texts are original because every translation is distinctive. Every translation, up to a certain point, is an invention and as such it constitutes a unique text.
~ pp. 43-44: "Both Horace and Cicero, in their remarks on translation, make an important distinction between word for word translation and sense for sense (or figure for figure) translation. The underlying principle of enriching their native language and literature through translation leads to a stress on the aesthetic criteria of the TL product rather than on more rigid notions of 'fidelity'."

~ p. 52: "Translation acquired an additional dimension, as writers used their abilities to translate as a means of increasing the status of their own vernacular. Thus the Roman model of enrichment through translation developed in a new form."

~ p. 56: begins to examine translations of Petrarch by Wyatt and Surrey

~ p. 66: "If poetry is perceived as a separate entity from language, how can it be translated unless it is assumed that the translator is able to read between the words of the original and hence reproduce the text-behind-the-text; what Mallarmé would later elaborate as the text of silence and spaces?"

~ p. 79: "The reader, then, translates or decodes the text according to a different set of systems and the idea of the one 'correct' reading is dissolved. At the same time, Kristeva's notion of intertextuality, that sees all texts linked to all other texts because no text can ever be completely free of those texts that precede and surround it, is also profoundly significant for the student of translation."

~ p. 83: "Pound defined his Homage as something other than a translation; his purpose in writing the poem, he claimed, was to bring a dead man to life. It was, in short, a kind of literary resurrection."

~ p. 98: Bassnett does a fascinating parallel analysis of translations by Ezra Pound and Charles Kennedy of The Seafarer.

~ p. 110: In discussing how some treat the translation of novels differently from that of poetry, she says that "a different concept of the imaginary distinction between form and content prevails when the text to be considered is a novel. It seems to be easier for the (careless) prose translator to consider content as separable from form"--when, of course, this is not really the case.

~ pp. 115-16: "Again and again translators of novels take pains to create readable TL texts, avoiding the stilted effect that can follow from adhering too closely to SL syntactical structures, but fail to consider the way in which individual sentences form part of the total structure." She judges this "a deficiency in reading" and suggests that this is "a whole area of translation that needs to be looked at more closely."

~ p. 116-17: Hilaire Belloc's "six general rules for the translator of prose texts" are listed and explained.

~ p. 118: "Every prime text is made up of a series of interlocking systems, each of which has a determinable function in relation to the whole, and it is the task of the translator to apprehend these functions."

~ p. 119: "What the translator must do, therefore, is to first determine the function of the SL system and then to find a TL system that will adequately render that function."

28 September 2008

In search of reality

From Anne Carson's Glass and God:

A bad trick. Mistake. Dishonesty. These are the view [sic] of Braque. Why? Braque rejected perspective. Why? Someone who spends his life drawing profiles will end up believing that man has one eye, Braque felt. Braque wanted to take full possession of objects. He has said as much in published interviews. Watching the small shiny planes of the landscape recede out of his grasp filled Braque with loss so he smashed them. Nature morte, said Braque.

26 September 2008

Where theory and practice meet

Reading notes on Can Theory Help Translators?: A Dialogue Between the Ivory Tower and the Wordface by Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner:

~ p. 2: "[W]e theorists should seek to be descriptive, to describe, explain and understand what translators do actually do, not stipulate what they ought to do. From this descriptive point of view, it is the translators that are 'up there', performing an incredibly complex activity, and the theorists are 'down here', trying to understand how on earth the translators manage. These theorists see themselves as studying translators, not instructing them." (AC)

~ p. 8: Transposition: "This means changing the word class." (AC)

~ p. 9: Deverbalization: "It means simply that a translator or interpreter has to get away from the surface structure of the source text, to arrive at the intended meaning, and then express this intended meaning in the target language." (AC)

~ p. 10: "Roughly speaking, iconicity is the matching of form and meaning, so that the form reflects the meaning or the experience that is being described." (AC) A unification of form and content?

~ p. 15: AC: "Reverence for the source text, and the consequent insistence on literal translation, is also evident in the ideas of some modern literary translators. Nabokov is a good example."

EW: "With all due respect to Nabokov, this reminds me of the 'reverence' (or lack of confidence) we see in newly recruited translators who are overawed by the subject matter. Too scared to admit that they don't really understand a text, they translate it literally in the hope that the Real Experts will be able to make something out of it."

I'm reminded of a former post of mine from two years ago--"When fidelity is treasonous".

~ p. 16: St. Jerome as "the patron saint of translators": "When criticized for his translations by St Augustine, because they changed traditional wordings in places, he is said to have replied that 'God is on the side of the scholar'." (AC)

~ p. 20: The translator as victim of divided loyalties: "It is not always possible to be loyal to both the original writer and the readers. Sometimes it has to be one or the other." (EW)

~ p. 57: Dividing translation strategies into three groups: "Search," "Creativity," and "Textual". (AC)

~ p. 68: "Distancing is something all translators, and indeed most other creative people, know about. It means stepping back mentally from what you are creating to get a better perspective on it." (EW)

~ p. 79: Two of the best motivational strategies for translators: "Respect and variety". (EW)

~ pp. 81-82: "It reminds me of Anthony Pym's definition of translation competence (in Pym 1992b: 175ff.), which goes roughly like this: a translator needs two abilities (apart from obvious language skills, etc.). One is the ability to come up with several possibilities, several potential equivalents. The second is the ability to select the best one, for the purpose in hand. The first skill needs divergent intelligence, imagination, creativity; the second needs convergent intelligence, the ability to criticize, analyze, compare, assess." (AC)

~ p. 86: "Yes, 'Never translate alone!' is an excellent guideline." (EW)

~ p. 100: "Once we had started the job, however, some of the translators suggested that one useful theoretical concept that we could use was Christiane Nord's distinction between documentary and instrumental translation (see Chapter 4), where documentary translation 'shows what the original says' and instrumental translation 'does what the original tries to do'." (EW)

~ p. 114: Eurodicautom--a "Large multilingual term bank" (EW)

~ p. 121: It's funny that it's the academic in this discussion that tends to argue for machine translations...

~ p. 127: CELEX--a "database containing all language versions of EU Regulations, Directives, Recommendations and so on." (EW)

~ p. 131: Fire Ant and Worker Bee--an "on-line problem page" for translators.

~ p. 134: the European Society for Translation Studies

24 September 2008

On Steiner

(Continuing with the idea of using this space to keep track of my reading...)

Cursory reading notes on George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, Chapter Four: "The Claims of Theory":

~ p. 250: Novalis has a part in the idea that "all communication is translation". I wonder how this links to German romanticism and, by extension, George MacDonald?

~ p. 251: These readings of I Corinthians 14 and II Corinthians 12:4 are specious at best. I see no prohibition against translation here.

~ p. 253: "Traditionally, the weight of the argument bears on poetry. Here the welding of matter and form is so close that no dissociation is admissible." I'm reminded of Eliot's essay, "The Metaphysical Poets"...and what Massimo Bacigalupo had to say on the matter:
"I find that the more unambitious the approach the better. Quasi-poets should not use translation as a means of expressing their poetic souls. The closer you look into an original the more poetry you find — even in a translation."
(This is shortly to become my MO... And hey! I could probably find this issue of The Paris Review at the university library.)

~ p. 256: Translation as an act of redemption: "As the Fall may be understood to contain the coming of the Redeemer, so the scattering of tongues at Babel has in it, in a condition of urgent moral and practical potentiality, the return to linguistic unity, the movement towards and beyond Pentecost."

~ p. 257: "It underlies the subtle exaltation in Walter Benjamin's view of the translator as the one who elicits, who conjures up by virtue of unplanned echo a language nearer to the primal unity of speech than is either the original text or the tongue into which he is translating."

~ p. 261: Translation as a unifying force: "Moreover, it established a logic of relation between past and present, and between different tongues and traditions which were splitting apart under stress of nationalism and religious conflict."

~ p. 262: Goethe to Carlyle:
"Say what one will of the inadequacy of translation, it remains one of the most important and valuable concerns in the whole of world affairs."
p. 262: "And speaking out of the isolation of the Russian condition, Pushkin defined the translator as the courier of the human spirit."

~ p. 263: "The argument against translatability is, therefore, often no more than an argument based on local, temporary myopia. Logically, moreover, the attack on translation is only a weak form of an attack on language itself."

~ p. 264: Translation transcends logic: "The defence of translation has the immense advantage of abundant, vulgar fact. [...] Translation is 'impossible' concedes Ortega y Gasset in his Miseria y esplendor de la traducción. But so is all absolute concordance between thought and speech. Somehow the 'impossible' is overcome at every moment in human affairs."

~ p. 264: "The argument from perfection which, essentially, is that of Du Bellay, Dr. Johnson, Nabokov, and so many others, is facile. No human product can be perfect. No duplication, even of materials which are conventionally labelled as identical, will turn out a total facsimile." Of course, Borges explored this idea thoroughly in "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" (in English as "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"). Somehow I think he had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he wrote it.

~ p. 291: "The translator seeks to exhibit 'what is already there'."

~ p. 308: "Poets can even smell words."

~ p. 309: "We know next to nothing of the organization and storage of different languages when they coexist in the same mind. How then can there be, in any rigorous sense of the term, a 'theory of translation'?"

~ p. 311: "An error, a misreading initiates the modern history of our subject. Romance languages derive their terms for 'translation' from traducere because Leonardo Bruni misinterpreted a sentence in the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius in which the Latin actually signifies 'to derive from, to lead into'. The point is trivial but symbolic. Often, in the records of translation, a fortunate misreading is the source of new life. [...] The logic comes after the fact. What we are dealing with is not a science, but an exact art."

Thou and thou

Between buildings and meetings and appointments, I've been reading Glass and God by Anne Carson (which "conflates all but two of the pieces from Glass, Irony and God with the full text of Short Talks"). I will have to agree with Michael Ondaatje when he says, "Her long poem 'The Glass Essay' is one of the best of our time." In it, she reads Emily Brontë's poetry while on a visit to her mother in the aftermath of a five-year relationship's end.

One of the remarkable things about it is how she explicates Emily's poetry within her own poem. After quoting "I'll come when thou art saddest" in its entirety (but for the last line of the first stanza, "From evening's chilly gloom"), Carson muses,
Very hard to read, the messages that pass
between Thou and Emily.
In this poem she reverses their roles,

speaking not as the victim but to the victim.
It is chilling to watch Thou move upon thou,
who lies alone in the dark waiting to be mastered.

It is a shock to realise that this low, slow collusion
of master and victim within one voice
is a rationale

for the most awful loneliness of the poet's hour.
Her discussion of Charlotte's comments on her sister's work adds yet another layer to the poem's multidimensionality. She walks along the moors, lies awake at night, thinks of her suffering parents, and tries to process the internal fragments of a dead relationship. It's harrowing reading, but one of the most satisfying poems I've ever experienced.

Against realism

From an enlightening interview with Marilynne Robinson:
Like all her novels, Housekeeping doesn’t seem to have been written at all; the sentences seem to have been there for ever, waiting to be discovered. This effect goes to the heart of her greatness as a writer. She rejects the realist conventions of the novel.

“The assumptions of realism as it has been practised are simply wrong. People bring a great deal of memory and also a sense of present experience to everything that they do. If you see someone doing a simple action like hanging sheets on a line, there is absolutely no reason in that person’s perception that there is anything simple about it at all. I have all the respect in the world for reality, but I think the general assumptions about it are wrong.”

She thinks in metaphors because everything is a metaphor. This is her faith - the world, not as a factual cul-de-sac, but as an unfolding revelation.
(via Maud)

22 September 2008

Shifting gears

Things have been pretty silent around here lately due to a transcontinental move and the commencement of a taught MA (and the present lack of internet access in my room). Hopefully, this is about to change (both the silence *and* the state of my online access).

I've thought a lot about the direction I'd like this humble litblog to take, and I think the most helpful (and least dangerous) thing would be to focus on interesting things I come across during my studies. I've barely begun my reading, but already have a few things I'd like to post about. And since I am my primary audience, I look forward to keeping track of where my thoughts go in this exhilarating, complex field.

To begin with, there's this loaded little footnote in Translation Studies by Susan Bassnett that I found particularly relevant:
In his article, 'Translation in the United States', Babel VII, (2), 1968, pp. 119-24 Henry Fischbach points out that the United States has a shorter history of translation than almost any other industrialized nation of the world, and attributes this deficiency to four basic points:

(a) The political and commercial isolationism of nineteenth-century America.
(b) The traditional cultural allegiance to the English-speaking community.
(c) The American complacent self-sufficiency in technology.
(d) The strength of the myth of the Land of Promise for emigrants and their subsequent desire to integrate.

Fischbach's theory is interesting in that it would seem to show correspondences with the English attitude towards translation linked to British colonial expansion.
I was reminded of John O'Brien's infamous diatribe. He has quite a lot of righteous indignation to back his complaints about translation "hype." But from where I'm sitting, as much noise should be made as possible--even if it annoys those who go about this business the "right" way.

After all, it isn't just the "Americans" (or rather, "U.S.ians") who need certain attitude adjustments when it comes to literature from other countries.

21 September 2008

Moving towards life

From a conversation between Jim Sheridan and Annette Insdorf, included at the back of In America: A Portrait of the Film:
JS: If I think of an idea, I usually try to put it up against the X-ray that is James Joyce. He was the only one with a good father, like Leopold Bloom in Ulysses.

AI: Of course.

JS: A Jewish man walking around Dublin was the only good father figure in Irish literature before 1980! And in Joyce’s stories, the women were always in love with dead people: The Dead is essentially about that estrangement from the husband. And Molly Bloom is about the estrangement from the husband through the dead child. So, there was a kind of refusal by the women to engage on a loving or sexual level because of a death, which I always thought was probably like a psychological dramatization of the famine. So, I just stole a little bit from Joyce, and added the husband in love with the dead child. The attempt was to move the stone from the mouth of the grave, you know. To kind of get out of the death culture.
(I've loved this film since it first came out in 2002, but Sheridan's audio commentary is really wonderful as well--very rich.)

The armor of a dead man

From director Jim Sheridan’s forward to In America: A Portrait of the Film:
When I was doing my own story, I thought a lot about Bloom and his dead son, and the resonance throughout Ulysses, of Shakespeare, and of Hamlet in particular. And when I wondered if it was right to do such a personal story and cannibalize my own life, I remembered that the great Shakespeare had a child called Hamnet and that three years after his son’s death, he took out an old play and rewrote it.

And not only did he rewrite it, he went in the lonely isolation of backstage, he put on the armor of a dead man, and he clunked out on stage as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. That idea has always struck me as profound. A live man in dead man’s clothes talking to his dead son, alive, in front of him, on stage and asking for revenge. Shakespeare must have been tough, I thought, to keep the deep baritone of the ghost intact.

01 September 2008

Translating Hugo

I spent a relaxing Sunday morning finishing up my last post on the literary allusions in Anne of Green Gables while listening to a fascinating conversation between Rick Kleffel and Julie Rose, translator of Les Misérables (dated 08-07-2008 down near the bottom in his archive).

Their talk included discussion of Les Misérables as an experimental novel, the fact that she had never read it before translating it, the literary crimes of two previous translators--Charles Wilbur and Norman Denny (and it's not the Victorian who gets the harshest criticism), how she lived during the three years (and three drafts) it took to complete, thoughts on the "force of nature" that was Victor Hugo, the importance of new translations due to the rapid evolution of the English language, the role of fundamentalism in the work, its political factors, Hugo's writing process, and the novel's enduring relevance. I was impressed by her sheer love of the text and her confession that for awhile she completed only a paragraph a day. (It was wonderfully affirming.)