I started thinking about Rita Copeland's book in remembering my experience in 2009 with Chus Pato and a few younger translators and poets in Galicia, translating poems out of English and into Galician, on Facebook! First, some Wallace Stevens—poet Oriana Méndez had felt on reading WS in English that the Spanish translations she had earlier read were inadequate—and as there were none in Galician, we made a couple. Then I turned to “Wooden Houses” by Lisa Robertson, which originally appeared in April 2005 in Jacket 27, and later was included in Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip. Just wanting to share Robertson's work in Galician. Chus Pato helped me immensely in my task.
“Wooden Houses” was written in Vancouver, Canada (forests, rain, a country of wooden houses), and became “Casas de madeira” (forests, rain, a country of stone houses), thus transferring not just the poem but the very materiality and vernacular of “wooden house.”
Lately I’ve been dipping into Rita Copeland’s ABC: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Translation in the Middle Ages, in which she examines how scholars of the Middle Ages considered the works and culture of Greek and Latin Antiquity, and dissects in formidable fashion how rhetoric (argument, convincing, thus invention) and grammar (fidelity, thus structure, tradition) informed and shaped translation, fashioning a kind of struggle between the same and difference, between the authority of the original text (presumed or constructed) and the positionality of the interpreter or translator as a historically bound actor. And, further, how exegesis (hermeneutics, positioning and explaining) in Medieval times moved translation into the vernacular and opened it to other languages, releasing it from the hold of Latin.
What intrigues is that so many of the struggles and energies of that time echo in the struggles and energies of our own era. Necessary, fruitful struggles!
“…Roman theory,” writes Copeland, “conceives translation [from Greek, of course] as a rhetorical activity: the object of the translation is difference with the source, and the act of translating is comparable to the act of inventing one’s own argument out of available topics.