Como no traducir? How not to/to not translate? I received Andrés Ajens’ curious pirouetting question, which does not settle in English, by email a couple of months ago, announcing an August colloquium in Santiago de Chile. His further question set me wondering.
In post 13, when I spoke of Blanchot and translation as a step outside time, I briefly mentioned UK critic and Galician literary scholar Kirsty Hooper. Her landmark book Writing Galicia into the Worldis also a step outside time, one important to translation in a critical sense and in a wider optic. Its mission is other, but it opens up the stakes of translation itself, in a way that is co-incident with, and that has learned from, ideas of writers such as Édouard Glissant and Gilles Deleuze. Her work allows us to look anew at what it means to cross the borders of language, and better understand literature’s role in this crossing.
To tweak from the press website, the book’s “key theoretical contribution is to model a relational approach to a nation’s cultural history, which allows us to reframe a culture often dismissed as peripheral or minor as an active participant in a network of relation that connects local, national and global.”
The exciting thing is that it opens many possibilities to future investigators, and not just to those who study Galician culture (though, please, folks, do study Galician culture!). Hooper’s work is also co-incident and co-intuitive with ideas such as Anne-Marie Losonczy’s “cosavoir,” or “co-knowledge,” a current influence on the production of Quebec poet Chantal Neveu and others.
In working last week with translator and writer (and multimedia, book designer and theatre guy) Daniel Canty on his current translation in progress of Little Theatres as Petits Théâtres, I remembered the original inspiration for the wee bilingual Galician-English dictionary at the back of my theatres. It was my childhood Whitman Classics edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. No wonder that I’d always been drawn to translation!
Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885) attends her ear to the smallest of musics: rhythms of words and how they operate in transporting song and conversation into the page. How line-breaks work. Rhyme. How a copla or popular ditty might function as a break or cut, a secession, as Chus Pato might say.
In post 7, I quoted Sergio Waisman from Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery: “Like any act of writing, translation is always undertaken from a specific site: the translator’s language, but also the entire cultural and sociohistorical context in which translators perform their task.” In the in-traduisible, we translate the intra-duisible. Induce the text through the veil of the nuisible.
Which makes it almost impossible to answer the question of who the translator serves. The reader-cannibal-flesh/word-eater? Or the mercenary-writer who uses the translator (sometimes from beyond the grave) to pull a hat over her or his own face? Translating, one wishes to serve the text itself, but the conditions of reception in one’s own language make the process like shuffling a deck of cards with your arms behind a curtain.
The translation that results bears the memory of the original, and also incorporates into its fibre the resistance of the reader to let the foreign into their language, the resistance that is a cauterization of any reading practice from its very start: because we live somewhere. Somewhere translates itself into the translation. The prescription of untranslatability may haunt the translator, but as I translate, no, I am not haunted, I turn and wear the text, making its fibre into my fibre.