Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Langwidge Pt. 1

More uncertainty (sorry. I'm genuinely, really, truly sorry but you can always just click that 'x' in the top right corner if it gets too much). Us folks on the MA have just been looking at literary translations (into different languages, rather  than different genres - which I did on part of my BA incidentally), and yeah it's a very thought-provoking endeavour. The questions, tensions and problems that arise are truly chewy considerations. For example, with poetry one of the big choices you have to make is whether to keep the rhyme scheme (obviously assuming there is one). Think about it: poems that rhyme already have their nature skewed into a kind of 'taut' form, so in translation the poem is further pulled and stretched semantically just for the 'benefit' of same-sounding sentence ends. But hey, you might want that.

I found it almost... unnerving (perhaps not the right word, but I work with what I'm given) that we were talking about what amounted to a responsibility to keep the original essence of the piece intact and no-one seemed upset by it. To me it's obvious that such a perfection is impossible. The phonemes all change (so it sounds very different), the shape of the poem is easily changed, the precise meanings of individual words change (imagine translating into a language whose conceptual mapping of colours is entirely different to ones own) and so on... I think the degree of similarity is kind of irrelevant. The translation's worth as a poem on its own merit is really the only thing that should matter. Then (healthy) discussion about why certain decisions were made can arise. At the end of the day, someone else could try and translate the same piece themselves. There just is no 'right answer', and surely that's the big message? It's as liberating as it is scary, that's a message we can all dance to (ANALOGY AGREEMENT ALERT).

We also talked about 'versions' which are apparently what happens when a writer translates something 'however they want' (I won't go into why that sounds to me like a meaningless thing to say). Basically, these poems have 'very little sense of the original' and were looked down upon in no uncertain terms when we discussed them. But why? Just like memory is a creative process, surely translation cannot fail to be also. At the very least, a translator should read the original they are working on, but after that, how can we be so sure about what's right and wrong? Art is (in an overly-basic and inexhaustive description) a reforming of sense perceptions that the brain has digested, so why not read the original and then, once that experience is in the mind, rewrite whatever you think. Does it make you 'correct' if you slave over every single word and letter? Every artist has to make decisions about what they're working on and the idea is that they know why they made them and can thus defend them. That's the essence, not simply 'I wanted to make it the same'. Strive for perfection if you want (it doesn't matter that you'll fail), but also what you feel is right should not be criticised solely on the grounds of not being like someone else's opinion of perfection.

I've not even got onto the main 'meat' of what I wanted to write about: language itself. I'll be talking about tongues in the next part, hope to see you there. [Part 2]

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