Monday, May 04, 2009

Like a Pot of Clay On the Wheel

This is how the Canadian Biblical scholar John Hobbins describes translation:

"It’s not about conforming a text in a source language to the dictates of past usage of a target language. A target language is more than the sum of attested usage. It is a vulnerable, receptive medium, to be worked like a pot on a wheel. Translation is about putting new wine into new wine skins."

Hmmm.. again on craftsmanship. The art that we lost in the business of translating. And then some more from the great Jerome Rothenberg:

"Translation alongside original creation is the great conduit for bringing new language and thought into a culture (...) for those of us who approach translation in this way, this enters into an assessment of any particular translation as an example of the translator’s art and practice."

And then Clayton Eshleman who won the Landon Translation Award for his Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo (that's 50 years of translation work), describing in his Afterword, subtitled A Translation Memoir his struggle with Vallejo, not in the usual sense of a translator working on a difficult text but in a way reminiscent of Lorca’s intuition that the greatest poetry results from a struggle with the Duende, the more-than-muse for poetry, speaking of “violent and morbid fantasies” and a dreamlike struggle with “a figure who possessed a language the meaning of which I was attempting to wrest away.” Of those early imaginings, he writes later: “I thought Vallejo day and night, dreamed Vallejo (...) Now I was having dreams in which Vallejo’s corpse, wearing muddy shoes, was laid out in bed between [Eshleman’s first wife] Barbara and me."

At the same time, and more than many, Eshleman is scrupulous in his working and goes to great lengths to get Vallejo right. As he tells it, speaking of advice given him by Cid Corman, an older poet/mentor, whatever the relationship might be to Vallejo or other translated poets, the act of translation was not to be an act of “interpretation,” a freewheeling remake of the original poem. Rather: “Corman taught me to respect the original at every point, to check everything (including words I thought I knew), to research arcane and archaic words, and to invent English words for coined words – in other words to aim for a translation that was absolutely accurate and up to the performance level of the original (at times, quite incompatible goals).

No comments: