Wednesday, September 03, 2003

A note on translation from Murat Nemet-Nejat:


Dear Ron,

I just read your thoughts on translation in your August blog:

"I simply don’t know if there is a tradition of homophonia in Oulipo or other languages, or if the form is specifically American (one might argue that its dynamics replicate the treasure collecting instincts of centuries of exploration by Westciv hegemons, that a homophonic translation isn’t necessarily that different from seeing an Egyptian tomb on the edge of Central Park). From my perspective, a more telling question is whether or not it’s possible, if there should not be a fortuitous correspondence of tones between source & target languages, to assert other values in the homophonic translation, to make it anything other than a statement about this ghost dance of tongues."

Is really translation about transferring? Walter Benjamin says it is distance that makes a work translatable: translation is a motion by two languages to a third place. I am guessing that is what you are implying by 'this ghost dance of tongues,' though I sense a negative twist in your assertion.

In a homophonic translation questions underlying the translation process do not disappear. What is sound? What about the "sound" of the other tongue is one translating? The physical texture of words? the cadences, the movement among words? the change of pitch?

In your entry you speculate that you know of no Asian languages translated homophonically because their sound structures are very different. Wouldn't a simpler explanation be that there is no interest? After all Chris is translating a surrealist icon. Catullus is a Western classic. These are re-writings of assimilated entities.

There is at least one homophonic translation of the Basho frog poem I remember. Of course, that haiku can be seen as a sound poem in the original.

Once the association of translation with similarity is decoupled, all sorts of possibilities open up. I do all my writing in English though my English is affected by the rhythms, thought and syntactical patterns of Turkish, an Asiatic "sound" which is very different from English.

This gives me a few choices, given, by your view, an unbreachable distance between the two:

a) I can keep quiet and stop writing. By the way, that was the advice of Ciardi – no person can write poetry outside one's mother tongue.*

b) I can pretend I am a full-blooded American and write the way I will be taught at one college or another.

c) I can insist that the way I experience English will become part of this language.

One's idea of translation is related to one's assumptions on other things, particularly how one sees the other and lets oneself be affected by it.

Of course, the whole of Wittgenstein's language systems makes any idea of translation impossible. It supports closed systems.

In the last several months I did not get involved in any blog reading since I have been finishing an anthology of Turkish poetry I was working on four years. This labor day weekend it is finished. Your post on the Poetry List caught my attention.

My best.

Murat Nemet-Nejat



* Ciardi appears to have forgotten Joseph Conrad, Louis Zukofsky, Jack Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Anselm Hollo, Pierre Joris, Chris Tysh, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa & even Samuel Beckett, all authors who wrote in something other than the tongue spoken in their childhood homes  — RS