Unreal Nature

December 14, 2014

Every Skillful Translator

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… involves us in restoring to them in silence all that the passage from one language to another has made them lose, and all that no language would ever have allowed them to express.

This is from the essay ‘Translated From … ‘ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan, discovering the importance of the instant he is in the process of living, repeats to himself the word “now” in many languages: now, maintenant, ahora, now, heute. But he is a little disappointed by the mediocrity of this vocabulary. “Now,” he says, “it has a funny sound to be a whole world and your life.” And he seeks other terms: Esta noche, ce soire, tonight, heute Abend. He tried to find in these words what they signify for him, his meeting with Maria, one that is also the meeting of his last hour, a meeting with death. He then pronounces the words dead, mort, muerto, and todt, then the words war, guerre, guerra, and Krieg. the word todt seems to him the deadest of all; the word Krieg, what is most similar to war. “Or was it only that he knew German the least well?”

… That literary works want to keep their distances, that they seek to distance themselves from the whole interval that always makes translation the best and a foreign work the best written, that is what explains (in part) the taste of symbolism for rare words, the search for exoticism, the success of “stories of the extraordinary,” the vitality of all mannerist literature and a good number of theories aiming to find recipes or formulas to move away from us a language that seems sometimes so close to us that we no longer understand it.

[ … ]

… Why are translated monologues more likely to seem to us silent and turned within? For many reasons, but first, because they are translated. Translation, if it is good, brings with it, without recourse to an artificial incoherence, the feeling of a light space between the words and what they aim at, of a possibility for them to slip outside of this form they have been given to return to the starting point, that is here the original language but that also symbolizes the original background on which words are imposed to be born from a language that scarcely separates itself from emptiness. Monologue in [Blanchot’s native] French novels is generally not translated enough. It does not send us back to another language and, too sure of its stutterings, it succeeds only in drawing attention to the words it finds, not to the words it replaces, and for which its only role should be to make their silent, ungraspable presence felt.

… in A Farewell to Arms, dialogue does not seek to attain silence by terseness but by an excess of chatter, by a come-and-go of easy conversations beneath which the seriousness of what must be understood is revealed. Thus, in She Came to Stay, the interminable dialogues in which some have seen, wrongly, a badly calculated move, are there to distract us from themselves and to make us aware, behind the brilliant ease of the words, of the obstinately silent voice of one who, even when she speaks, does not speak, a presence that is eager, free, and also absent, because foreign to words.

Let us admit it, these successes are rare. It is dangerous to appeal to the futility of rigor as image and to what is said too easily as a sign of what cannot be said. The greatest danger is not that the words are poor or null, but that this nullity, far from making them invisible, fixates us on them.

… [The advantage of translations is] this impression that the language that is spoken in dialogue is a borrowed language, to which the characters remain foreign, in which consequently there always remains more for them to say than they say, and in which their words are not actually words but a translation, a text for which they are not responsible, and that is only halfway their own. Because of that, they seem more distant to us because they adhere less to their words, they overflow them, they wait behind, and the feeling of imperfect communication that every skillful translator knows how to handle involves us in restoring to them in silence all that the passage from one language to another has made them lose, and all that no language would ever have allowed them to express.




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