Friday, April 13, 2012

True translation




True translations seeks to avoid interpretation. It is “against interpretation” in Susan Sontag’s sense of the phrase. True translation may also be impossible (to evoke a conception drawn from the work of Walter Benjamin). The true translation of poetry in particular often seeks word for word and phrases for phrase equivalents and at the same time seeks to avoid the temptation to gloss difficulties in the home language by replacing these difficulties with paraphrases and circumlocutions in the receiving language. True translation abstains from wordings that are  partial explanations constructed to ease the difficulties of translatability. Efforts of that sort will tend to limit the varieties of readings found in the original and force a single construction on the text under an impulse toward coherence, felt more keenly by the translator perhaps than the original warrants. Some translations, usually considered faulty, wantonly attempt to improve upon the original rather than translating it with due respect for its integrity, destroying inherent qualities embedded in the original. Nonetheless, the best translation is likely to be among the best readings that the poem undergoing, let us say,  analytical translation, is likely to receive. The test of analytical and true translation is especially challenging in cases of a baroque torquing that creates word orders in the home language through ellipsis and displacement of modifiers that are impossible to duplicate in the receiving language or in cases where extreme fragmentation in the home language deprive the translator of the gloss context often allows. And beyond these difficulties that are semantic and partly syntactic, as we are addressing poetry, there are matters of sound and tone and the various approximations of these qualities in one language by entirely different qualities in another language. Are there word for word equivalents of irony? useful strategies that respond to qualities of the musical phrase that mark the original? These are some of the questions and topics that an investigation into true translation of poetry will raise.

I have had one comment that suggests I need to clarify my language in the above, so I add this footnote as I am proposing a collaborative round table on the topic of True Translation: I think generally as Benjamin does, that the original has a quality of translatabilty that calls for translation. So the too literal doesn't get it at all. Still once you have a grasp on what is translatable you don't fudge the difficulties by going the route of interpretation (which usually addresses explanation of meaning and thereby narrows meaning).

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