Friday, October 14, 2011

Lost in Translation

Every time you set out to portray some facet of Reality and its denizens, you are performing one or more acts of translation.  As it often turns out, you are engaged in translation without knowing the actual language and conventions of the individuals you bring forth, making your attempts even chancier.

From time to time, as you engage in your own translations, you recall the dramatization of Robert Graves’s novel, I, Claudius, set back in the time of the Roman Empire and its menu of emperors.  You will not venture beyond your admiration for the performance of the English actor, Derek Jacobi, lest it distract from your reason for thinking of it in the first place:  A group of elite guards, a platoon of Germans, probably mercenaries, were in service to one of the emperors.  The German guards came forth speaking in a blatant cockney accent, which distinguished them from the other representations of military and, by their cockney accents, seemed absolutely in place and plausible as German language speakers.

This example is your shortcut around the need to describe in detail the way some evocation and some details—but by no means many evocations and many, many details perform the job of translating reality into a believable state the reader/audience willingly accepts as an authentic version of reality.  

 Each time you imagine two or more characters in a setting, then proceed to follow their agendas, you are in effect attempting to translate a reality that is an invention of your own making.  It often seems unusual that you would not know what language they are speaking or what secrets they are hiding because, after all is said and done, you have invented them, brought them to this particular setting in the first place.  How could you not know the depths of secrets and agendas they carry about with them?

Simple enough, old pal; even though you have brought them forth, you are limited in much the same way as you are with individuals you encounter in Reality.  You may think you know; you may in fact know enough to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t you also choose friends for their ability to surprise you?  You might even be surprised to discover they speak one or more languages in which you have no vocabulary.

Some years ago, you came across a two-word epigram in Italian.  Tradutore, traitore.  There it is.  The translator as traitor.  You do your best to get at the essence of authenticity, even in these notes to yourself.  Even so, there is the fear and sense that something has been lost, a genie wanting out of the bottle, a better vocabulary with which to render the information that grips you, squeezes your arm, makes impatient gestures at you.
In so many ways, the problem is a simple one and thus, as with many simple things, the embodiment of complexity.  Whether you knew it at earlier times or not, you were trying to portray emotions.  Early in the game, you were willing to let adjectives and adverbs take care of those feelings.  Not any more.  And so you search for the right words, coupled with the right gestures, undershot with the right tone.

No comments: