Sunday, April 14, 2013

Another fine mess you've gotten us into

This is the week in your book review cycle where you get to select a work that has been published in the past.  Your choices for this aspect of the cycle often involve works you've read in the past, works which now speak to you across the gap of time since you last read it, wanting you back for another visit, another opportunity to see what drew you in the first place.  

More important, there are possibilities for you to see what you missed then, within the realm of possibility, what--if anything--you may have learned since your last reading.

With great glee and anticipation, you've dipped into an old friend from your undergraduate days, The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius, in all likelihood the oldest extant complete novel.  There are at least two impressive facts about the version you've selected to revisit.  

The first fact is the information on the cover informing you the translator is Sarah Rudin.  The second fact is that you'd commended The Golden Ass to Brian Fagan as a way of bringing to life the chapter on donkeys for his new book in progress, as yet unnamed, dealing with the relationship between humans and animals.

You'd had no idea of the existence of the Rudin translation, but Fagan found it, remarked on its felicitous voice and attitude, causing you to ask to borrow his copy and then, after reading a single page, ordering it yourself to have as your own copy.

Now that you do own it, you are plunged into a rereading that has your head reeling with ideas, some of which you recall from your original contact with the work at the approximate age of twenty, naively thinking at the time how simple it would be to implement these ideas and as a result stride into the literary equivalent of the job market, quite able to support yourself and such family as you might acquire from your earned position in the literary world.

As it happens, you are able to some greater degree than when you were twenty to support yourself, but that ability is contingent upon your teaching and editing skills as well as your writing.

As it also happens, Sarah Rudin has as her publisher the same university press, Yale, as the protagonist of your unfinished novel, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, reestablishing your enthusiasm for that work well beyond the tiny coincidence if Yale being Rudin's publisher.  In real life, an oft heard mantra is "Location, location, location."  In the writing life and literary world, the operant mantra is more apt to be "Connection, connection, connection."

The connection between the previous paragraphs herein and the fact of Rudin's excellent, witty, and often downright funny translation is the word translation, itself.  Here's your explanation:

Translation is in metaphor the smuggling of valuable commodity across boundaries.  Often the boundaries are national, often they are as well of language, culture, and politics.  One of your favorite aphorisms is the Italian speak-for-itself, "Traddutore, trattore," or Translator, traitor.  To undertake a translation is in essence an act of some covert intent, of producing the literary equivalent of a replica wristwatch or a knock-off piece of designer clothing.

And yet.

And yet you, with some potential for translating things into American English from some Spanish and some Italian, attempt with some regularity the translation of chunks of Reality into the landscape of the Dramatic.  You attempt to portray scenes in which characters of a time and place and culture pursue agendas you might not be readily aware of until several drafts have transpired.

You  come upon a scene of outrageous humor or intimate poignancy or yet some other compelling emotional state.  Then you attempt to capture that scene, translate it to the story or narrative you have under way, translate it from the language of Reality to the language of Story.

Sometimes, often times when you have proceeded in some activity without thinking, you'll reach a point where you may have gone too far, said something of a possible hurtful nature or, even worse, of a bigoted or culturally insensitive potential, relying all the while on the cultural diplomatic immunity you have granted yourself, wherein your taste is above reproach.  

You find yourself in apology mode, smarting still from the humiliation of realizing you've trespassed on boundaries you'd not thought yourself capable of crossing.  "I only meant,"  you find yourself saying.  Or, if you are still in the defensive mode, "Don't you get the humor here?"  Your only meaning to say something unoffensive or acceptable is recognition of the mistranslation.  Your relying on the context of humor as a visa is lame, meant to splash layers of Teflon over your ultimate humiliation that will come when you allow yourself to see, as a writer must see, the consequences.

Language exists to be translated.  Feelings exist to inform and motivate.  Awareness of the need for precision of use and for depth of understanding hover about us like seagulls foraging for their breakfast.

Yo soy.
Io sono.
I am.
Ich bin.
Je suis.

They all reflect the joy of being you.  They all reflect the multiplicity of you which you must twist and bend to capture.

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