Tuesday, February 05, 2008

at his blog ryan daley responds to a comment i made re: translation.

as i say in my comment i am mono-lingual. however, i recall coming across a sound file of osip mandelstam reading his poems a few years ago. i don't know russian, and i only know mandelstam thru translation. and yet, i sat there listening this master read in a language i don't know and was moved beyond words. and it was that precise tone and manner that captivated me.

i remember some debate i had read about re: pure and impure language and poetry. i think the debate was had back in the last turn of the century. however, i thought that was nonsense since language itself is an impure medium. in other words, language changes over time. its meaning and even spellings morph. consider the slang you spoke as a teenager, and listen to the slang spoken by the teenagers today. it's different, like totally, no.

so poetry is in itself continuously translating meaning, event, thought and feelings. to be even more literal, translations of writing have been extremely important to me as a writer and as a reader. esp. as a reader. e.g. last week i got the urge to look up what i could on the mid-20th century czech poet jiri orten. there's little of orten in english but i am grateful for that little that is. are the translation of orten's poems precise? i can't say since i'm unable to read the originals, but i hazard that they are not.

they are poems tho, and poetry is not what gets lost in translation. poetry i suppose if i were to take sides regarding that silly debate of pure v. impure, is rather impure. poetry is slippery and protean. it takes and takes to give of itself. and its sources are various. poetry is impure because it is about serendipity and fortuitous accidents. luck plays an enormous part too. but thru discipline the poet can perhaps develop luck. i'm interested in the interstices, those places between meanings and languages. i'm interested in a poem becomes a poem rather than mere words on the page/screen. we begin at translation because that is where we find language.


At 1:49 PM, Blogger Catalin said...

Thanks. Beautiful.

I'm taking a class right now called "Notions of Competence" about what it means to know a language. It's a graduate seminar and my first time back in the classroom as a student in many years. Challenging, humbling, stimulating, irritating. I find that my ideas of what we know and what counts as language continue to change. I like your thoughts of poetry and also translation. Really, what isn't translation?

I don't like the words 'pure' and 'impure' as I don't know what they mean. The existence of one presupposes the existence or at least possibility of the other. I suppose in the chemical sense, there is purity, and it can be defined in a precise way. Can anything else?

At 8:13 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

catalin: i suppose 'pure' and 'impure' are rather nonsensical since one thing often doesn't preclude or exclude the other. in a chemical way yes there are things that are purely themselves. but that's above the notions that i try to get to here. language is like totatlly meta and therefore rad and tubular. the english language is a case in point where sources range from the latinate phrases to the most germanic of expressions. so then i meant to say that translation is in itself language but that language itself, and poetry in particular, translates everything, feelings, thoughts, sexuality, books etc., cinema, music, painting and scores of many many more, when it finally gets written. and to get more to my point i suppose i need a translator right now to try to express my meaning more clearly since i think i'm doing a bunch of stumbles as i type this up.


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