Translation as Commentary (or, Commentary as Translation?)

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J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he studies literature and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    I have absolutely nothing to add. Just wanted to say thanks for this.Report

  2. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    Poetry and puns are the hardest things to translate.

    Ogden Nash must be the killer.

    I don’t know enough translations to comment further.Report

  3. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    Agree with Chris on the thanks, but disagree with the reading of the translation – or, rather, find it somewhat arbitrary – not wrong, but merely one of several defensible parallel readings. I think what I’d like to say will be difficult to discuss in a drive-by comment, which is unfortunately all I have time for. I’ll just say that I doubt the metaphor or dimension of the “external” or of a pointing “outward” works for the peculiar act of translator’s treason, since even while it may in some sense point “outward” from the translation it collapses distance from the original poem. It refuses to duplicate or imitate the original, but insists finally or briefly to become the original. It’s as though you’re watching a “re-make” of some successful foreign film when actual footage from the original replaces what you’ve been watching. One might respond that this forced proximity at the same time marks the actual distance, or that identity with the original paradoxically marks the difference, yet the same paradox afflicts the poem that is both about and of events that we call “historical,” but which for the poet and arguably for all of us are a history still being lived, not an historical text “over there, back then.” I believe Celan referred to his poetics as “wounded,” and maybe we can say something similar about the translation as translation. It’s not so much an enactive critique or commentary as an enacted refusal of critique or commentary. Now if I started trying to talk about Adorno, too, I’d really never get to my chores…

    Are you perhaps familiar with the life and music of Ilse Weber?Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    …Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
    Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
    Always assail them. The Word in the desert
    Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
    The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
    The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

    Paul Celan lived at the edge of language. Every language carries its own freight of impenetrability. Subtle cadences betray the smooth edges of water-shaped rocks, phrase combinations, specificity smeared out thinly across context and sentence formations. Language emerges from landscapes and the people who live in them. Paul Celan was a geologist of words.

    Truth is, Felstiner’s translation doesn’t do much for me. I’ve translated stuff around here a bit, I have my own voice as a translator. Maybe I could do a translation of some Paul Celan. I’ll just correct two lines from the Felstiner translation: they seem important.

    der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau
    er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau

    Death is a Master from Germany and his eye is blue
    he shoots you with lead slugs he shoots you, all right.

    Celan is trying to rhyme blau and genau, carrying the scansion of the previous line in 3/4 time, sein Auge ist blau / er trifft dich genau. The word “genau” implies enough, completeness.

    Just finished driving 1240 miles in two days. Couldn’t find a decent place to stay in New Orleans to save my life, hardly.Report

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