Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Trans-e-lation

Over the next month or so posting will only happen at irregular intervals. Once June happens, i'll try to return to a multiple-posts-per-week updating schedule, but for now i'm busy writing about dead women in various literatures and preparing for exams. Anyways, here is an excerpt from a presentation i did on Erin Mouré's Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person:

... Mouré describes her textual adventure as “trans-e-lation” rather than “translation”. Critic Sheila Hyland says that “In this case the e=extra. [Mouré] is translating, but she is doing more.” Mouré is adapting the poem into the cityscape of 21st century Toronto, and replacing the experience of Alberto Caeiro with that of Eirin-with-an-extra-I Moure. Charles Barbour explains that Mouré actively and deliberately dislocates the poem’s original context, translating, trans-e-lating, or transcreatingPessoa's lines on a solitary male shepherd living amidst the pastoral simplicity of the Portuguese countryside, from the perspective of a displaced female nomad temporarily residing amidst the historically layered and culturally dense urban landscape of twenty-first century Toronto.” But, “Even while explicitly in the process of "trans-e-lating" the language of another, Moure constantly endeavors to recall the immediacy of experience-its elated, ephemeral, transient, and finally ungraspable quality. Experience is always singular and discrete, specific to particular contexts, and yet, paradoxically, is also always artificial and borrowed, articulated through the voice of another.”

In Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person, Mouré reproduces the structure, devices, and atmosphere of the original poem, if not the exact words or situations. Mouré describes this translation as “faithful, but different” (“Hi, Fidelity!”). She further explains that “the idiom in the target language had to be resolutely Canadian but also a little old-fashioned, a little quaint from a 21st-century perspective (as Caeiro's Portuguese, it is said, was a little curious and simple as well)” (“Hi, Fidelity!”). While Mouré calls this her “simple book,” there is a high level of complexity; Barbour points out that she engages many kinds of word games, of which he says “While extremely clever, such word games-repetitions, reversals, recitations, and paradoxes-must, I think, also be taken very seriously. They must be read not merely as rhetorical manoeuvers, but also as tragically doomed efforts to overcome the insuperable divide between language and experience, semiotics and phenomena, words and things. Poetry has the painful task not of completing, but of repeatedly enacting the very impossibility of this gesture.” Language is in a state of flux, and so cannot capture experience in a permanent way. Words can only ever represent the material world, and even then only in a transitory way.

Take, for instance, the translation of the Portuguese word coisa. Throughout the English translation, this word appears as English thing, French chose, or untranslated. On page 73, Mouré writes “I’m stuck with human language / which gives coisas personalities, and imposes names on choses.” And on page 99, “Things have no meaning, they have existence. / Things are the one hidden meaning of things. / It’s kind of fun. / That’s why I call them coisas, or choses.” This multilingual complexity is Mouré’s; it is not present in the original Portuguese text. By using coisa and chose for “thing”, Mouré returns to a focus on language that is emblematic of much of her other poetry; signifier does not equal signified – an object is not its name, it is an object. Caeiro also emphasizes this point, but without the layering of languages that Mouré employs. This multiplicity of languages might also represent the multicultural city of Toronto by capturing some of the non-English sounds that might exist in the poem's neighbourhood.

Mouré explains that her practice of translation is really one of reading: “A practice of reading is always embodied. A translation always translates a reading practice enacted on a text, not simply "an original text." And reading practices are codifications/decodifications that are historically and culturally determined. As such, a work, in the course of translation, provokes an inscription of the reader/translator's embodiment (as site of cultural production but also of resistances: to normative sexual definitions, to contemporary notions of urban life, etc.) into the translated text. Whether or not this is acknowledged” (“Hi, Fidelity!”). Translation is not a precise science; because language and culture both change, the act of translation is located in a specific time and place. Trans-e-lation is about recreating the context, rather than the text.

Barbour, Charles. “Beyond can be our model.” Canadian Literature, 176 (2003): 172 -174. Literature Online. York U Lib., Toronto. 23 April 2009.
Hyland, Sheila. Rev. of Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person by Eirin Moure. The Antigonish Review, 134. 23 April 2009.
Mouré, Erin. “Hi, Fidelity! or Translating Fernando Pessoa: Felicity was Ever My Aim.” 22 April 2009.

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