20 August 2009

The Invisible Translator (5)

As previewed some time ago, Chapter 5, "Margin" is about modernist approaches to translation, starting with Ezra Pound, mainly for his work on translating from the Provencal.

The trouble with this chapter, as with the chapter on Newman's Homer, is that the products of a "foreignising" translation practice appear so ropey. Obviously, that may be because I've absorbed the hegemony too much, but I think there are other problems.

Pound obviously had a better ear for music than I do, and a major concern of his translation is to keep the music of the original, which he points out were always intended for singing. So words are chosen to replicate the rhythm and melody. But like Newman his process of foreignising often involves use of English archaisms. Venuti suggests this is to communicate the strangeness of the originals. But it seems a generic strangeness. Similarly, as I saw throughout the Cantos, there's a use of jarringly 20th century idioms, but again it's hard to see how these do anything other than say look how different those other words were.

Venuti then looks at the translations of Catullus by Zukofsky. These translations are interesting. Hm. Mrs Zukofsky provided a literal translation, and Mr Z then roughly translated them homophonically, using words that closely fit the sounds of the Latin, but are barely intelligible. I have to give an example:

Nulli si dicet mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, no si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,
in uento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.

Newly say dickered my love air my own would marry me all
whom but one, none see say Jupiter if she petted.
Dickered: said my love air could be o could dickered a man too
in wind o wet rapid a scribble reported in water.

Venuti says Zukofsky's works "heard a dazzling range of Englishes, dialects and discourses that issued from the foreign roots of English (Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French) and from different moments in the history of English-language culture."

When I looked at Pound's version of "Donna Mi Prega", I wondered if the word 'translation' was the right one. Same here. Isn't Zukofsky doing something different, which can only be called translation if you completely deny the existence of an author called Catullus?

The chapter then looks at the work of Paul Blackburn, a disciple of Ezra Pound, who also cut his poetic teeth on translations from the Provencal. Venuti comes over all Freudian, analysing Blackburn's oedipal conflict with Pound and its role in his development as a poet. It led to a similar blend of archaism and slang. And I have a similar doubt about the outcome.

I had a real problem with this chapter. In theory, something other than invisible translation sounds like a good idea, but in practice the results are horrible!

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