Five Times on Translation

small__ukasiewicz__Pi___razy___ok_adka_PLATONMy first post on this blog was about Fu wojny and some innovative ways of discussing translation theory and practice. Although I wrote that it’s nice to have works which are different from the usual, boring textbooks, it doesn’t mean that we cannot have interesting books about translation which are more down-to-earth than Bartnicki’s application of “ancient war strategies” to that field.

Karakter publishing house, a rather new one in Poland and already one of my favorites published a book of essays by renowned Polish translator Małorzata Łukasiewicz titled Pięć razy o przekładzie (“Five Times on Translation”). It concisely reflects on issues such as why we have literary translations, what problems does a translator encounter, what relations there are between different entities involved in translations etc. As we read on the back cover:

Referring to the history of literature, stories of other translators and her own experiences, the author talks about the dilemmas and paradoxes of translator’s work as well as how to read translations and what literature can be.

I’m not really keen on writing full blown reviews, so let me just point out some things which I especially liked and which sparked my thought. The second essay of the collection is connected directly with my earlier reflections on Fu wojny. It talks about the multitude of metaphors about translating. What’s most surprising is that they can be used both in more essayist, or informal as well as academic and defining contexts. It shows that when translation studies was a rather new discipline, we were looking for some means of defining what translation is by referring to everything around it. However, as the discipline was becoming more and more precise and well-grounded in theory, translation itself became a certain model or archetype (Łukasiewicz gives an example of gender studies and how it talks about the original work associated with masculinity and reproduction, rewriting with femininity).

Some interesting points are made on literature in general. When talking about literary translations we cannot avoid the topic of literary studies. The author writes:

There are books which does not satisfy you even after the second or the third reading. One would like to do something more with them. It can be a truly burning desire. Rewrite them, by hand, with the use of calligraphy and the most beautiful ink on a handmade paper? Learn it by heart? Tell it to someone with your own words? Find out why they puzzled and enchanted us so much? Analyze, interpret, dig out the underlying mechanisms? Is not that the source of literary studies, book clubs, literary criticism – and translation? In his title Gadamer claims: “Reading is a translation.” Gayatri Spivak inverts the subject with the predicate but binds them with the same strength: “Translation is the most intimate act of reading.”

Reading literature is an intellectual challenge which breeds a whole universe of ideas. Literary translation is one of the products of such process. Commercialization is one thing, but for the most part translating literature is and will always be a form of artistic and intellectual expression.

There’s much more to say about the book which only proves its merit. It mixes essayistic reflections with a pinch of theory (Nida, Derrida, Spivak and others). Such works are great for students as well as for all of those who are interested in literature from a more pragmatic perspective.

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Watch the Words

pointomegaSo I still haven’t read all of DeLillo’s works but I feel like it’s appropriate to say that in his newer novels he gets more inclined to write with certain ambiguity, about the metaphysical sphere of nature and aesthetics. It’s not like his earlier writings don’t share any of such characteristics, though still, reading White Noise or Underworld is different than reading Zero K or Point Omega, and the latter is the one which I’ve just read.

The title straightforwardly guides us to the so-called Omega Point, a concept developed by a Jesuit priest and an academic, Pierre de Chardin. It roughly refers to the unification of everything in the universe to a single, spiritual entity, a certain collective consciousness (entropy, huh?) In the novel, both Elster, an ex-war adviser who spends his retirement on a desert and Finley, a filmmaker intending to document his experience are concerned in different ways with the issue of passing time and the matter of consciousness. The plot starts and ends with 24 Hour Psycho, an art-piece showing Hitchcock’s movie slowed down to the period of twenty-four hours. As we read:

The film’s merciless pacing had no meaning without a corresponding watchfulness, the individual whose absolute alertness did not betray what was demanded. He stood and looked. In the time it took for Anthony Perkins to turn his head, there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things, or maybe he was seeing too much. But it was impossible to see to much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.

This one nails it. To a great extent, Finley is concerned with alertness, with being conscious about your surroundings, the very subject of your interest, and looking at things as they are. This is actually the exact reason why the “post-Underworld” DeLillo really speaks to me. His later works are completely immersed in those highly cogitative subjects, focusing strongly on language, both in a textual and kind of meta-textual sense. I think it can be difficult for less experienced readers to get through it, however it’s fantastic how big is the extent to which we can interpret such prose and also how satisfying can be reading it if we look past the ambiguities and admire its aesthetic quality.