Friday, June 25, 2010

Translation adda

DU: It seems to me that translation, either Bangla-English or English-Bangla, must aspire to blend into the social milieu of the language it is being translated in. I remember some of the exquisite translations of English (a lot of them translations themselves from German and French) poetry into Bangla by Buddhadeb Bosu and Sudhindranath Dutta, where they translated some very Western mythic allusions into some comparable Indian/Bengali mythology that retained the spirit and the meaning of the original but cannot be called a "translation" in the strict sense of the term, though that is what they were trying to do. It seems to me that the translator must get to the spiritual heart of the text rather than try to convey the typical cultural intonations or local differences. Yes, something will be lost. But it is upto the translator to make up for that loss in terms of his/her knowledge of the social milieu of the language into which the translation is being made by rendering the untranslatable into another untranslatable. The translator is the bridge. A bridge helps you to cross from one side to the other, but does not merge one side into the other.

DE: I fully agree, but translating prose and verse are obviously so different. We all know about Rabindranath's description of poetry translation as expressing love through an attorney. William Radice has turned out to be a pretty good attorney though. But some bridges can very nearly merge both sides, figuratively and otherwise.

AD: I prefer Snoopy as an attorney!

PR: Some of the Old Man's translations of his own work make one cringe (like when you have a long wait at the Rabindra Sadan metro station!

DE: I agree with both of you. Our poet/singer/painter minister should do something about it. Looking forward to Snoopy's attorneying. Playwright grandnephew CM should recommend.

DU: Yes, I agree that translating prose and verse are different. I was talking more about the spirit of the act of translation itself. A translator is just like an anthropologist. An anthropologist can never render the "truth" of the other culture, only his/her representation of it in another language by using tropes of that language. Or how would they reach their audience? Ultimately the moral responsibility of being "truthful" has to be borne by the translator/ anthropologist alone.

RA: Can habitual liars be translators / anthropologists?! What about story-tellers?

DU: Anthropology as a discipline has defined itself as different from story-tellers. There is that all important issue of empiricity. A habitual liar can for all professional purposes be an anthropologist, and unless caught lying, may even be a very successful one. But Anthropology does not identify with story-telling.

There have been immense debates in the Western Anthropological circles about Margaret Mead's not-so-truthful ethnography of the Samoas. That is where self-reflexive anthropology - which then degenerated into near-soliloqui or just an exchange among people who know the jargon - got its start. Not that anthropologists have ever been anything but self-reflexive, or even could be, but "self-reflexivity" came to be publicly recognized as almost a genre at this point of time.

RA: Ok, now if an anthropologist is studying a story-teller (like a griot) - we have two levels of mediation! By rules of probability, the likelihood of "truth" is multiplicatively reduced!

DU: Yes, true :-) And then the Anthropologist will have to make the truth of the untruth explicit through her writing.

AD: I believe it has been observed that in Italian a Translator = Traduttore, which is quite close to a Betrayer =Traditore.

DU: Retelling, in whatever mode, always contain the possibility of a betrayal. The Italians are wise people.

RA: Are the Italians wise ... or merely truthful (about their lying)?

PR: I propose to print some T-shirts saying, THE LIE IS THE TRUTH OF OUR TIME. Am open to selling shares in the undertaking. Sell it online and at plenary sessions of all political parties, scientific and technology associations and religious rallies.

RA: And is HONESTY the greatest LIE of our time (or all time)?

DE: Its all MAYA!

AD: Could you please make some T-shirts with the line: "... eat the same".

Why? Well, on Bishnupur rail station, which is the jumping off point for the Ramakrishna - Saradamoni Tour, an enthusiastic station master once had large translated quotations carved in cement; the most famous being "Aam khete eyechis, Aam kheye jaa!"

Being a dedicated bureaucrat, on one platform he translated: "You have come to eat mangoes", and on the other: "Eat the same"

DE: Sadly, this time in South Africa, the Italians' wisdom failed miserably, or was it a case of traditore?

RA: The Italy team failed to translate potential into victory ... were they honest about their failings?

DE: Maybe it depends on whether those tears were honest?

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