11/25/06

Ideas Towards a Theory of Translation in Eda

MURAT NEMET-NEJAT

Murat Nemet-NejatI

"No gendered pronouns, no stable word order, Turkish is a tongue of radical melancholia."

      "The Idea of a Book," Eda: an Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, 2003

The above statement, which seems to be about the Turkish language, in truth is also an analysis of English. The statement asserts a tension, a dialectic between the two languages, removing the grammars of both from their states of naturalness. Substantiating them both, it turns them both into distinct systems of contemplation -what is there, and what is not here...

For instance, the natural thing for a Turkish translator to do is to use the appropriate gender pronoun in given passages. In Eda, I follow the reverse system. Unless the gender reference is absolutely specific, I shift the pronoun. This method -which results in a "translated text" which is more distant, more unsettling to the host reader- has two reasons. A submerged theme of coded homosexuality exists in the 20th Turkish poetry, a theme that gradually is liberated and comes to the surface. The Eda anthology is interested in this process of liberation.

Second, because the very concept of distinctions, between animate and inanimate, object and human, male and female, love and sex, human or divine does not exist in Sufism, which is the metaphysics at the heart of this language and poetry.

Consequently, the strategy of distance, of subtle disorientation becomes a portal to enter, or at least get a hint of, a completely different cultural matrix. The translation involves itself not only with individual poems, but also the society, the city, the culture in which the poem lives, from which it derives. The radical melancholia is hooked to a specific mode of consciousness, as it works itself through a specific language.

The Hour of Sleep

Seeing me he came from you
wanting himself, love, I was in you,
let him take from me, the wanter, what he wants

I am near you, I came near you, me,
hasn't flown yet, will go then,
you, time then, for your want.

Waited for your arrival, with you,
near, next someone someone, with me
I'll love him, he forgot it before,

Forgetting, he slept, the before, with the one there,
but he says he compares tears to me, his better self,
sleeping forget, said, hey you, the one here.

More than me you, I'll remember, I
sleep in you, me
if you want to see, come, look where I sleep.

Romeo, my Romeo's leaving me,
when you wake up, turn back, my lover, here, towards you,
as I sleep, me, on the road you meet, me, I'll meet you.

I had arrived, here, I want to find, here, again,
as I wake up be near me you found me
only I love as much as you love me, you.

Don't lie, love invisibly, me,
there where you spent the night
search me, can you sleep, then, near me, in you.

Let's sleep, let's, one-two-three-thirty,
four-five-six-thirty, seven-eight-nine-thirty,
ten-thirty, sleep time.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.

(from Romeo and Romeo, by Ahmet Güntan, 1995, translated from Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat)

II

"As much as a collection of translations of poems and essays, this book is a translation of a language. Due to the fortuitous convergence of historical, linguistic and geographic factors, in the 20th century -from the creation of the Turkish Republic in the 1920's to the 1990's when Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium turned from a jewel-like city of contrasts of under a million to a city of twelve million- Turkey created a body of poetry unique in the 20th century, with its own poetics, world view and idiosyncratic sensibility. What is more these qualities are intimately related to the nature of Turkish as a language -its strengths and its defining limits. As historical changes occurred, the language in this poetry responded to them, flowered, changed; but always remaining a continuum, a psychic essence, a dialectic which is an arabesque. It is this silent melody of the mind -the cadence of its total allure- which this collection tries to translate. While every effort has been made to create the individual music of each poem and poet, none can really be understood without responding to the movement running through them, through Turkish in the 20th century. I call this essence eda, each poet, poem being a specific case of eda, unique stations in the progress of the Turkish soul, language.

In The Task of the Translator Walter Benjamin says that what gives a language 'translatability' is its distance from the host language. Eda is this distance."

      "The Idea of a Book," Eda: an Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, 2003

In Eda a state of being is transformed into a movement, dance of language. It does so by creating a narrative in which there are three characters. The first is the city of Istanbul, the body, the space in which the movement of the spirit occurs. The second is Turkish itself, a totally agglutinative language, with an absolutely flexible, permutable word order, which enables the language to record very subtle nuances of feeling, to record the process of perception as it emerges. The third is Sufism, originating from Central Asian Shamanism, which intuits a deep unity in multiplicity, in chaos. This impulse to unity balances the vertiginous impulse of the Turkish language and society towards chaos. It enables a state of extreme differentiation, in culture and poetry, to thrive as a living organism.

In Eda both sides of the translation pole see themselves in a new way, emerging from out of their systems. Turkish becomes aware of Eda as an organizing principle. In point of fact, this anthology, which includes many essays, basically written as a tool of understanding for Western audiences, has had a surprising and crucial function of self-definition for Turkish poets and critics. For once, they were able to see their achievements in their own terms, without being co-opted by Western terminology or thought systems, such as surrealism or symbolism, etc.

For the Western reader the situation is more complex, because Eda avoids familiar templates, points of reference to make the material familiar. The relationship is tangential, the text existing as a meta-language, which basically what translation is. Its presents to the host language reader a field, a dream of possible alternatives, which the host language can or may not take.

In that way, in a translation both languages move to a third place where language sees or may have the possibility of seeing itself in a new perspective, in that way transforming itself.

Sleep

Sleeping you depart,
forgetter of your leaving is, me
as I return from sleep, get,
you return from sleep, you.

As I return from sleep
if you return into
me, there forget
what it forgot, you.

Sleep with me, you,
in sleep you depart, from me,
in sleep I forget, I, I
depart, from you.

The sleeper departs, departer sleeps,
the mark in sleep, me,
I'll lull to sleep,
in me, what repeats itself.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.

(from Romeo and Romeo, by Ahmet Güntan, translated from Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat)

Murat Nemet-Nejat
November 18, 2006
The New York Literary Translation Festival
Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey

2 comments:

wil said...

Thank you. Very interesting! Would like translation in Dutch (of the poem).
Bijzonder interessant dit artikel.
Maar hoe vertaal je het? Zoiets?

Slaap

In mijn slaap vertrek je,
jouw vertrek vergetend ben, ik
als ik terugkeer uit de slaap, krijg,
jij komt terug uit de slaap, jou

als ik terugkom uit de slaap
en jij keert terug in
mij, vergeet daar
wat het vergat, jou

Slaap met mij, jij,
in de slaap vertrek je, van mij,
in slaap vergeet ik, ik, ik
vertrek, uit jou.

De slapende vertrekt, de vertrekkende slaapt,
het slaapt in me, ik,
ik zal in slaap zingen,
in mij, wat zichzelf herhaalt.

Nog één keer, één keer, één keer,
Ik wil helemaal opnieuw beginnen

Nog één keer, één keer, één keer,
Wat niet wil stoppen stoppen

Nog één keer, één keer, één keer,
wat wegholt, volgt.

Murat said...

Very good. Here is the translation of the entire, "Romeo & Romeo" (Ahmet Güntan, 1995), as it appears in the Eda anthology. I am also adding an essay on the poem, "Ahmet Güntan's Romeo and Romeo: the Melody of Sufi Union,"which also is in the anthology.

I am not sure if the comment section will preserve the format of the poem. If it does not, I may perhaps send it as a direct post.

Ciao,

Murat

ROMEO VE ROMEO (1990-1994), Ahmt Güntan

The Hour of Sleep

Seeing me he came from you
wanting himself, love, I was in you,
let him take from me, the wanter, what he wants

I am near you, I came near you, me,
hasn't flown yet, will go then,
you, time then, for your want.

Waited for your arrival, with you,
near, next someone someone, with me
I’ll love him, he forgot it before,

Forgetting, he slept, the before, with the one there,
but he says he compares tears to me, his better self,
sleeping forget, said, hey you, the one here.

More than me you, I’ll remember, I
sleep in you, me
if you want to see, come, look where I sleep.

Romeo, my Romeo's leaving me,
when you wake up, turn back, my lover, here, towards you,
as I sleep, me, on the road you meet, me, I'll meet you.

I had arrived, here, I want to find, here, again,
as I wake up be near me you found me
only I love as much as you love me, you.

Don’t lie, love invisibly, me,
there where you spent the night
search me, can you sleep, then, near me, in you.

Let's sleep, let's, one-two-three-thirty,
four-five-six-thirty, seven-eight-nine-thirty,
ten-thirty, sleep time.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.
Lullaby

I'm with myself, alone, for myself,
walking around, me, taking you out,
who, u-turning, takes within you, me.

I won't be, here, you,
from where you sleep, I continue, as I wake up, me,
where you forgot, I start, as I forget, you.

I won't forget, what I forgot, fooling, you,
you forgot what you did, did me,
you sleep when I wake up, in your sleep tell me, me, what you got to tell me.

What I sleep with, before I asleep, give to me,
wake up, you I feel sleepy I must go, to me,
sleep with me, see what turns up, turns to where I turn, to you.

Sleepy, you can wait for my waking up, what it will give is me,
waiting to wake up I see, you,
in sleep, waiting waiting for your waking up, in me.

Little left, to my sleep, if you feel unsleepy, follow,
you forget what you forgot, the target in sleep, me,
what I'd forgotten I didn’t, I, you.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.

Sleep

Sleeping you depart,
forgetter of your leaving is, me
as I return from sleep, get,
you return from sleep, you.

As I return from sleep
if you return into
me, there forget
what it forgot, you.

Sleep with me, you,
in sleep you depart, from me,
in sleep I forget, I, I
depart, from you.

The sleeper departs, departer sleeps,
the mark in sleep, me,
I'll lull to sleep,
in me, what repeats itself.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.
Dream

Looks for a simple thing: your looking for me
I do not object to, he'll pursue his objection,
I do not look for you the way you do
me, the one I look for does exactly as I want him to, me.

Very simple, it, to me, you will show me,
as you look in your manner for me, I’ll still be there,
whatever turns up, fetch and show me,
in my searching place, I'll find and return me.

Very simple, what I look for is pure, not in you, you aren't in me,
come, find me, I am asleep in you,
you were fooling me in my sleep, me
from me, come, sleep in it, you, desiring me

Very simple, it’ll make me sleep, your sleep, me,
without knowing with whom I'm falling, in love with you,
didn’t catch on, someone, he is looking for me
fool him, show him, again to no one

I want to return to the beginning, once more,
lie down, if you want to forget, lie down then forget
is there someone by you who knows, who can know
you’re sleeping, now then forget me.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop stop.

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.
The Hour to Wake Up

Come, he said, let's carry it together, he said.
As much as I can carry, I said.
As much as you can carry, he said.

You are leaving, don't, stay here I said, he said
I said don't go far he said, he says.
am not leaving, I'm staying, I said.

Sleep makes one rest he said, I said.
Sleep erases things he says he said, I said
I listen to the bitter end, I said he said he says

He opens, I said, the door, I said,
to me I said, it's true I said.
there, I said, is visible, I said, the arriver, I said.

He's shutting it to me, he said,
I'll open it, don't you worry I said, he said.

Justice Romeo!

Justice, my Romeo!


"Ahmet Güntan’s Romeo and Romeo:
The Melody of Sufi Union"


Ahmet Güntan’s Romeo and Romeo is a love poem between two men –the title is the only clue to that- in which the lovers attempt to enter each others’ sleep to reach a mystical union. The five sections of the poem follow the steps in the sleep process: “The Hour of Sleep,” “Lullaby,” “Sleep,” “Dream,” “The Hour to Wake Up.”

Obstacles are hinted at during this pursuit of absolute union. The sleep and wake-up times of the two appear out of sync with each other, one waking up exactly when the other is going to sleep; there is also the hint of a third person involved, a “he” or “she” or “it” (no gender distinction or distinction between animate and inanimate exists in Turkish). In the melody/argument of the poem, “I” argues that the logical impossibility of being at two places at the same time can be transcended in the loving act of penetrating another’s sleep because in this act one turns into the other person. Looking for the other, one finds oneself: “I'm with myself, alone, for myself,/ walking around, me, taking you out,/ who, u-turning, takes within you, me.”(“Dream”)

Entering another’s sleep is both an erotic and philosophical endeavor, related to the Sufi concept of “arc of ascent,” the process (also a curve, a melody) by which the distances among the elements fuse themselves into One Divine Light. This erotic yearning is also a movement of the mind, towards justice, the purified simplicity of mathematics. In the final two lines of the poem, Romeo and Justice become one: “Justice Romeo!//Justice, my Romeo!” (“The Hour to Wake Up”)

Quite small in vocabulary, Turkish has a “radial” tendency, different meanings and grammatical functions converging, collapsing into the same words, sounds. The poem exploits this tendency, turning itself into the sound of Sufi union, the melody of the “arc of ascent.” Its intentionally minimalist vocabulary creates infinite variations, few words echoing and circling around each other, pulling towards a center: “Sleep with me, you,/in sleep you depart, from me,/in sleep I forget, I, I/depart from you.” (“Sleep”)

Economy is at the heart of Turkish literature, of that aspect which has Central Asian, pre-Islamic connections. Sufism has similar roots. Romeo and Romeo echoes the rhythms of the 13th century Sufi folk poet, Yunus Emre. One might call Romeo and Romeo a gay spiritual written at the start of the third millennium.

This spirituality is anti-western, anti-modern –if one takes these terms to mean what has happened after the Renaissance in the West. It builds a bridge between ideas implicit in Arnold Schønberg and John Cage and traditions outside the West –specifically the Islam, which was the ideological antagonist of the West until the 16th-17th centuries. With roots in Plato, believing in the spirituality of colors and design, the Moorish and Sufi strains of Islam absolutely believe in the unity between the mind and the senses. Cartesian duality and its variations are inconceivable. In fact, embodiments of “the arc of ascent” are exercises of denial of this duality. It is this historical, intellectual challenge which makes Ahmet Güntan’s poem and the works of a few other Turkish poets around him (Lale Müldür, Sami Baydar, Seyhan Erozçelik, Küçük Iskender, Enis Batur) so exciting and of such great value.





Ciao,