5/22/07

Padcha Tuntha-obas review by Craig Perez

Please find here a review of _composite.diplomacy_, by Tuntha-obas:

http://galatearesurrection6.blogspot.com/2007/05/composite-diplomacy-by-padcha-tuntha.html

Tinfish Press has published a number of translations from the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other languages. See tinfishpress.com

We have also published work in which languages other than English are NOT translated, including the Tagalog and Baybayin of Barbara Jane Reyes's _Poeta en San Francisco_, the Samoan of Jacinta Galea`i's _Aching for Mango Friends_, and our several titles in Pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English).

The Pidgin titles are--mostly--accessible to a standard English reader (though we included a cd with Joe Hadley's _2 poems bai bradajo_, because his "calligraphy" is difficult to assimilate. But try to translate these works into standard English and you get a largely working class content and diction sounding as if it's been run through a King's English strainer. The Pymalion effect, perhaps.

So what I'm wondering, based also on a heated discussion I had recently with Linh Dinh, is the question of when it might be best NOT to translate? Are there occasions when for thematic reasons, as with the Reyes project, that the resistance of Tagalog to the rather more imperial English is effective as a symbolic act (even when most readers do not comprehend the word by word meaning of the language), or is it best to try always to convey meaning directly? What do you make of Jacinta Galea`i's contention that, while she uses Samoan in her mainly English language work, she does so in a "friendly" way, providing enough context for a non-Samoan speaker to understand what is going on? Would it be preferable for her to write about her experience using one language that most of us know and another that most of us do not?

aloha, Susan

PS coming soon, _Tinfish_ #17 and _Corpse Watching_, an English language text by Sarith Peou, who survived the Cambodian genocide.

9 comments:

Murat said...

Susan,

If a poem contains both languages in itself, I think that texture needs to be maintained, one way or another. In that way, the translation must "not translate" to translate a more crucial totality.

For instance, many Javier poems are built on this double texture (tagalog and English), which connects to the idea of 'accent."

Ciao,

Murat

Susan said...

Hello Murat--Javier has poems in the next Tinfish . . . although these have no Tagalog in them. I tend to like poems that incorporate "other" languages, but one of the fiercest arguments I've ever witnessed in an undergraduate class involved whether or not material in Tagalog should have been translated into English. While the "should" word is problematic, it certainly made for a good discussion of language and history.

Murat said...

Susan,

When the poet has chosen to use two languages in his/her poem, he/she is making a statement about texture, sound structures. It is a bit like an artist introducing physical objects to the surface of a painting. To eliminate these contrasts, flattening the poetic surface in a translation, it seems to me, is like making a poster reproduction of such a painting.

I have had to face this problem twice translating from Turkish. One of them is with Lale Müldür, who uses English phrases in some of her poems, which of course put me in an odd situation. How do you translate an English phrase in another language into English? In this case, I solved the problem by putting the English phrases in italics in the translation, adding a footnote saying what that meant.

The more complicated problem was with a poem of 1921, "That Space," by the poet Ahmet Hasim. This is an important poem in Turkish literature because, Hasim, within the poem, is trying to move from Ottoman Turkish -the established aristocratic literary language of the time- to one built on purely Turkish syntax. The poem is basically written in two languages. Whenever Hasim can not quite say something in the new language, he introduces an Ottoman phrase for the thought, which has a completely different syntactical base and vocabulary. It was impossible to keep this double texture because in this poem Hasim is discovering/creating the sinuous line which will be the heart of Turkish poetry -the heart of its Eda- in the next eighty years. Any time I tried to createthat double texture in the translation, the discovery of the sinuous motion -in the very process of being created- was going to be lost. Finally, I decided to focus on the translation of that sinuousness, letting the other element go for the moment -that element of pastiche. I picked it up in another poem of Hasim, "Ascension," for which the literal translation would be "Ladder." In this poem, Hasim fuses the end of the day -a "descent"- with the climb of a ladder, a key Sufi idea underlying it, that the end of life actually is a spiritual awakening.

Translating the poem, I decided to make the "explanation" of the poem, its "prose," part of the poem. Therefore, in the translation, a "poetic" texture interweaves with a "prose" texture, hinting at the complex polyphony of texture that Hasim's poetry may involve (these translations are in my Eda antholgy of turkish poetry). In other words,where I could not enter from the front door, I tried to enter from the back door.

I hope all this is reasonably clear.

Ciao,

Murat

Ciao,

Murat

Susan said...

Murat--I'm definitely with you on this, but then there's the issue of Hawaiian language mele, or chant. There have been bad and better translations, but some Hawaiians think that these mele should not be translated because the emphasis should all be on developing Hawaiian culture, not making it accessible to readers outside the culture. I'm sure there must be other instances of such a refusal to translate. One of the fascinating aspects of Hawaiian chant, though, which would lend itself to an innovative translation practice, is the use of kaona, or words that mean many things at once--kind of culturally inscribed puns. So one could translate each line, say, two or three times, once literally and then according to the kaona.

aloha, Susan

Samuel Vriezen said...

There have been bad and better translations, but some Hawaiians think that these mele should not be translated because the emphasis should all be on developing Hawaiian culture, not making it accessible to readers outside the culture. I'm sure there must be other instances of such a refusal to translate.

This I find fascinating and disturbing. I think I can understand the sensitivity of the issue, but on the other hand, what does it mean to keep your culture to yourself? I could imagine there might be a danger of making a fetish out of authenticity which would end up falsifying that same authenticity. Or, another question, what if the translation is in fact meant to develop the culture of the language translated to? Is it at all possible to have freedom of cultural distribution within some culture, but to close it up to outsiders?

Mind, I have no position on this, just a gut feeling that I'd love to know every poem ever written in any language just to see what's possible.

The issue of translation of poems in multiple languages is interesting to me. My most recent piece was a poem/composition for four readers simultaneously in English and Dutch - the two languages being completely balanced; in fact, the poem is its own translation. Of course, though, the translation is not very accurate, and this way I hope to create something like a 'double originality'.

And I should mention a little booklet by Arjen Duinker, who is one of the most original Dutch poets writing today. He wrote a 'quartet for four voices' titled Starfish, Zeester, Etoile de mer, Estrella de mar. These are in fact no translations; he wrote a different poem in each of the languages. I've only read Starfish so far (and I was delighted to find that his English is every bit as weird as his Dutch) - I haven't gotten my copy of the full booklet yet; it was self-published by Arjen in a very limited edition (PK editors, Delft - but you have to get in touch with Arjen directly, I think)

csperez said...

thanks for linking to my review susan! i hope it’s okay if i comment on this blog even tho i am not a contributor here (how does one become a contributor here anyways?)

murat says: “When the poet has chosen to use two languages in his/her poem, he/she is making a statement about texture, sound structures.” i think this is true…and perhaps also true that there’s more to this than simply texture / sound but that the author (or perhaps the poem) is making a psychological, political, historical statement as well.

i think susan’s statement re: mele highlights how translation issues must also be conceptualized within the individual culture /cultural history of the poet.

i am a native chamoru from the pacific island of Guahan (Guam, a continual colony of the united states), and i write in both english and chamoru (also the name of the native language of guahan). since english is the colonial language of my homeland and my people have endured a century of linguistic and cultural colonialism at the hands of the US, translation (into english) for me is fraught and freighted with this history (and honesty has very little to do with texture / sound, tho it is of course an element).

samuel’s question: “what does it mean to keep your culture to yourself?”—is an irrelevant question to me. it’s not about wanting to keep one’s culture to oneself, it’s about aesthetically protesting the invasiveness of the “translator’s gaze” and the assumed desirability of granting access to fetish/tourist-readers.

although i am personally more interested in the “prosody of translation” (as i mentioned in my review), there are a few chamoru poets that refuse to translate as an act of linguistic decolonization & indigenous resistance. at the same time, there are many chamoru writers who translate quite generously (who desire engagement with English readers), or who just write entirely in English (mainly because linguistic colonialism on guahan has been so successful that the chamoru language is quite endangered).

samuel’s comment: “I could imagine there might be a danger of making a fetish out of authenticity which would end up falsifying that same authenticity.” you really shouldn’t think that native Hawaiians are “making a fetish out of authenticity” by chanting in their language and having no desire to translate into the colonizing language for outsiders to fulfill their own gut fetishes (“I'd love to know every poem ever written in any language just to see what's possible.”) it’s better to imagine these acts as celebrations and protections of indigenous acts (which have been for so long suppressed). the only danger one can imagine is that Hawaii and other colonized spaces in the Pacific like Guahan might become sovereign nations.

“Or, another question, what if the translation is in fact meant to develop the culture of the language translated to?” This is a nice thought.

thanks!
cs

Samuel Vriezen said...

Hi cs: thanks for your comments! I think I see the point better now - and I suppose if I would come to develop a serious interest in chamoru poetry, I would really want to learn the language itself first.

Murat said...

Cs,

When I referred to texture, I did not imply that is the only or even for the poet the most important reason. But, as a translator, I have to deal with words, somehow infusing the ideas in the words.

Ciao,

Murat

csperez said...

thanks for responding samuel! if you do come across some chamoru poetry in chamoru, you can also just let me know and i can translate it to you personally. tho i am often against general translation in the work itself, i have nothing against translating for individuals whose intentions are genuine cross-cultural understanding ;)

and thanks also murat! yeah i figured you didnt mean only texture, but since the sentence only said that, i thought it wouldnt hurt to expand the sentence ;)

again, does anyone konw how i can become a contributor on this blog?