Le Bestiaire: comments

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posted 2005-10-26 11:53 AM by cobra libre:

I really like these, but you take some liberties with “La Souris” and end up with a rather different poem that is in some ways better than the original but also loses some of its original sense. For example, you moved the punchline up to the third line and obfuscated its meaning: “it’s judgment more than luck” isn’t as punchy as “a wasted life, as I wanted” or some other literal translation of the last line. I like how you’ve made the mice more concrete, though; Apollinaire’s “the lovely days, mice of time” is pretty weak compared to what you’ve done.

Also: “elles journées” = “belles journées,” n’est-ce pas?

Anyway, these are really good, definitely better than any translations that I’ve done. I was struggling just to come up with rough, literal translations of the chapters of Invisible Cities; I haven’t even thought about how well they read. Actually, I thought that I had hidden them and was surprised to find that they’re publicly visible.

posted 2005-10-26 01:15 PM by fhazel:

Thanks! Nathalie helped a lot, of course. I can’t remember which English translations we were looking at, but she said they lacked the musical quality of the original French. So when I did these I was paying the most attention to preserving the rhyming scheme.

One of the interesting parts of Hofstadter’s “Le Ton beau de Marot” is where he says that really something like a poem should be read in multiple translations where each attempt concentrates on certain aspects of the original. Prosody, content, puns.

I thought it would be a fun project to that for poems from Le Bestiaire, but I got distracted, as always.

posted 2005-10-26 01:58 PM by cobra libre:

Re: Hofstadter, that was pretty much what I was getting at a long time ago when you were saying that “any thought can be expressed in any language,” and I brought up poetry translation. It seems that any attempt at translation is going to invariably involve some compromises in which certain aspects of the original work (meter, rhyme, puns, connotations) have to be given up.

Ezra Pound used to get a considerable amount of flak from scholars for his flawed translations of Chinese poetry (he was preoccupied with the notion of Chinese as an ideogrammatic language and it led him to make wild claims about the language), but if you think of his translations as paraphrases of existing works reflecting his particular sensibilities, then it’s easy to see that they’re just fantastic. And it all led to his doctrine of Imagism, which was fruitful for a while in English-language poetry — and actually came to influence some 20th century Chinese poets, which is awesome. I’ve been wanting to write a little article about that, but I’ve never had any luck finding anything in English by those Chinese poets.

I wrote a partial translation of a Jules LaForgue poem a while back. He writes fairly simply, and in free verse, too, but I still thought it was hard. I wish that guy that Tamara knows would get back to us about the French lessons.

posted 2005-10-28 02:16 AM by fhazel:

Between you and me and Tamara I agree, any attempt at translation will invariably involve compromises. But publically (and as a drunken reflex) I still argue that any thought can be expressed in any language because I want the issue to be categorized as a mechanical problem not an epistemological one. It doesn’t have a mechanical solution, but it’s a mechanical problem.

posted 2005-10-28 10:02 AM by cobra libre:

I guess you could say that the usefulness of that depends on the context of the discussion and the concerns of the participants.

By way of analogy, imagine if I were trying to decide which programming language to use when writing this wiki, and a computer science researcher walked up and told me that it doesn’t matter whether I use assembly language, COBOL, Pascal, Python, Java, or PHP, because they’re all Turing-complete, and each can perform any calculation that any other is capable of performing. I’d tell him to park it up his ass. His answer pretends that only one facet of the issue is worth consideration, when in fact my choice of programming language will determine at least all of the following: 1) how efficiently I can express myself, 2) the idioms I use to express myself, 3) how much I can draw on others’ prior work (and how much that will cost), 4) how easily others can read and understand my work, 5) who can read my code in the first place, 6) where my program can be run (and how much it will cost me), 7) who will be able to use my program, 8) the size of my program, 9) the performance of my program.

In this example, it’s not merely a mechanical problem or an epistemological problem; it has aspects that are social, literary, economic, etc. I likewise think that asking about translation still takes the wind out of “any thought can be expressed in any language,” at least when stated baldly like that, because you immediately have to give up the presupposition that utterances only serve to convey denotative meaning. Presumably you can say the word “nevermore” in any language, but you’re going to have a hard time expressing an allusion to Poe every time while you’re at it, and an even harder time if you expect your audience to be reminded of the Simpsons Halloween Special. Speaking of which, I think we’re carving pumpkins tonight.

posted 2005-10-28 10:12 AM by cobra libre:

Oh yeah — remember the thing about Stanley Fish teaching composition by teaching that sentences are logical statements? I wanted to take issue with that, but I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go with it. I just laugh at the idea that the largely content-free conversations that I have in the office breakroom might be expressed as syllogisms.