Friday, October 26, 2007

A Long Wait

A while back, our friend Mwanji thoughtfully took the time to make a comment. Regrettably, it is not until now that his contribution is given its due dialectic.

Translations generally suck, whether of books, movies or anything else.

Truth vs. fiction:
Boris Vian wrote: "l'histoire est entièrement vraie, puisque je l'ai imaginée d'un bout à l'autre"

(the story is entirely true, since I imagined it from start to finish)

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Three cheers for this global, post modern virtual milleau! There is little doubt in my mind I could have continued till death not knowing about Boris Vian. Life is full of gifts!

Your take on translation has my interest. Because "I don't speak no languages" there is very little I can say to the art and science of translation. The mechanist in me doesn't understand why there isn't simply a "right" translation and an everything-else-is-wrong translation. How is it that there is so much "wiggle room" going from one language to another?


Translations, when compared to one another, are more than the sum of their parts. Oh the fun and laughs I've had comparing the two! And if two are fun, what about three? Are there three translations of The Function of the Orgasm? How about 842 translations?

Could there be 842 translations of The Function of the Orgasm?

Just how elastic are the German words of Wilhelm Reich? Would the words of Wilhelm Reich be more "elastic" if he wrote in Chinese?

When translated into English (for example) are some languages more elastic than others?

Are some writers more elastic than others? Does the writing of Wilhelm Reich have more or less elasticity than the writing of the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles?

How about elasticity and form? Are poems more difficult to translate than essays? I would think poems would be easier because they usually have less words--makes sense, right?

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How does this apply to our beloved music?

Will the time come when our 'translations' of "Jazz" become fatigued? At this juncture "we" are only translating "Jazz" as we are, in 2007, only guessing at social conditions extant during the Birth-to-Ossification life span--roughly 1910's to the mid 60's. Certainly there are "Jazz" songs that have been stretched and done and re done to the point where they are exhausted. Even translators as capable as the Bad Plus, Ken Vandermark or the Claudia Quintet would have a devil of a time translating Bill Bailey.

Or would they?

Do you want to hear another version of Bill Bailey, even if it was by the Bad Plus featuring Ken Vandermark and the Claudia Quintet with special guests Dave Douglas and John Zorn?

Do methodologies in music also lose their snap?

Will writing little black dots on paper to represent our current conception of tonal organization ever disappear, like past methods of notation and concepts of tonal organization?

What if the answer is no? What if our beloved 12 notes to the octave and our precious rules about their organization and presentation were to remain chaste, true and strong forever and ever, amen?

Would that be a good or would that be a bad?

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Not that you asked, but recently I've had the opportunity to listen to a lot of cows. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Big ones, small ones, men, mostly men and women. Cow's don't have a very huge tonal vocabulary, but they do have a sound. When they really dig in and let out a big moo, you know it. You feel it.

How do you translate that?


Jeremy Stewart said...

if you're interested in translation, have you read Ferdinand de Saussure's Course On General Linguistics? Even better, actually, is to read excerpts from it with a critical introduction. Structuralist linguistics, derived from Saussure, holds that languages are complete systems of thought. Thought is nebulous prior to the existence of language, which does not name objects so much as it negatively defines them by partitioning meaning-values from the total system. The implication is that languages are untranslatable inasfar as they are identical with themselves. Texts have to be rebuilt according to an other schema to be translated. It is the hybridity and similarity of different cultures that permits anything like translation to occur at all. I mean, of course, this is old news. Pardon my redundancy.

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Is this the same Jeremy Stewart of Prince George BC?

Thank you for your post. Like the bus driver on King Of The Hill said, I don't speak no languages, and so Saussure and Linguistics is/are outside my, uh, purview. But the Course on General Linguistics sounds like a must read. I'll put it on the pile.

More importantly, tell us (me anyway) about Prince Geroge BC! Is there improvised music happening up there? I thought I saw something on this internet thing about a large improvising ensemble making it happen in the PG zone. Is that crazy talk?

Thanks for writing!

Jeremy Stewart said...

Hi, yes, I'm the Prince George, BC Jeremy Stewart. The music scene here is pretty good, I think. I mean, the town is 80 000 people, but it's a 9 hour drive from a town bigger than itself, and is the biggest town by 400% for at least 5 hours. So it's kind of isolated. But that helps us grow aliens, like a fridge unplugged with food in it for decades, etc. The thing you saw on the net is probably the Northern BC Free Jazz Ensemble, of which I am a regular member--although the regularity is sparse lately. You can find some recordings of a performance we did at an art show by going to this page

and then searching northern bc free jazz ensemble, although you'll have to turn off their annoying player, automatically blasting you with Canadian indie rock. But, yes, there are maybe a dozen or more cool improvisers here, if I count.

On translation: if the idea of musicians translating or versioning each other intersets you, maybe that will translate to poetry? If so, check out bpNichol and Steve McCaffery on "homolinguistic translation," which is when you translate a poem into the language it's already in. Oh, it is mighty fun.

Mwanji Ezana said...

I just finished reading the New Yorker article. Interestingly, they give their own translation of the phrase I quoted: "the story is entirely true, because I imagined it from one end to the other."

Does "from one end to the other" sound English, to you? "From beginning to end" is further from a literal translation, but is, I think, closer to the original text's natural flow.

As I say in my blog post, translation is really a re-creation, maybe even a mis-reading. Trying to make a neutral event leads to unnatural-sounding writing.

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Does "from one end to the other" sound English, to you? "From beginning to end" is further from a literal translation, but is, I think, closer to the original text's natural flow.

Call me crazy, but isn't the whole crux of this well paying, ultra convenient and efficient late capital post modernity thing the elimination of differences? You know, we are all equal, men are the same as women, everything has equal merit, a broken "speak-n-spell" put through a delay is on the same footing (and thus merits the same attention and grant monies) as the music of Charles Gayle.

That kind of crap.

Please tell me now if that isn't the case, as I really am trying to be a team player here.

As team player, please allow me to postulate that in our beautiful post-everything day "from one end to the other" is no different than "from beginning to end." We all get the 'jist'--and that's what counts. To labor over specifics is neither convenient nor efficient. Lord knows it sure isn't profitable.

In this wildly conditional and entirely culturally unsustainable instance, it seems like the ultra efficient thing to do is translate the words exactly, and in the order in which they appear, even if it is at the "expense" of the original text's natural flow.

Because really, who (in this day and age) is in a position to say with any surety what is "natural" or how things (should) "flow?" I mean, isn't that kind of talk potentially oppressive?

As always, thank you for writing.

Jeremy Stewart said...

I think it's fair to say that the postmodern condition is still contested; what is it? Is it happening? What do we do about it? Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson or Liberal philosopher Jurgen Habermas wouldn't agree on much, but they would agree that late capitalism is not the end of history, and that its logic is not the last word. There are other accounts, and many efforts aimed at coming up with accounts, that can challenge various relativisms.

I am working with an idea about human suffering... I have been working and reworking an argument that suggests that human suffering is an absolute reality, because denying that can commit one to unattractive positions. But I think there are even better reasons than that. And the character of that absolute is still opaque to me. But maybe suffering through speak-and-spell delay loops will help me turn it into an argument about aesthetics.

Now, speaking of "natural flow" and of "original text", a Derridean position might be that "natural" and "original" are simply transcendental signifers, a spiffy chunk of jargon that means that "natural" and "original" are just privileged ideas that promise to guarantee meaning from outside language--but which are, in fact, just other linguistically coded ideas. To expand, if language / subjective thought mediates all experience, no idea is objective, except one that is unmediated, that transcends thought, that is absolutely independent of humanity. Some use "God" this way. Others use "nature". The "origin" / "original" is a transcendental signifer because it is often the lynchpin that justifies a whole corpus of meanings. But who is to say that the English translation of Vian is not more "true" than the French "orignial"? Why would it be?

peter breslin said...

Howdy SJZ-

I took the liberty of mashing this paragraph of yours:

Because really, who (in this day and age) is in a position to say with any surety what is "natural" or how things (should) "flow?" I mean, isn't that kind of talk potentially oppressive?

Through babelfish, the online translator. Since Postmodernism is on the table I translated it from English to French and then back to English again. The results:

Since really, which (in these day and age) is in measurement for saying with any safety what is "normal" or how the things (si)"coulez?" Do this kind I, of maintenance mean are not potentially overpowering?

And there you have it.


Jeremy Stewart said...

Yeah, I have done a bit of babelfish poetry, for which I write a poem in English and then send it on a round trip through a few electronic translations. What fun! And you can see the kind of sense it makes of Stanley's text. Subversive! You should see what it does to political speeches. They make as much sense before as after.

Today I spent a few minutes trying to convince someone that ignorance was possible. That there was such a thing as ignorance. Now that's funny!

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Actually ever since, is "normal state" or methodological thing (si)"as for coulez that? Measurement in order, "thing all safety remain (being these, day and age) this type I which is, do maintenance those mean as a possibility do not order?

Of do Génuine of "instituts of training of the teachers" sinsdien and their "explain or the thing methodological (silicone)" in such manner, how much in fact, to work those? Of does a quantity in in order examining "the thing remain the urgency (that is already moreover the day the age) this one made the pressure that those are, maintainance which does not give to the calculation of the average like the possibility with the task?

And there you have it some more.

Max Shue said...

Whoooeeee! Translating is fun! Last night I was trying to translate/interpret between Spanish and English, simple words like "falsificar", "inventar", "reinventar", "cuento", "historia" and then "story", "history", "tale". My friends asked me what the first two meant to me in English and they claimed I was using "falisificar" for "inventar". Hmmm. A "cuento" is *essentially* a short story, "historia" can be history and story (one´s true one´s fiction, or not?), and "tale", what the hell does that mean? Fairy tale? A Tale of Two Cities? That´s the longest damn tale I´ve ever read.

All very fun and great. Octavio Paz talks about how *real* poetry returns words to their original meanings in El arco y la lira(The Arc and the Bow). Indeed, do words mean anything? Everything? What is their essence? How many scents are they allowed? Can a dog sniff out more meanings with that powerful sniffer? Can a smart guy divine more meanings? How about Lyra in The Golden Compass?, that kid´s going deeper than anybody else in the book, divining all sorts of essences. And I digress, willingly and unabashedly. As if I *know* the essence of either *digress* or *unabashedly*, ones a verb, ones an adverb. Everybody loves a helper!

Translation vs. Interpretation. Whoah, hey and howdy! One is written, one is spoken. Huh? Can a "speak and spell" write poetry? Isn´t poetry *originally* an oral medium? Does writing it down, i.e. recording it, destroy its original essence?