Thursday, October 6, 2011

Two Thoughts

1) The much-reported impossibility of translating the great 19th-century Russian poets (Pushkin, Lermontov, a bunch of wonderful writers who my under-read ass doesn't know) makes sense when you think of those poets as translators, and their untranslatable poems therefore as translations. Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, which is my favorite book, presents a particularly striking example of this: translated into English (no matter how adeptly) it sounds unsurprising, like something we've read before. Il est plat, votre poet, as Flaubert told Turgenev. Which is perfectly understandable, since that's what EO is: a translation of Don Juan, not just into the language, but into the mood, place, spirit and character of Russia. In this way, it's closest analogue in English is probably something like the Rubiyat or Pound's Cathay or Logue's War Music: an original poem that gets its poetry from the fierce and loving annex of a foreign sensibility. Pushkin as master translator (better: genius as translator. Shakespeare, who dealt in Ovid, another perfect example. Or Chaucer, who is to my mind the closest English-language comparison to Pushkin).

2) For a long time, I thought it would be interesting to write about the problem of film adaptations (Lord of the Rings or Spider Man, or the forthcoming Lord of the Spider Ring Lantern Vampires), which seem to me to succeed or fail insofar as they have the balls and vision to depart creatively from their source material. But then I realized that movies, like plays, are themselves already adaptations of a pre-existing text. Interesting, no? So, if we agree that the problems of adaptation and the problems of translation can throw at least a little light on one another, we should therefore also admit that movies are particularly useful things for a translator to study. The need for more books or records that show us this process happening. Documentaries? X on X-type collections of interviews? 

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