Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Oulipo, catachresis, right and wrong

Phyllis Aronoff sent me this interesting article for the ALTA blog, a talk entitled "Translation and the Oulipo: The Case of the Persevering Maltese," by Harry Mathews. It's about "sound translations", like Marcel Benabou's transformation of "A thing of beauty is a joy forever":

Ah, singe débotté,
Hisse un jouet fort et vert
"O unshod monkey,
raise a stout green toy!"

Phyllis further quotes Mathews: "The Oulipo certainly can't help [translators] in an obvious way. Unless he wanted to sabotage his employer, an editor would be mad to employ an Oulipian as a translator." And then he shows how Oulipo might help a translator in less-obvious ways.

This all reminds me (Liz) of Frankfurt's famous essay "On Bullshit". I do like the accidents that engender new accidents, and catachrestic eruptions, but I don't think I would call them translations. I was near fatally annoyed in a class a couple of years ago by a person who claimed that, since she only had a small inadequate dictionary and didn't know Greek, she could just "pick the word that came before or after the word she was looking up" and use it for a "valid" translation. And that was okay, because that was her level of understanding, her creative filter, and made perfectly good art. While I love the idea of multiple truths, multiple translations, Oulipian game-playing, and a bit of out-of-control chaos; the idea that there might be no RIGHT translation --- I do believe there are WRONG translations.


Noga said...

The idea that arbitrary choice can replace a meaningful term/word is just terrifying to me. What could be the point of such a translation?

Anne Carson asks:

“What really connects words and things?”

Human beings, tend to use language as Homer says “the gods do. All human words are known to the gods but have for them entirely other meanings alongside our meanings. They flip the switch at will”.

Arbitrary choice in translation means untranslatability. It encourages misunderstanding, disunderstanding each other and is an avoidance of any onus of responsibility.

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