Saturday, December 05, 2009

From the Song

Mani Rao's translations (we need to find another word here) of the Bhagavad Gita are here. Of course, these are only tiny portions of two chapters, but I can't wait to read more.

On fidelity (in translations?), Mani says:

Your partner is faithful to you, it is conventional, she is obedient, you can’t complain. Does she love you? What if she had the freedom to betray and nothing to lose? Your partner is unfaithful. Does she pity you, or think you so stupid you don’t know it? Her attention is elsewhere when you speak. Can you be with someone who is not with you?
Love is problematic when faithless.
Fidelity is a drag when loveless.
Love as translation.
After all these years my love, you dare tell me that you merely did what I said?

But the whole thing here. Also her essay, 'Repetitiveness in Gita Translation'.


And while I'm linking to her recent work, more Mani Rao, from the latest issue of Almost Island [you should check the whole issue out].


Falstaff said...

"A translation should cleave to the original with such fidelity that it would not read like a translation, for a literary work in its own language will never read as though it has been through a process of translation....This kind of achievement in language has been compared in the seventeenth century to the transmigration of souls, replacing of the external shell and retaining the inner spirit and style without the slightest deviation."

- Lin Shu (translated by George Kao)

Love (and translation) as neither fidelity nor passion, but as perfect empathy, what Byron calls 'mutual minds'. Not to act as the other demands, but to act as you desire, and to desire what the other demands.

The translation and the original are not lover and beloved, they do not live together, are not involved. They are agent and principal, progeny and source. If translation were an act of love it would be a strange and deluded one, a one-directional, unrequited love, where the beloved would never acknowledge even the existence of the lover.

km said...

Great find! The stiff, mediocre translations of the Gita need to go away soon.

I really liked this image:

"Grandlion Bhishma bellowed yeaarrghh and blew his conch erupt his
troops took it up on drums & cymbals & trumpets what a riot"

Makes the great war sound like a rock concert :)

Michael said...

Literary works in their own language frequently do read as if they had been put through a process of translation. See Homer (his Greek was never spoken); see Vergil (compare his Homer-and-Hellenism-inflected Latin to the "pure" Latin prosody of Ennius); see the New Testament (semiticisms abound); see Joseph Conrad (need I say more).

When originals read so often like translations, why should not translations read as themselves, at least sometimes? Who are we trying to fool? What about language and its artifice are we trying to submerge?

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: I can't say I see what you're saying as different from what Mani is saying. When you stand outside the category of fidelity, perhaps love is what you call perfect empathy. In such a case, it makes nonsense of the ideal of fidelity in translations. I read that passage as a call to question the idea of fidelity as love.

I am, of course, speaking entirely from the outside, as someone who has never so much translated a thought since she was seven or so. Yours, on the other hand, is a narrative of your own experience; I'd be interested to know if you see translation, philosophically, as filial duty or intellectual transaction.

As for the Lin Shu quote, I wanted to say something about it, but Michael's comment has made nonsense of it.

Michael: Thank you - Conrad is an excellent example of writing that 'sounds translated'; in his case, however, this might be literally true, mightn't it?

On the other hand, I have no problem with language's artifice shining through in translation. Even seamlessness is artifice.

km: :-) I know! I think we could do with a little less reverence, overall.

Falstaff said...

SB: I wasn't necessarily disagreeing with Rao (Actually, I wasn't trying to make an argument of any kind at all). I just think translation as love is an awkward and inaccurate metaphor. Translation as intellectual transaction, absolutely (hence the principal-agent); but that's just the point - love is not a transaction, intellectual or otherwise, it's a relationship, a collaboration - and that translation is decidedly not.

As for the Lin Shu quote, I didn't mean to suggest that I agree (though notice that if originals sometimes sound like translation, that only serves to blur the line between the two, and makes the task of making a translation less obviously a translation easier), only that transmigration in the Shu sense may be a more accurate term for what Rao is doing than translation.

I do think the Shu quote has some merit, btw, but only as a neat embodiment of one approach to translation. Personally, I'm all for welcoming all sorts of different approaches to translation, and am uninterested in attempts to pick the best approach, whether it champion artifice or naturalness.

Jail said...

Why do away with the word translation altogether? Why assume it means literal translations, and that literal translations work for all source texts? I like how Rao's essay constructs norms / expectancies for the Gita's particulars, and then evaluates the current translations on that basis.

As for the discussion about love or empathy, I suppose all metaphors are imperfect ... transmigration sounds like an ideal to aspire for, but suggests the 'old' body is dead ...

The interview in the same issue of the journal discusses fidelity into the area of re-playing and re-production. Fidelity in Rao's essay seems to be about re-presentation...