Sunday, 22 June 2008

The tears of the translator

Sometimes it really is worth tidying up - you find treasures in the piles of stuff on the floor which you'd half forgotten about. So today after tidying my office I came across Michel Orcel's Les Larmes du traducteur - The translator's tears.
A book I haven't yet properly started reading let alone finished but that hasn't stopped me using its wonderful title for sermons - we clergy are just magpies really!
It is a great metaphor for what it can be like to translate, to cope with the grief of the loss sometimes between one language and another. The tears can also be tears of joy at finding something that "works", that is right; but the tears can also be of frustration and fatigue - translation can be hard labour.
But here is the wonderful origin of Orcel's book.
In October 1999 he arrives in Marrakech, Marocco, to translate from Italian into French what he describes as "an embarassing and paradoxical work". The work is called La Jérusalem Libérée by Torquato Tasso, it sings the praises of the deliverance of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. Le Tasse took 15 years to write it and 20 years unfelicitously ammending the original.
Orcel, who is a writer, translator and psychoanalyst, describes his own book as a "hybrid" and as "une expérience de 'translation'". I suppose that you could almost translate "translation" in this context as "displacement" or perhaps more "being taken to a new place" - being translated into another dimension.
The book is a journal of his time in Marocco, of the people and atmosphere of that place, and of his struggles to translate, to find the right word. And he consciously chooses to translate epic poetry about the Christian conquest of Jerusalem in an Islamic country. It is a delight and the perfect book for reading on the bus. However much as I shall continue to enjoy reading it, I am glad for the moment not to be struggling with a translation of it into English, fun as that might be one day.
"Les musulmans nomment Jérusalem Al-Qods. C'est la même ville. Ce n'est pas le même lieu de l'esprit. Si ce livre témoigne malgré lui de quelque chose, c'est de cette indétermination des signes qui fait à la fois notre désespoir et la beauté d'un monde qui s'effrite dans l'uniformité."
Rather than sit here weeping about how to get that fiendishly difficult last sentence into English I'm going to cook supper and have a glass of cold white wine.


Lac19 said...

I guess it's kind of a foolish consolation to know that while I spent this gorgeous day indoors struggling to produce 2000 academically correct words you have been tidying up your office. But even so yours seems a better deal than mine: at least you re-discovered and I guess spent quite some time reading this lost pearl. Mine was just sad and dry and not fun. Did you say anything about tears? :o)

Jane said...

If it is any consolation I have actually been feeling rather suicidal for most of the weekend ... blogging is just my chosen way of covering that up.
Well done for getting the stuff written Lac19 that is brilliant!
In some ways clergy are professional hope seekers, we denounce the negative and point to the positive - but I wonder how much of it is just bluff.
One of the reasons blogging is so good for me is that it forces me to write responsibly about my life and my work. I am a deeply, deeply privileged human being and so feel very,very guilty that I am not genuinely happier more of the time. but given how the world is perhaps sadness is ok. I did feel overcome by waves of pointlessness over this beautiful weekend - but such feeligns are part of the illness of privilege as well.
thank god for blogging, worship and translating - the only things that keep me sane - that and the love of a good man.
Dr B graduates later in the week - that was 12 years of weekends doing the dry writing - some of it in German ugh - it is worth it in the end, even on days of sunshine.