Thursday, 11 December 2008

The ethics and politics of translation

There is something so satisfying about travelling by train, particularly through three countries and two capital cities. As usual in Paris I went to the wrong platform of the ligne D of the RER but I still made it to the Gare du Nord very easily to catch the Eurostar to London. The most stressful part of the journey was definitely the car journey to try and catch a bus or a tram. We forgot that when the snow falls Geneva becomes gridlock city. Five minutes later and I would have missed the train.

On the train I began reading Henri Meschonnic's Ethique et politique du traduire.
Just the title and the first page have triggered so many thoughts that I didn't get much further than musing, but I'm already looking forwards to the return journey on Saturday - just the chapter headings give you an idea - The meaning of the language not the meaning of the words, Why we need a bit of Bible in philosophy, Grammar - to the east of Eden, Religious texts in translation - God or Allah? and my favourite: "Embibler la voix" enbibling the voice ...
I realised that when translating the title into English something interesting happens that illustrates some of the points he's trying to make in the book - "The ethics and politics of translation" in English makes singular nouns into plurals and also turns the verb traduire into a noun. To me at least it immediately sounds more pragmatic and less philosophical than the French. This is a follow up book to an earlier one called La poétique du traduire - the poetics of translation.
On page 2 Meschonnic says:
"La poétique est aussi une éthique, puisqu'un poème est un acte éthique car il transforme le sujet, celui qui écrit et celui qui lit."
I love the idea of a poem being an ethical and transformative act and I read this just after having read this in an article by Alain Houziaux about Christian Bobin and his poetic prose:
"Le succès de Christain Bobin pose une vraie question aux Eglises: est-ce que, pour un large public, la poésie spirituelle n'assure pas aujourd'hui une fonction que les Eglises et les religions ne savent plus ou ne veulent plus assumer: celle de la consolation?"

As I read that I thought of Rowan Williams, theologian, church leader but also poet. I also remembered interpreting for Alan Falconer, former director of Faith and Order, and beingintrigued by his idea that perhaps what we needed to do to achieve deeper Christian unity was to read and write more poetry ...


J. K. Gayle said...

I love the idea of a poem being an ethical and transformative act

Me too, Jane! And I think your post(s) should be read as poetry from time to time.

Jane said...

Thanks JK
I promise some more about Bobin soon, his work is quite extraordinary. I'm not at all a poet myself but I do appreciate those who are ...
Rowan Williams writes in both Welsh and English and also translates Welsh poets into English - wonderful stuff and just the thing for a dark and cold winter evening - but I don't suppose you get many of those in Texas!

Deirdre said...

Can you tell us more??

Jane said...


I'll try to dig the details off my poetry shelves over the weekend - last day at work today - may then have time for some creative blogging!