the yelling reaction

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catch & release

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Today for work I did a translation, French to English, of an article about artwork and sound design. I had a grand old time and was still thinking about it later when I was looking at a book of Rilke poems I have, Poems from the Book of Hours. It struck me what beautiful translations, from German to English, the poems are, and it made me consider why I had so enjoyed the process of translating earlier in the day.

I like that the most basic meaning of “to translate” lies in transferre – literally, to bear across – and thus from its roots acknowledges that to translate is to carry a load. The task of the translator is a weighty one: he is bound inextricably by several opposing responsibilities. As only a creative mind is able, he must somehow see past the gleam of the finished product to discern the masonry beneath, and in retracing these steps seek to follow them himself. But translation is a creative act that does not give creative license: the translator has to understand that the tool he uses is not his own; that in his case creativity serves only to aid in the production of a loyal representation of an original. In short, the translator must look deeply into the polished surface of a work without seeing his own reflection.

The act of translating is a process marked by its tenuous balance between dutiful distance and moments of measured emotional release, at once intimate and bound by the most formal sense of duty and restraint. One must seek, find, and convey something without for a moment claiming it; one must break apart and reconstruct but leave no mark or signature. I think that an exercise like this – of holding without intending to own – stimulates in its sensuality an awareness that I’d like to experience more often.

On a totally unrelated note –

Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun

Jefferson Airplane – Somebody to Love

I just went to see the new Cohen brothers movie, “A Serious Man,” which arguably lived up to assertions that it’s the best the pair have ever made. These two songs played in the movie, the second pretty much throughout. I liked it more coming through theater-sized speakers than I ever have before, so maybe listen to it loud.


One Response

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  1. Have you read Strong Opinions? Interesting notes on specific translations and about translating which I think you would appreciate. Literal translations vs. interpretive, etc.

    I regret that I can’t be more specific. Alas, dayjob.


    January 26, 2010 at 6:01 pm

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