Friday, August 29, 2008

QUIBBLING ABOUT QUALIA

Oh blimey. I got carried away again. Promised myself not to do that anymore. I’ll shut up after this. (Like: There's much more interesting stuff that kvetching about - literally - words.) Just this: I’d rather READ and share the frigging JOY of reading than sit in a corner and eye Bolano’s translator with suspicion. Whatever the asshole academics (and I do know them, I am one) tell you: The power of writing doesn’t stop at mere linguistics.

Quoting myself from Chad's blog:

Ah, but Green’s argument is much more incisive than that — he pushes it firmly into the realm of qualia. The good man writes about his fear that the translator “in some other way failed to adequately render the original in a way that would dupicate [sic] the Russian reader’s experience of Grossman’s text”. Granted, no translator can adequately render the original that way. But neither can anyone currently alive (even a German-writing Jew living in Prague) have the exact duplicate of the experience of any contemporary reader of Kafka – that time is past, that culture is gone. The same goes for paintings (how to duplicate the experience of the Parisian bourgeoisie when first confronted with Monet?) or music (how to duplicate the experience of being the first to hear Le Sacre du Printemps? Or, for that matter, the Stones in 1965?). Or lit: Me going to the Globe to see/hear/smell Much Ado About Nothing (just a random title I picked, for no particular reason) isn’t the same, by a long shot, as going to its very first performance. Or any other Shakespeare performance in the next few centuries. Which is why we have all these different directors and actors reinventing these plays, and still they call it Shakespeare. Dude, that’s how rich the text is!

Taken seriously, Green’s argument makes ANY form of criticism impossible. Because nobody’s experience can ever be duplicated, not any reader’s, not any writer’s. (For a more high-brow and metaphorical treatment of this point, see, of course, Borges’ wonderful tale of Ménard duplicating Cervantes. Oops. This is assuming that Green reads Spanish, because, well, wow, can’t read/judge Borges in translation, can we?) So, neither me nor anyone else can ever win this argument with Green, because Green did set himself up at some unassailable position. (Good thing so many philosophers of mind did write in English.)

All art is translation, all the time. It all shifts, it shimmers, it cannot be captured. Which is why writers have such utter disdain for critics, who run around with nets and, if the writer doesn’t agree to sit still long enough, with baseball bats or sniper guns. Ever wonder why Perec looks at the camera the way he does, in that famous haunting picture? (Perec. French.)

All I’m saying is this: Have a little faith, bro, in the professionalism of translators and the power of the text!
As a nasty footnote: To me, it seems that monolinguals (and monolingual cultures) have a much harder time accepting translations for what they are: approximations of what an author was doing, in her own historical time and place, which is anyway an approximation of what said author /wanted/ to do in said historical/spatial circumstances, than multilinguals (and multilingual cultures) do. This, methinks, is not unlike the type of paranoia often exhibited by the deaf – there’s a joke being played on them, continuously, behind their back, they feel, and life would be so much better if only they could put their finger on it! (“There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Green?”)

Okay. Now it’s time to take my meds.

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