The questions I am able to ask are less about semantics and more along the lines of what is present, what is absent, and what are the ways I can interpret a poem whose language is anathema to me? Can I still glean something from form or tone, or as I fear, will my interpretation be just a commentary on miscommunication?
In acknowledgment of our increasingly multilingual and border-shifting world, translation scholarship in recent years has catapulted beyond the science of converting one language into another and beyond conventional theories of translation. As globalization rewrites national and cultural identities, so does it refine and define anew the previously cut-and-dry notion of translation.
Why is it important to continue exploring and discussing postcolonial translation and trans-creation theories? Allow me to plumb a few of the various subcategories of this ever expanding forum, in order to exemplify a few of the reasons why it matters, and highlight some of the ways in which these theories are put to practice in contemporary English-language poetry. In this language there are no words for how the real world collapses. So I look at the stars in this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever make sense.
To be clear, Harjo does not speak nor write in her native language, a fact that can probably be directly traced to the effects of colonialism on Native Americans: They simply do not have equivalents in English. I have learned to love the language, or rather, what the language can express.
But I have felt bound by the strictness imposed by its male-centeredness, its emphasis on nouns. Still, she claims that writing in English has its benefits. Indeed, language is inextricably tied to culture. At its best, a vibrant, thriving language is full of complexities. In a sense, Harjo is writing through English—using the language of colonization to write of, about, and for First Nations people.
I must keep from breaking into the story by force for if I do I will find myself with a war club in my hand and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun, your nation dead beside you. These lines are arguably more powerful in English than they would be in Muskogee because of the role that systematic destruction of Native languages played in the brutal history of American Indian colonization.
It is not lost on the reader that Harjo uses English instead of her native language; English, in this case, can also be a reminder of colonial plundering. Her poetry exemplifies the notion that when people create in a language, it helps that language become vital, potent, and beautiful.
1. Victor Hugo – Demain, dès l’aube
For the purposes of this examination, therefore, I will assume something that is by no means unanimously agreed upon: First, however, we must look at translation through the lens of colonialism. An assimilative approach has historically meant that anything deemed too culturally oblique or foreign in the poem to be translated was replaced with a concept the dominant culture could relate to.
It is for this reason that translation has traditionally been paired with the notion of what is lost. Translation, like so many other aspects of imperial rule, suited the purposes of the dominant culture and was typically intended for an audience of the dominant culture. Given all this, it is no wonder that those who question the benefits of translation into dominant languages have more than a few reservations.
Still, some translation theorists wonder, is it possible for English to redeem itself in some way? Can colonial languages be used to keep dying languages or dying cultures alive, instead of aiding in their extinction? Can poets of diverse linguistic and cultural histories use English to communicate the untranslatable—the way a medium communicates with the spirit world? In important ways, using English can mean acknowledging the history of colonization, rather than rejecting it.
Forcing the language to accommodate, to bend. Language has a long memory, and it is the job of the postcolonial poet, the writer, and even the citizen not only to choose their words wisely, but also to remember how easily words can lie, and to consider it our duty as writers to strive for a language that is as full and complicated and messy and culturally loaded as it is to be human. We are a memory, some say, of a narrative we tell ourselves. Words are our tools to this end.
Words gain meaning by existing in relation to other words just as we gain meaning by the ways that we exist in relation to other living beings on our planet. When English recognizes its dark past, it says something positive about the resiliency and adaptability of language, the acknowledgment of our interconnectedness. If one believes in a common consciousness, or even the idea of human contact being intrinsic in the exchange of ideas and language, we are all talking to each other, all of the time. Language belongs to all of us, and what we mean to say with our words is contextual, shifting.
Back to the notion of the original: Just as we cannot find our way back to an ur-tongue, we cannot find our way forward to a final translation. Hence, there is also no master text, to which all translations are inferior. In poetry, as well as in translation, there is no ultimate meaning. With these tools, we can shake up the concept of literary property. We can create alt-languages, and a space for them to exist.
We can expand the parameters of the accepted language of poetics. As to the exploration of this new literary territory, Quebecan poet Jacques Brault says:. Since I have been navigating in all sorts of foreign waters, which sweep along all sorts of historical, cultural, social and symbolic deposits, I feel more profoundly at home and I am cured of my land sickness…. I resolved to traverse this language until I came to my own yet unknown tongue, and that during this difficult and salutatory passage I would lose myself in the other, and the other would find itself in me.
Medieval French literature
One of the most pivotal issues concerning translation has always been the question of faithfulness to the text. Historically, a good translation was seen as something that tried to stay as close to the original text as possible in language, meter, rhyme, and content. While that literal approach still exists today, postcolonial translators are also concerned with the cultural implications of the text.
We understand poetry in layers, and the layers of culturally specific information that inform our understanding of the text are negotiable. Translators must consider the information load and the limits to which a poetic translation may be able to convey this load. The experience of the foreign is often just that—an experience, difficult to convey without prose narrative. We speak metaphorically about post-colonial poetry because its translation happens in these layers of coded information. For this reason, analogy is undoubtedly our greatest cultural translation tool.
Analogy is necessary, he says, as a starting point to understanding something foreign, but ultimately, we must translate on the conceptual and textual level. The relations between the terms keep shifting…In the end, we are left with gestures: A wild whirl to cover the abyss. Doing away with the concept of analogy is an ideal, yet to be deemed possible. It must be aligned with massive re-education and re-socialization.
What could such a literature look like? The specifics of translation often have to do with the intended audience for a text. If a minority-language text is translated with the dominant culture as its intended audience, as has historically been the case, linguistic and cultural explanations will be prevalent. On the one hand, it continues to promote an acceptance of cultural dominance, and on the other, it raises the bar for what is possible for our poetry to address. Fortunately, new and exciting forays into multilingual, translational, and trans-creational poetries are continually emerging.
Christensen seems to be asking the very question, what is language capable of? Can it do anything and is it ever enough? On the one hand, she says,. In situating the passage, and on the basis of your preparation and plan, you should also formulate in a brief but open way what you think it is about, what its theme or role is, as a key or framework to your commentary.
For example, it may be a turning point in the narrative or key exposition of a character. In this it can be helpful to say something about the mode of the passage. For example, is it narrative or descriptive? Is it humorous or satirical? In some cases it may also be useful to identify the broader literary context, e.
Wilfred Owen | Poetry Foundation
If you know about the biographical context and think it has some significance, then you may add something about that. As with a commentary on a prose passage, this situation of the poem should be concise but sufficient. In situating the poem, and on the basis of your preparation and plan, you should also formulate in a brief but open way what you think it is about, what its theme is, as a key or framework to your commentary.
For example, it may be an archetypal Romantic exploration of man and nature. In this it can be helpful to say something about the mode of the poem and identify its genre or form if you can. For example, is it rhetorical, contemplative or close to a song? Is it narrative or descriptive? Is it an elegy? Is it a sonnet? A commentary should be concerned with the passage or poem as a whole, but it should also show the development through the passage or poem. This means that an appropriate structure for writing a commentary may be to follow this development.
To do so in an illuminating way will very likely involve paying attention to the compositional structure of the passage or poem: What is the compositional movement through the passage or poem? As you write your commentary you should be looking to illuminate the theme or themes or mood or emotion that the passage or poem illustrates and explores. This is not just a matter of identifying the theme but also of looking at how it is presented. How does the theme develop? How do contrasting themes relate? Is the theme typical of the story as a whole?
When you refer to the passage or poem, this should be done clearly and succinctly by reference, for example, to first, second etc. You do not therefore need to quote large sections from the text. In a story or novel, the theme of the passage may be linked to characterisation.
In this case you should consider not only what is revealed about a character but also how this is done, and maybe relate this to other aspects of the passage too. In general, in prose you need to pay particular attention to questions of narration: What is the role of the narrator? Is there direct or indirect interior monologue? How does irony function in the passage? What is the role of dialogue or description?
What is the significance of the key words or motifs? Is there any use of imagery? Are there any metaphors or similes? What is their significance? Are they standard or original? Are there any other tropes — exaggeration, paradox etc.? When looking at style in terms of lexis and syntax, you should consider what kinds of word are being used and their register.