Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of forked tongues and other miscellanies

I like the title of this post. It is suitably obscure, but sounds like it ought to mean something pretty worthwhile if you take the time to 'stop, traveller', and unravel it. It probably doesn't, but you've got to admit it's pretty effective - you're reading this, aren't you?
And thus ends her first exercise at consciously "grabbing eyeballs" (aside - journalistic/marketing jargon is pretty bloody inane, quite apart from being ridiculously violent, non? {H gives herself a pat on the back at this point for being neither a journalist nor a market, well, er?} anywho,)

Today, she will speak to you of translation. Of tongues having been forked, of writers straddling cultures or falling between stools. Read Bhabha and Rushdie if you like these gorgeous (borrowed) metaphors.

It all started when my ridiculously intelligent friend and erstwhile office-mate Adrienne Shaw who has a Ph.D. in video-game narratives and can be read at asked me if I could think of a Hindi equivalent for 'game' and 'gamers'. I could only come up with 'Khel' and 'Khiladi', but said that there was an inherent physicality associated with these terms, in that Khel-as-Play was more aligned to Sport than to the realm of fantasy, which is, as she explained, something of a key-stone in the gaming pantheon.

It got more interesting and political yet when I posed the same question to Antoine. I asked what the French terms for game/gaming/gamers were, since I couldn't think of any (What with having learnt French just to read Baudelaire and everything. I know. Sue me.). The best I could do was 'jeux' for game, but it carried to my mind the same connotations as Khel. His answer surprised me some. He says the French - a race so ridiculously pleased with their patrimoine, of which language I'm sure bears the heaviest burden - actually just refer to these concepts using their standard English terms. Sacre Bleu and other such exclamations. (Notice how I *don't* use an exclamation point there. It's in the little things, I tell you.) My first reaction was to think that this was because of the obvious fact of the sub-culture in question being one borrowed and 'imported' into their semiosphere, but here I was proved wrong. Instead of this being a recognition by one West that here was a construct/creation of another West, taken on in total, it turns out that the usage of the English forms was the proverbial middle finger being shoved in the face of the man, the machine, the academie. Mainly, because they try to expurgate (in a display of blatant anal-ness and much to the general hilarity of onlookers) their language of any "outside/uncouth" influences, evinced also in near-draconian legislations like the Toubon Law.

The use of one language, so, in the mouths of those accustomed to not speaking it (and this is not language-as-a-marker-of-mobility or 'upwardness', mind), becomes a weapon of subversion-assertion-signification. If you concede that your mouth/tongue (And this is beautiful, really: 'langue' doubles up as tongue and language in French, a fact I've been enamoured with {and how many 'facts' can you be enamoured with, I ask you?} since the day I learnt it) moves in different ways when you speak a different language, and assume the world-view that comes as the legacy of it, then you begin to realise the import of language on identity and its formationcreationappropriation.

Translation is a difficult proposition - the eye that sees, the ear that hears and the mouth that enunciates are involved in a process to render the unfamiliar unfamiliar yet, but not alien. Literal translations are a lost cause because they can't "say" what the original does in an altered world-view. Signifiers are lost because this isn't the semantic system they stem from. Oh, it's hard work. I have much respect for the anthropologist-translators (and all translators need necessarily be anthropologists) that I know. In homage, I give them (and you, lecteur), my little (very) labour of love. My first and only translation to date.


Nature is a temple whose living pillars

Sometimes transmit perplexing messages;

It is these forests of symbols man traverses,

And they observe him with a familiar gaze.

Like distant echoes which, travelling from afar, are confused

Into a several yet profound unity,

As vast as the night, but with day’s clarity,

Smells, colours and sounds correspond.

These are smells as fresh as the flesh of an infant;

Soft like an oboe, green like the prairie,

- While others, corrupt, rich and triumphant,

Possess of the infinite

As do amber, musk, benjamin and incense

- They sing of the transcending of soul and sense.

And for those of you who read French, here is the incomparable original. By the man who made me want to...

learn French (you're filthy animals for thinking it was going anywhere else)


- Charles Baudelaire

La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers

Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;

L’homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles

Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme des longs echos qui de loin se confondent

Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite,

Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte,

Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,

Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,

- Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,

Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,

Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.


escaping2nowhere said...

since we are talking about translations. here's what Harivansh Rai Bachhan did to "...miles to before i sleep" . I quite like it.

गहन सघन मनमोहक वन तरु मुझको आज बुलाते हैं,
किन्तु किये जो वादे मैंने याद मुझे वो आते हैं,
अभी कहाँ आराम बड़ा यह मूक निमंत्रण छलना हैं,
अरे अभी तो मीलों मुझको , मीलों मुझको चलना हैं ।

Harmony Siganporia said...

That is absolutely stunning, Mr Dubey...Why am I not surprised it came from you? :) Have you been writing? DO!