Some definitions that may come in handy . . .

"In the end every literature grows bored if not refreshed by foreign participation." Goethe

Intralingual-Translation within a language
Interlingual-Language to language (word-for-word and transfer of meaning from one language to another)
Intersemiotic-system to system (e.g. French into sign language)
Diachronic-Across time
Synchronic-Across Distance

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wine, Women and Song: A Review of Baudelaire's, Flowers of Evil, Fleurs du Mal

Fleurs du Mal:  Flowers of Evil

Henry Miller said if you were going to write about cunt, you should put some hair on it. This is what Charles Baudelaire accomplishes in Fleurs du Mal. If truth is beauty and beauty is truth, then there is a lot that is beautiful in the ugliness of the world one enters in this collection. Beauty is also achieved through the smoking of opium, erotica and drink, a dulling of the harsh reality of existence in a Whitmanesque attempt at transcendence to the ideal from the reality of the spleen.
Like Henry Miller, Baudelaire both reveres and vilifies women in this collection.  Like Whitman, the transcendent move towards the ideal can often be attained through sex, but unlike Whitman, there is a crash towards the end with a Milleresque patina of misogyny.  Women are called both “my glory and my joy” (“Possessed” 4.14), but who could never understand his pain “though it’s as obvious as that smile of yours,” but we never hear from the woman, she is silenced because “you ask too many questions. No more talking now/my prying ignoramus, no more words/however sweet your voice” (“Semper Eadem” 5-10). It seems women are good enough for sexual transcendence, but are resented as the fulcrum from which the author is made aware of his own weakness in seeking them out. He enjoys the beauty of women, even if he casts it as a memento mori,  a sign of the death that awaits us all.
Flowers of Evil, displays a mind obsessed with death. It is almost existential in that we have no free will, but unlike the existentialists, there is a controlling force here in the form of Satan, who leads the speaker to opium and drink “which like a pestilence infects/my soul until it sinks/unconscious on the shores of death!” (“Poison” 18-20). Death, though it is clear the speaker fears it, sometimes seems a preferable option to an existence where one is controlled by sin, by the evil lure of women, and by drink and drugs.
The collection is rife with Catholic iconography which is also the ideology which blames women for the “fall.” Certainly “The Madonna” is where he’ll “forge a silver Footstool from the Moon/I’ll set the Serpent which my entrails feed/under your Heel, triumphant queen from whom/Redemptions flows/ to signify you flout/this monster varicose with hate and spleen” (26-28). Women are to be worshipped, but then one must self-flagellate for one’s uxoriousness and sink afresh into the world of the spleen.
The form of the poems seems formal to this reader, but I realize he is breaking free of the strict metered line,  even though I’m aware he often follows an ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme in the original French. His poems also seem to create movement toward the kind of conflicts being wrestled with in the poems themselves, such as in “The Lid.” You can really see the influence of Edgar Allan Poe in this piece, and also in its movement. Like the “Tell-Tale Heart” we are taken into a world where the “servant of Jesus, Aphrodite’s slave,” (3) moves through the poem to find himself under the “black lid of that enormous pot/in which innumerable generations boil” (13-14). The reader is moved from a “frozen sky” into the boiling pot, a horrific place to find oneself to be sure.
The collection exemplifies the Symbolist’s central tenet of the solitary figure versus a cruel world. Baudelaire is the master of this particular human predicament and Fleurs du Mal is an exhaustive study of it. 
 For More information:

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Review of Paul Celan's Threadsuns

Torture Chamber in Burg Bewartstein

Celan’s Bubbly Brain
Paul Celan’s collection, Threadsuns, translated by Pierre Joris is a magical ride around the outer freeway of one’s brain. Joris has been taken to task for his literal translation style especially taking German grammatical forms and keeping them the same as in English. This makes Celan’s poems even less accessible for those readers unaccustomed to his maniacal word play. An example of German sentence structure is that the conjugate must follow the subject and then everything else is piled on afterword. This is where I am at in my German classes and therefore something I am conscious of. Now, it is also true that poets often twist syntax as they see fit, and that German does not easily translate into English. This I know for sure and can see in Joris’ translation style, as a Luxembourgish translating German into English.
            Joris seems to take the approach of translating the poem as homage to his idea of Celan rather than perhaps serving the integrity of the poem itself. Both methods are problematic, but after briefly reading through Heather McHugh’s translation Glottal Stops, where she freely admits to taking Celan’s poems to a “higher level of fidelity.” I find that Joris’ translations are more open to interpretation and to a kind of an understanding at intended, perhaps, by Celan himself.
I loved the poems in Threadsuns for their unexpectedness, but feel that some of the compounding of words served to convolute the English version and some seemed to make it more exciting.  He translates wordshadows, but what Celan really says is “thinkshadows” (43). He also translates Tafelland as “tableland,” but it isn’t just any table, it’s a table dressed for a particular holiday or celebration, a “dressed table”  (55). So while Joris maintains some of the structures inherent in German grammar, he often lacks imagination when translating some of the compounds.
            There are a lot of shadows in this collection: slugshadows, vultureshadows, heartshadows,  and albingenses-shadows to name a few. The collection reads as a shadow of reality. Not like Plato’s cave, but more like a Dadaist painting in words.  And like the Dadaist, this collection leaves me wondering what has meaning in a world of cruelty? “The heads, monstrous, the city/they are building/behind happiness.” (77). The “they” could be Joris in his attempt to impose meaning on poems in the introduction, making Celan a bit more accessible to his audience. I don’t believe this is necessary, what is necessary is perhaps an eye towards the kind of translation that serves the poem, not the tragic poet. I don’t believe Celan wanted anyone to “build” a scaffolding from which we can understand his work. It is a chronicle of how the mind actually works. For me, his poetry offers a kind of freedom of expression I find inspiring.