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

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.