Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five steps of translation

I've been handed another translating assignment--an excerpt from Michèle Métail's LA ROUTE DE CINQ PIEDS (The Road of Five Steps), which I'm to complete by June for a translation festival that will take place either in a) Connecticut or b) France.

On the surface, the Oulipian constraint is relatively straightforward, five "steps" per line, and Métail has made it even easier for me with a note to the translator calling my attention to the form and that the "silent e" of French may throw off the syllable count in English.

However, one does not write a 16,000-verse and counting poem without some other constraint pulling it along. She says in her introduction that the poem was "conceived as a continuous chain of pictures," but I just know there's something else lurking in here. So far there doesn't seem to be a repetition of words between verses (in fact, I think it's just the opposite--that no repetition is allowed), nor a repetition of sound. Perhaps a clue can be found in her introduction, when she says that the poem is based on 8 trips to Asia (with a 6:1:1 ratio of China, Taiwan, Japan). Perhaps this is the additional constraint? Eight characters perhaps with five syllables? 16,000 divided by 8 is 2,000...

On another subject, Pierre Joris included Jean Sénac’s Oeuvres poétiques (Actes Sud 1999) on his 10 best reads of 2008. I’m very happy to see Joris draw some public attention to Jean Sénac. He was one of my major finds during research for the anthology, and it does pain my heart a bit that we probably won't be the ones to bring his poetry into English, after all.

But Joris has reminded me I should reread Sénac. With Ismael now in my life and reading Senegalese writers such as Ousmane Sembene, I'm even more interested in the struggle shared by so many Francophone writers, such as Sénac, between an interest in and passion for French culture and language, and a hatred for French colonialism. Here’s a quote from Justin Vicari’s article at APR, which also includes some translations of Sénac’s poetry.

Sénac entered the French language as a deliberate outsider, from the beginning
mixing in polyglot words pell-mell from Spanish, Arabic, and English, while
inventing many bold neologisms of his own. Later, Sénac actively joined the
resistance against French colonialism in Algeria, fighting as a soldier for that
cause: yet, one feels that Sénac was fighting only against the France who
conquered with armies, not the same nation who conquered with images.

France was where his books were published and what he wrote in. And if I translated his work into English, would I compound the colonialism? How can one reconcile culture with colonialism?

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home