I admit: I’m un-intimate with any other language past English. And for a time now, I’ve been reckless in my study of French since I’ve managed to quit before convincing myself that I should, at least, try in pursuit of enjoying the critical theory that I’ve read in its native language. In my defense, I didn’t want to waste more money on something that’s not practical.
Although, in a memory — one 2016 translation class ago — I found myself struggling with understanding language. Thoughts like:
- Is a translated poem a different entity than the original one?
- Meanings differ per translator and there will be better translators that capture the sound as well as the meaning.
- A poem will always be lost in translation even if the reader is callous.
A translated poem lives a dual life — one of its own existence and the other in its translators’.
One thing remained attainable, close and unloose amidst all the losses: language.
Language was not lost, in spite of all that happened. But it had to go through its own responselessness, go through horrible silences, go through the thousand darknesses of death-bringing speech. It went through and offered no words for what happened: but it went through these events…
I have attempted to write poems in this language, in those years and in the years that followed–in order to speak, in order to orient myself, in order to explore where I was and where I was yet to go, in order to define reality for myself.Paul Celan from the Poet’s Notebook
There’s another kind of translation I was wary of — in the interest of studying translation. I’ve found this kind of linguistic duality difficult to grasp, not until I discovered Paul Celan. The identity is close to my own consciousness where in I, as a Filipino, wrote in English as a second language.
The reason why I found this difficult to understand was the obvious nuances in an adapted / appropriated language that mystifies a dominant language. Paul Celan was Jewish writing German (his native tongue) — and people found that loophole to exoticize the difficulty of his poetry. And I’m using this idea that perhaps, the basis of his difficulty and ‘witnessing’ is the use of a language that colonized his identity. It poses as a kind of obvious rebellion that people from the non-western world possess every single day the moment they speak a language not-of-their own.
In a class with Prof. Gemino Abad, the excuse was, “We’re writing from English”. A perfect depiction on how our post-colonial identities / tendencies have limned the very fabric of the native tongue (whichever it may be). Although, there’s a reason to why Filipino Poetry in English exists — the Filipinos are cutting the business of translation and doing it themselves.
Blah blah blah — my conclusion is there is a difficulty that lies within a translated poem (and a poem in general). It all relies on how the reader responds to the text (discounting its history). I think my problem is, “How true and literal do I want to address original poem?”