Sunday, September 14, 2008

Parland and translation

So I forgot to say: My argument about Parland was that it's already translation, but that it's all about embracing a kind of poverty of language. Usually when people talk about translation they fall into two basic categories: The Frost "Poetry is what is lost in translation" and the German Romantic "Translation widens our language." Parland famous said that he didn't want to translate Mayakovsky into Swedish because the Swedish language was too "poor" for Mayakovsky's fireworks. The important point is that Parland chose to write in Swedish, this impoverished language (though he spoke German and Russian much better). And this to me ties into his whole idea of "the ideals clearance." A poetics of inflation. And that's why Parland's idea of translation (and poetry) is more like Frost's idea, but he embraces that poverty.

Fred Hertzberg gave a talk on the American reception of my book and he analyzed my translations and David McDuff's translations. His basic view of these translations were perhaps that McDuff is very domesticating and mine are not especially domesticating. However, then he went on to this Venuti argument about how translation should estrange and offered his own translation which totally broke English syntactic rules and created strange neologisms etc.

I really think this points out a big weakness in Venuti's argument. I think he's great when he criticizes American anti-translation tendencies, but his idea of a translation that estranges so easily goes awry. In this case, Hertzberg actually ended up domesticating Parland several times over by trying to create an estranging translation.

To begin with he used an American translation theorist's ideas about estrangement (already domesticating). But also, his idea of estrangement involved making changes/disruptions in syntax and involving the materiality of the signifier etc - he was in essence using American late 20th century ideas of experimentation/estrangement.

The result was that Parland's poem in many ways was much less strange. Parland's strangeness has nothing to do with disrupting syntax (though that has a lot to do with Björling's poetry) and a lot to do with the uncomplicated, "poor" language - the language of exchange, not uniqueness.


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