Some thoughts on multivocality in translation

Literary translation, as we understand it, occupies both a ‘space’ and a ‘time’ of possibilities, of different readings and their subsequent rewritings.  What we have been seeking, to some extent, and for some time now, is to pinpoint the liminal place where the translator positions herself or himself, this exhilarating ‘in-betweeness’ of the existing text and the soon-to-happen text. But not only. We have also tried to reflect on the translator’s privileged – paradoxical – status, as standing on both sides of the ‘threshold’, between the ritual reading and the fertile writing, but above all between the translator’s own literary and cultural identities and those of the ‘other’ author.

A translator’s reading, in its uniqueness – to read in order to write – will of course generate new embodiments of the text. This translational reading already incorporates the tension between the translator’s ‘experience’ of the text and the expectations of the target readership, a tension which eventually becomes verbalized, drafted, created into another language. But this language is not just one’s own  mother tongue, it also includes one’s own particular literary idiolect and, most importantly, one’s own voice – intended here not only as the uniqueness of the writing style (the lexical and stylistic preferences), but also equipped with sonority and materiality (as in Barthes) and (almost in an ethnographic way) the translator’s subjectivity, attitudes, gender, culture, education, ethnicity, identities: her or his personae.

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So that in the act of translation, the translator’s voice emerges from the interstices and strata of the text, to become more audible, and, therefore, necessarily (inter)acts with the vocal dimensions of the text (narrative, poetic, dramatic), and especially with the distinctive voices of their authors. This conversation, engendered by the translational reading, can be defined as multivocality, which we intend as the multi-voicedness  present in the text of departure, in the translation process and, finally, in the translated text. Further, something multivocal can be expressed in different words, and therefore is layered with pluralism, with ambiguity, change, transiency. ‘Voice’, therefore, is sonorous, oral/aural, individual, embodied or disembodied, but also unfixed, changeable, and context-bound.

Furthermore, the uniqueness of the translational reading does not necessarily entail privacy or isolation. On the contrary the richness of a particular reading opens onto echoes of other work the translator has written or translated before, and these memories feed into the new rewriting (more vocal layers to take into account). Some may still consider the reading phase as a private affair, yet, living in an intertextual, dialogical dimension means that every reading from its inception entails and contains another reading, a previous conversations with other texts.

2016-04-22 16.23.58And, translation, by engaging with more than one vocal subjectivity, becomes a sort of collaborative project, or communal space, where intimacy and solo-writing give way to cooperation and partnership.  Cooperation between two writers is thus present in the translation process, in which the conflation of their voices creates new meanings. Each translation then can be seen as a collaborative project which manifests itself in the voice of, one, the source text author, two, the translator,  and three, the possible, some may say ‘unavoidable’, intertextuality in which both  the source text and  its translation are dipping.  In our past study of translation as a creative form of writing, rather than lamenting the death of the author, we celebrated the birth of the translator essentially as co-author. This idea of co-authoring can be intended as nothing other than the perceptible quality of multivocality, of conflation of distinct, relative voices (the translator’s and authors’ styles, idiolects, sonority and personae) within the target text, even of different vocal narratives and perspectives within the text. Of course, this idea of translation as a collaborative project, and the translator as co-author, is from an ethical point of view problematic insofar as it can generate a dialogue full of tension, with the translator seeking control of meaning over the author, and that meaning needing to be continuously negotiated among all the subjectivities involved.

Finally, and most importantly, each translation despite being a fairly intimate and personal dialogue with the source text does not exclude, but rather calls for, the ‘other’ reader to lend her or his voice to the text and to continue this conversation, to add to the ambiguity, cacophony and renewal in this multivocality. The reader then is invited to explore further the new textual, temporal spaces opened by the translations, and enticed to step onto theses space (and time), to create new meanings.

References

Barthes, R. (1977) ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image, Music, Text, translated by Stephen Heath, (London: Fontana Press).

Perteghella, M. and E. Loffredo (eds)(2006) Translation and Creativity. Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies, (London and New York: Continuum 2006).

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Reflections and Refractions in Cavafy’s Panorama

12 Greek Poems after Cavafy. Translated by Paschalis Nikolaou and Richard Berengarten 

12 Greek Poems after Cavafy is a beautiful bilingual collection of poems published in the exciting and welcome chapbook series by Shearsman.  This anthology spans just over a century  (from 1916 to 2015), and brings together Greek language poems written in the manner of, or as homage to Cavafy. These are inspired by the Alexandrian poet’s particular style, which Paschalis Nikolaou, editor and co-translator, defines as “recognizable enough across cultural space”, therefore “entirely suited for adaptation or recycling at the hands of a wide range of international artists” (p.5). Indeed, reading through this brilliant collection,  ideas of adaptation, as well as those of rewriting and versioning, conflate and give us, its readers, different layers to ‘peel’ and poetic forms to engage with. The most distinctive trait about this poetry book, and what I have enjoyed the most, is the desirable conflation of many voices and personae. First, there’s the relationship of these poems to Cavafy’s particular poetic output, the temporal and geographical contexts of his production, the specific material and settings used in his own poems,  a relationship which creates both literary and stylistic reflections and refractions; second, the styles and voices of these Greek poets (including Malanos, Ritsos, Seferis, as well as contemporary poets such as Kapsalis and Kosmopoulos) merge with that of Cavafy by way of a dialogue with the poet and his own, distinct language; lastly, there is yet another relationship, that of these Greek poems to their English language translations by Nikolaou and Richard Berengarten, further voices conversing together and offering a multivocality of poetic languages and idiolects.

The intertextual and the metatextual surface in the rewriting of a Cavafy’s poem from another perspective, in a poem-dedication, in a poem-compilation collage-like of Cavafy’s lines, in the description of Cavafy’s own writing desk, the ‘imagining’ of a conversation, in the re-imagining of past events and myths, in poems which recall other poems. Of course, the breadth of old and new poetic voices anthologised here also point to the enduring, creative effect that Cavafy’s poetry has had on Greek (and international) literary production.

12 poems

Structurally, the chapbook offers a succinct and engaging introduction to the contexts of these poems (and of Cavafy’s style and voice), followed by the source language poems and their translations presented side by side, mirroring each other, but also part of the overarching narrative of the collection. Notes on the poems, poets and the translations, positioned discreetly at the end of the collection provides us with further information on these literary and personal dialogues and relationships.

A final thought. Except for ‘The Poet’s Space’, all of the English poems here are collaborative translations between Nikolaou and Berengarten. Collaboration in translation entails a meeting of subjectivities, skills, expertise, languages and cultures. Underpinning collaboration and surfacing within the translated texts is the democratic notion of a ‘shared’ translational process, where the different subjectivities enrich and complement each other. This collaborative work is, I believe, one of the best translation practices around, precisely because of the multiple perspectives and creativities  which  feed into the reading and subsequent rewriting of the poems. It is a practice to be fostered and encouraged, and I am delighted to see such tremendous poet-translators collaborate here.

Manuela Perteghella

12 Greek Poems after Cavafy. Edited by Paschalis Nikolaou. Translated by Paschalis Nikolaou & Richard Berengarten. 2015, Shearsman Chapbooks, ISBN 978-1-84861-449-9, pp.36.