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azure, jewoman, Αββα

February 3, 2013

My co-blogger Theophrastus has asked about Andrew Hurley’s “translation technique” in rendering Bartolomé de las Casas, O. P.’s 1552 book Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias.  I think the adjective for that is “outrageous” since the limited use of a special old English makes for perhaps misunderstanding today.  Hurley lives and works in Puerto Rico, and I think he must know what he’s doing, what he intends.  And yet who knows?  He may not have counted on, for instance, all of the questions we have here at this blog, whether it’s Theophrastus or Suzanne or Victoria or me, as we look at the problem of Spanish and Catholic (and protestant) and Christian missions.

When Hurley has translated Fidel Castro and Jorge Luis Borges and Rubén Darío, he has had other techniques.  When translating Darío, Hurley uses “azure” instead of the English “blue,” for example, when rendering the original Spanish “azul.”  And he does so because the original is actually a Spanish rendering of French.

I think the ostensible purity that we often want in our translations is just a myth.  We too often want our translation language to be as pure as the original language.  We want the languages contained.  If Las Casas meant something by cristianos, then the translator ought not use a word, such as “Christian” since today that is much more ambiguous ostensibly than the original was surely in 1552.

But what Hurley does with with his English translation of Darío’s Spanish translation of French literature is more typical, I dare say, of translation that lets language be slippery and human, ambiguous and social.

This is what Hélène Cixous has done when translating her own French into English.  Her own French, at a certain point in her original writing, she recognizes, is more ambiguous than a single reader might understand it to be.  Hence, her English reflects that social wordplay, the interlingual influences, and takes the play in different directions.  Here’s an example:

La question des juifs. La question des femmes. La question des juifemmes. La questione della donnarance. A questāo das laranjas. The question: Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme? Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher? Joy I donna? ou fruo filha? Fuis-je femme ou est-ce je me ré-juive?

The question of the Jews. The question of women. The question of jewomen. A questāo das laranjudias. Della arancebrea. Am I enjewing myself? Or woe I woman? Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich? Joy I donna? Gioia jew? Or gioi am femme? Fruo.

Sherry Simon explains some of what we can see Cixous doing.  Does Cixous do all that she intends to do as an original writer in French?  Does she translate everything she intends to translate?  Does she prevent us readers from reading more than she intends?  Of course not.

And so when we read the Septuagint.  Here’s a strange one:  καὶ ὄνομα τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ Αββα θυγάτηρ Ζαχαρια.  It’s the last part of the Greek translation of the Hebrew 2 Chronicles 29:1.  The word we might in English transliterate “Abba” is possibly a Greek transliteration of Hebrew sounds for a phrase that means Father God.  But it’s a Greek word that also appears in the Greek New Testament only three times.  There it’s likely a transliteration of spoken Hebraic Aramaic, a more intimate word for Father perhaps.  I’m out of time, and might be able to say more later on some of this.

And yet my point is that languages are not pure, hardly original, and vary wildly through intercutural interlinguistic social interactions.  Translators, good ones, are not bound to make their translations more pure or always less ambiguous and without as much play.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2013 2:40 pm

    So many interesting (and, in truth, not fully developed) thoughts in this post. I didn’t really gain much insight into Hurley from this post, but was fascinated by the Hélène Cixous example.

    (A side question: as you many know one can often find recordings of 20th century composers conducting their own work — for example, Britten or Stravinsky (although reportedly those recordings were more shaped by Robert Craft than Stravinsky). However, these are not necessarily definitive works. Both because of better recording technology but also because of better conducting, later conductors often are said to deliver better performances of these pieces. The same thing happens in popular music — a later version of a popular song or jazz composition is often better than the original version. So here is my question: are there cases where an author translated her own work, but that translation was later surpassed by a later translator?)

    I’m not sure that the “Abba” example is the best one, despite the complex interrelationship between Hebrew and Aramaic during that time period. I’m not sure of the date of translation for the Septuagint fragment that you quote. (It seems that the portion of the Hebrew Bible called “ketuvim” [writings] may have been translated later; and you will notice, for example, while there are many references in the New Testament to the earlier sections “torah” [law] and “neviim” [prophets], references to the ketuvim are more scarce and less favorable. [See, for example, Matthew 5:17].) But the main problem here is that Αββα is being used here for אֲבִיָּה which is a proper noun conventionally translated not as”Father God” but “my Father is the Lord.” I have to wonder in this case if this is not merely a corrupt Greek manuscript.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 3, 2013 3:32 pm

    In order to understand what she was doing, I had to reorganize this. But still, I have to ask – why does Cixous reorder the phrases? Somehow it sounds more rhythmic in French. In French so much depends on the alliteration of “je” for I and “juive.” As well juive and jouissir, to be joyful is lacking in English. Where is the joy in English. Actually, I can’t say that I like this translation, even if it was done by the author.

    La question des juifs. La question des femmes.
    La question des juifemmes.
    La questione della donnarance. A questāo das laranjas.
    The question:
    Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme?
    Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher?
    Joy I donna? ou fruo filha?
    Fuis-je femme ou est-ce je me ré-juive?

    The question of the Jews. The question of women.
    The question of jewomen.
    A questāo das laranjudias. Della arancebrea.
    Am I enjewing myself? Or woe I woman?
    Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich?
    Joy I donna?
    Gioia jew? Or gioi am femme? Fruo.

    Line 5 would sound better possibly as

    Am I joyful in jewishness? Or do I flee femaleness?

    I might have this out of order as well, but at least this seems to be a start at understanding what she is saying.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 3, 2013 3:53 pm

    Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme?
    Am I Jewish as a Jewess or do I flee femaleness

    Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher?
    Do I joy in Judia or am I a woman?

  4. February 4, 2013 2:18 pm

    Theophrastus,
    My apologies again to everyone reading for my failure to develop this post. In my mind, what Hurley does, what Cixous does, and what the LXX translator does is to work translating an original language that is comprised really of original languages (plural). So what’s a translator to do?

    In Hurley’s case, he first asks:

    So how does one translate into English a writer who has himself ‘translated’ French literature of the late nineteenth century into Spanish, with all those entanglements of European-American-Latin American culture and literature, all those borrowings and emulations and apprenticeships?

    In Cixous’s case, she finds herself (as Sherry Simon puts it):

    writing across languages, moving from jubilation to lament, moving through English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian [and dare we see German and transliterated classical Greek?], between Clarice Lispector and Joyce, in an outburst of ambivalent self-accusation. Here, the absence of any mechanical idea of equivalence between languages reinforces the dynamic of Cixous’ writing which is to create meaning in the spaces between words, in the interplay between them.

    The careful, restrained linguistic shadowing which prevails elsewhere in the text collapses entirely as the plurality of codes is equally produced in all languages. We are reminded here of Derrida’s question: can the process of transfer between texts already written in a plurality of tongues still be called translation? How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language (Graham 1985:215)?

    In the LXX translator’s case, he is perhaps (as you note) making a mistake (or his editors down the line have). But I meant to note, to stress rather loudly a very important point about this Αββα. It’s something in the Greek, and also in the Hebrew first. She is a woman, or as the Bible puts it, the mother of a man, a king, and the daughter of a man also. As Alice L. Laffey puts it in her essay on 2 Chronicles in The Women’s Bible Commentary edited by Carol Ann Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, she is

    Abijah (Abi in 2 Kings 18:2), the daughter of Zhechariah and mother of King Hezekiah (29:1). // These names are recorded partly because these women were attached to prominent husbands, former kings. Several [of the women listed] are identified as daughters of a particular father, so one might surmise that their fathers also were prominent. All became mothers of sons who were prominent.

    Through the years there has been a tremendous amount of ink spilled on why Αββα is used in just a single prayer of Jesus in the Greek New Testament. And how Paul’s two uses of this transliteration of Aramaic sounds with Greek letters to Greek readers of different epistles of his might be similar to or different from what Jesus surely intended. What no one ever has written about (that I can find) is whether this LXX use of Αββα (whether a mss mistake or intended) in any way influenced the use of the word in Mark or Romans or Galatians. It would be fun to speculate, of course. Why a mother called “father” in some Greek translated Hebrew text might be responsible for Jesus crying out for life or Paul having Christians crying out too. The word — so Greeked, with uncertain origins and definite gendered ambiguities — is not so pure or clear.

    You ask a terrific question: “are there cases where an author translated her own work, but that translation was later surpassed by a later translator?”

    Well, I think this is all very subjective. Who gets to decide when one translation surpasses another, especially in this situation? I’ve misplaced for the moment my copy of poems in Spanish (and in English translation) by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Alexander Coleman; true, Borges doesn’t provide translations for all of these, but I dare say that some, like Willis Barnstone (either working in collaboration with Borges or alone) have produced translations better than the Borges ones. Your question gets at the whole notion of whether a good bilingual author is always a good translator in the two languages. I would imagine this is not the case. There’s an art to composition; there’s an art to translation. Then there are other issues. Pearl S. Buck translated one of China’s most famous novels, “Shui Hu Chuan,” beautifully into English as “All Men Are Brothers.” But I’m not sure she ever trusted herself to translate her most famous novel, The Good Earth, into Chinese; at least seven translators have, however. Buck’s Chinese was good enough, and she felt she belonged to many worlds, to both her cultures. Many say she wrote in English while thinking in Chinese. The other thing I’ve heard is that she did not take to reading over things she’d written, leaving that task to her editor or others. So she may not have the patience for translation of her own work, if it was like editing.

    —-

    Suzanne,
    I agree. Cixous’s translation here of Cixous is odd, obviously marked. As noted to Theophrastus, it’s the mix of languages in both her French and also in her English translation of her French that is so very wild and peculiar. And I love your go at translating Cixous better than she does! Have you read any of the essays in Joyful Babel: Translating Hélène Cixous or Lynn Penrod’s article, “Translating Cixous” in which she asks such wonderful beginning questions about the translator’s position(s) and questions?

  5. February 4, 2013 10:52 pm

    Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme?

    This line was my favorite, because of the play against “suis-je” (Am I) in both clauses. In print it’s easier to see the end rhyme, but aurally I notice that the initial consonants (juis, fuis, suis) are all fricatives.

    Am I enjewing myself? Or woe I woman? Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich?

    I like these lines a lot, too, because of the slant enjewing/enjoying, and the woe/wo-man (which isn’t as strong on its own, but is strengthened by the prior clause). “Win I/won’t I” tickles me because it’s riffing on “Will I / won’t I” and that makes an interesting play of agency and consent versus winning and losing.

    About Αββα, I’m very intrigued by the story told in 2 Chron 29 as set against the story of Jesus; but I think Theophrastus raises good points about whether there’s any reason to believe this is not just a scribal error.

    @Theophrastus, I thought the psalms were considered part of the ketuvim? and they’re all over the NT. Are they a special case?

  6. February 4, 2013 11:41 pm

    @Theophrastus, I thought the psalms were considered part of the ketuvim? and they’re all over the NT. Are they a special case?

    Yes, you are absolutely right. But the psalms were (and are) the core of the liturgy.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 5, 2013 12:05 am

    “enjewing/enjoying” Okay, I didn’t even get that. Oops.

  8. February 5, 2013 12:36 am

    @Suzanne, I confess I didn’t see it either until you quoted it and wrote about possible variations. So thanks. :)

  9. February 5, 2013 8:20 am

    Victoria -

    She is in 2 Chronicles 29 אֲבִיָה, but in 2 Kings 18:2 she is simply called אֲבִי. That’s from the various mss of the MT. In the extant mss of the LXX, these “father” names for this woman are written respectively in Greeked Hebrew Aramaic or in Greeked Hebrew (or they’re mistakes somehow) as Abba and Αβου.

    If I had time, I would blog some about all the amazing linguist Anna Wierzbicka has written, asking in a book length question, “What Did Jesus Mean?” Wierzbicka covers the literature on the meanings scholars have attributed just to Mark’s use of the Hebraic Hellene transliteration of the term Abba in Jesus’s prayer. Part of what she concludes is that

    Compared to ‘Father,’ the word Abba as a term of address seemed to have an intimate and familiar ring and possibly even suggested an element of feeling. Although it is misleading to compare Abba with either “Daddy” (which is childish) or with “dear Father” (which sounds formal rather than familiar and intimate), Abba as a term of address may still have had an attitudinal (roughly speaking, affectionate or warm) component in its meaning, along the lines of “when I think about you I feel something good.” The precise interpretation of such a component would have depended on the context in which the word was embedded, but in any case it would have been more compatible with an attitude of affection, love, trust or respect than of fear.

    Victoria and Suzanne –
    Did you catch how Cixous here is playing with the word jouissance? Its absence is rather significant in this context, don’t you think? And yet she hints at its presence, which is so very like her. At the end of her bookNewly Born Woman, the editors provide a glossary and decide that this word is worthy of inclusion. When I have a moment some time, I’ll copy out the entire entry, given how it follows how Cixous uses the term through this book. Of course, she’s playing against what Lacan had developed, as you know.

  10. February 5, 2013 12:33 pm

    Kurk quoted Wierzbicka :

    but in any case it would have been more compatible with an attitude of affection, love, trust or respect than of fear.

    As, perhaps, Father over against paterfamilias?

    Thanks for the reference – I’ve added the book to my “someday” list :)

  11. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 6, 2013 12:31 am

    “Did you catch how Cixous here is playing with the word jouissance? Its absence is rather significant in this context, don’t you think?”

    Yes, I certainly did! And I felt that the word jouissance was present in French and absent in English. the French “jouissance” sounds like an orgasm and the English “enjoy” does not. “Oh, I enjoyed that.” Does that sound right?

    I think this is all about Lacan saying that orgasm is a sort of phallic thing because it is the active principle. But I am not quite sure what Lacan said, so I had better stop here. On the other hand, Elizabeth Smart is supposed to have written the best book on female jouissance.

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