azure, jewoman, Αββα
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.