Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

A Sense of Otherness? the Balancing Act of Translation

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

A Sense of Otherness? the Balancing Act of Translation

Article excerpt

Some years ago 1 gave a paper at a FIRT Conference, titled "Bless Thee Bottom. Bless Thee, Thou Art Translated". Bottom's transformation into an ass is no more remarkable than the transformation of a play into another language: both appear in a foreign dress: both look somewhat alien to their old friends. Snout flees in mortal fear, but soon returns and says: "O Bottom, thou art changed! What do I see on thee?" Bottom 'translated' is clothed in a different dress, but he is still good old Bottom. His spirit and heart are unchanged.

As a translator, my fear is to disturb the balancing act of transforming Bottom into another appearance, yet keeping his true form - his soul and spirit and heart. On the one hand. 1 strive to recreate an original work so it sounds as if it were written in English. CJn the other, this gives rise to a question: one of setting. An English director said about Michael Frayn's Chekhov translations: 'They are very good ... but they are too English. Reading his translations. I get no sense of otherness, no sense of foreignness. of Russia ... And if I get no sense of Russia, then the plays themselves make no sense to me. If the English is so flawlessly, idiomatically English then my authence will not perceive its fundamental nature: its Russianness.'' Frayn's Chekhov does seem to be sei in an English rose garden, just as many English translations of Ibsen's work make all the male characters into jovial English fools."

I have published articles on translation which compare my own with other English versions. Here 1 discuss my own translation processes, and my own mistakes." 1 explore the work of a classic playwright. FIenrik Ibsen, and a contemporary writer. Jon Fosse, who is one of the world's most produced writers for the theatre. His work has been translated to over forty languages. Among other accolades. Le Monde dubbed him 'the Beckett of the 21st Century": Theater Heute named him "Best Foreign Playwright' one year and the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nordic Literature Prize in 2007. Jon Fosse is not yet fifty.

Translators must create a language which captures the particular spirit and emotion and idiosyncrasies of the original, and which is as familiar and as unique to the characters in their new dress, without sacrificing the otherness that is the original - which must also be at the heart of the new version. I agree with Sneer in Sheridan's The Critic when he says that "It is not a translation - only taken from the French's Yes, "translation" is a misnomer; it is a work that has been rewritten in another language, for another culture and its conventions - and often for another period. The language of a play has its very own rhythm, its own music unlike that of any other play, created by its structure, form and dramatic dialogue. Unless the translator's voice is as distinct as that of the original writer, the new version will have no rhythm or music of its own.

Morag Shiach. in discussing Hélène Cixous' 'commitment to the density, complexity and excess' of language, argues that "[to Cixous] [l]anguage is not only a medium for expression of ideas and images ... but a material form, where signifiers. and particularly sounds, create meanings that proliferate-. This suggests a dramatic language in which words in themselves are inadequate." Cixous herself argues that it is the director's role to "seek to bring onstage the conflicting meaning systems that are always lodged in a complex work". But if a translator fails to recreate the original work's 'complexities', or its world of conflicting and juxtaposed signals, directors and other theatre artists will be unable to realise them on stage: a translator has a loyalty to the experience of the play in a three-dimensional form. Thus the transformation of a theatre text from one language and culture to another involves a dramaturgical as well as textual - and linguistic - interpretation and remaking of the original.

'Subtext" is not only difficult to define, but to translate to another language. …

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