Academic journal article About Performance

Laughing at the Difference: Theories of Translation in Rehearsal

Academic journal article About Performance

Laughing at the Difference: Theories of Translation in Rehearsal

Article excerpt

Through the foreign language we renew our love-hate intimacy with our mother tongue. We tear at her syntactic joints and semantic flesh and resent her for not providing all the words we need. In translation, the everyday frustrations of writing assume an explicit, externally projected form. If we are impotent, it is because Mother is inadequate. In the process of translation from one language to another, the scene of linguistic castration-which is nothing other than a scene of impossible but unavoidable translation and normally takes place out of sight, behind the conscious stage-is played on center stage. (Johnson, 1985, pp. 143-4)

Much discussion about translation is organised around a set of questions which could be summarised: ?How to translate?' These theories of translation provide a discursive environment in which translated texts are produced (see Schulte & Bigunet 1992). They also, however, continue to frame the translated text after its production. They provide resources for understanding the nature of the translated text. They come to regulate its use.

Here I will investigate not the translation process, but the process a translated text underwent during a performance research project. What is the status of a translated text? What is the impact of its translated status on its use as a performance text? I will address these questions in reference to the Antigone Project held at the Centre for Performance Studies, University of Sydney as part of its Theatre and Translation program in 1993.

In the Antigone Project, one director and three actors rehearsed Stasimon 1 and Episode 2 of Sophocles' Antigone in English translations by Lewis Campbell (1873), Elizabeth Wyckoff (1954) and Judith Malina (1984). Unlike the other two translators who worked directly from the Greek, Malina's text is a translation of Brecht's adaptation of Hölderlin's translation of Sophocles' play. It was written and continuously revised for a Living Theatre production during the 1960s (Biner 1968, p.154). Her ?distance' from Sophocles ' text and her engagement with the canonical Brecht made the practitioner's work with Malina's text interestingly problematic. .Analysis of the rehearsal documentation reveals that the project participants engaged with theories of translation in the course of their work.

Of the three translations used in the project, Malina's text sustained the most damage in terms of textual alterations inflicted upon it. Five separate alterations were made during the rehearsal of Malina's text. All except the last were discussed at significant length (at least ten minutes) and almost everyone in the rehearsal room was involved in the discussions. The first three alterations were made as the result of difficulties the actors were having in working with the text.

In the first alteration, a line of .Antigone's was changed because the actor playing Kreon had trouble making sense of his line which follows (Antigone Project, Tape One, 11:13:30-). The lines are

ANTIGONE He who was not your slave is dearer to me than a brother.

KREON Of course, if good and evil are the same as one another.

After puzzling about this line as it is in Malina's translation, the discussion turned to the three texts which preceded Malina's and the project participants embarked on an archaeological paperchase to sort out the problem. Those with access to the two German texts and the Greek text offered readings, explanations and translations, and basically settled on

ANTIGONE He who was not your slave is still a brother.

But these were not the only source of input. The actors offered their own ideas based on their understanding of the plot and its logic (derived from a potentially limitless intertextual reading in which Malina's translation and the other two were only the primary sources) and at certain points, everyone in the room offered a suggestion.

just as dear

more dear

as dear

He who was not your slave is my brother

He was not a slave of yours but is still my brother

He was not your slave but he is still my brother

During the discussion, responsibility for the problem of 'making sense' was shifted from Brecht who was represented as having 'gone back to following the original', 'made a shift', 'replaced that reference' to Malina who was not represented as doing anything but whose text was called 'a mistranslation', 'incorrect', her 'invention'. …

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