Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Tongue is Not for Lashing / Nyelvűnk Nem Ostor by Panni Palásti    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Nothing new enters the mind when reading, yet without reading our capacity for new experiences would be constrained to those we could actually have for ourselves (which would be either time-consuming or limiting, either hazardous or limiting, either unreliable or limiting, either either reckless or limiting). To read is to follow, generally with our eyes, a sequence of familiar marks (ink on paper, mutable crystals on a screen, black fire on white fire, or whatever), patterned in largely familiar ways, generally becoming less familiar as the patterns get larger until such point as the pattern and the content diverge and begin to interact in, hopefully, interesting ways (the sooner this interaction is induced, the more ‘poetic’ the text, perhaps). In some way the hooks of text act as a harrow, drawing up and turning over already existing mind-stuff and leaving it in new patterns which are the matrix of new experience. A reader of a text surrenders their mind-stuff to the authority of the author, the postulated person who has wrought the textual harrow, the purpose of which is to translate experience between minds. The better wrought the harrow by the author, the better the chance that the resultant pattern of experience in the mind-stuff of the reader who completes the task of translation will resemble the pattern of experience in the mind-stuff of the author. All text entails the translation of experience and is fraught with avoidable and unavoidable failings due to differences between the pre-existing mind-stuffs of both parties (their pre-existing repertoires of experience) and to the degrees of facility either party has with their part in the process (writing, reading (not too dissimilar (the first being a subset of the second))). When the translation of experience uses not one language as a medium between writer and reader but two, one used as a matrix for experience by the writer and one used as a matrix of experience by the reader, there must necessarily be some refraction as the text passes from one medium to the other, from one language to the other. When this linguistic translation is done by a third party, they cannot but introduce a further refraction as they become first reader and then (re)writer of the text before it reaches and affects the eventual reader, in other words they become in themselves a further medium, an experiential medium as opposed to a linguistic one (not that such a distinction can be made except usefully), interposed between author and reader, in addition to the two linguistic media, and the translator must align within themselves two linguistic matrices upon the one experience. This is not to say that such translation necessarily 'harms' a work, for the intensive reading required furthers and joins the reading done by the author to create the work and that done by the reader to complete it. When the translator is the author, as in A Tongue is Not for Lashing, the process of translation takes place in a field in which the medium of a third party’s experience has not been introduced, and the task of translation is to align the two linguistic matrices so that meaning passes as cleanly as possible between the two. More than with translation made by a third party, the differences between the work and the work translated by the author, when most rigorously done, manifest the differences between the two linguistic matrices used to arrange the mind-stuff of experience. As these differences are least avoidable at the closer stages of the interaction between pattern and content, these differences are most manifest in the translation of poetry. What Palasti terms ‘the travails of translation’ are the most strenuous and the most exacting and the most hopeless and the most fertile and creative in the translation of poetry. As Marianna Birnbaum says of the translation of poetry in the introduction to A Tongue is Not for Lashing, “The struggle cannot end in total victory, since the original poem is built, precisely, on that single literary solution of the poet, that unique amalgam of form and meaning. In the duel between form and meaning usually form is the loser.” It would be hard for a reader to ‘trust’ a third-party translator who permitted form to contribute as much to the translated poem as it most surely did to the creation of the original, but we have fewer reservations when it comes to translation by the author. Even though the author-as-translator may allow form, the demands of the linguistic matrix particular to the destination language, to give a translated poem a degree of divergence from the original we would find unacceptable from a third-party translator, we more readily trust the author to deliver us a poem, which we regard as parallel at least, which expresses, at a deeper level at least, whatever it was they were originally trying to say. If we have some degree of aptitude with both languages, and have both versions available as in the parallel texts of A Tongue is Not for Lashing, we may compare the two and follow the author/translator in her travails. For the rest of us, we may trust the poet and gauge the degree to which her experience induces an experience in us across the medium through which it travels, as well as the experience we have of language patterned by the author’s labour. “All my poems are political,” states Palasti, all are the expression of an individual striving for freedom and experience and intimacy often in the face of societal (or even natural) forces configured to stifle freedom, annul experience and prevent intimacy. Now in her ninth decade, Palasti left her native Hungary as a refugee after the the defeat of the 1956 revolution, and has worked on this bilingual edition of a selection of her poems as a way of speaking in two languages at once and aligning the dual matrices of her own experiences. I particularly like the somewhat Seabldian photographs with which the book is scattered, their simultaneous reachability and unreachability presenting a version of the translation of experience particular to the nature of their medium, and thus complementing the work of the poems. 

>> Panni will be launching A Tongue is Not for Lashing, reading poems in both Hungarian and English, and talking about bilinguality at VOLUME at 6 PM this Friday (11 August). Please come along.

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