Logos Multilingual Portal

10. Becoming the author: the translator as actor. How to relive the cultural and existential experiences that have generated works of literature. The paradox "Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote" and Borges's reflection on the theme


c) The hidden harmony

We have already alluded to the theories of Stanislawski, the prophet of the protagonist as the Double of the text. Now, we can come to the Russian theoretician’s dogma - "the text is the memory experienced that becomes awareness" – starting from baroque music. In eighteenth-century harmony treatises, certain musical figures corresponding to particular moods are annotated like a grammar of the unconscious in sound patterns. Certain tensions and climaxes always correspond to a ‘marking’ in the sense of expectation, enchantment, nostalgia, etc.. Likewise, a translator must know the loci communes around which his ‘author’ creates the dramatic tension; and to do so he must ‘embody’ as far as possible the dynamics of attachment and repulsion according to which every artist constructs his own interior world.

Those familiar with Nietzsche’s works know that, starting with Human, all too human, in him the metaphysical perspective starts to become anthropology. Likewise, the style, previously roused with Schopenhauerian terminations and etymological excavations propitiated by the Athäneum (Schlegel’s magazine) becomes sharper, tending to double meanings and ironic ‘counter-texts’. There is a diary of Nietzsche’s lectures that reveals how in the Seventies the philosopher discovered Voltaire, Montaigne and Diderot. A translator cannot ignore this stylistic militancy if he wants to understand the reasons that led Nietzsche to embrace a sort of ‘Neo-Enlightenment’, so rare in the Germanic area. At the same time, the Freudian ambiguous characters of this attraction must remain firmly in the translator’s critical conscience. The quest for models foreign to one’s understanding is in itself evidence of a crisis. The mirror-effect of the ‘different’ becomes an electric discharge when it strikes that centre of the style every author jealously guards as the most sacred of his truths.

Ernst Junger is a writer able to entirely rationalize that expression of one’s interior state in the form of words, which is style. When writing his masterpiece On the Marble Cliffs, he kept a diary, Garten und strasse, in which his interpretative self-awareness as a creator reached unequalled heights. Junger does not philosophize; he simply goes over the contingent places and situations that saw the genesis of his inspirations, establishing a ‘real’ symbiotic relationship between actions and ideas – between clothes, climates, foods, sensations, and metaphysical elaborations – that took Proust the entire Recherche in order to draw from its evidence. In one passage the writer recounts his childhood attraction to frogs, and how that resulted in his own singular anthropology; convinced that emotions are ‘liquid’, and that every individual spends his entire life putting moods in his own private ‘pond’ – the amphibious, protective nature of emotions – which, over the years is destined to become an impenetrable territory. The way Junger manages to take this ‘metaphysical naturalism’ back to terse first impressions, or childhood impressions, is quite astounding. By comparison, Freudian psychoanalysis seems a theology in the negative, unsuitable for following the dynamic permutations to which the dream – when it remains a symbol – can take its textual expression, or ‘poetry’.