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


e) Walter Benjamin and the language of Baudelaire

"Language communicates the linguistic being of things. But its clearest expression is the language itself. The answer to the question: What does the language communicate? is therefore: All language communicates itself." Walter Benjamin’s proposition will be thus assimilated in the plan of our discourse: The translator must transmute every cultural element, and every psychological connotation used in order to be in agreement with his author, into a coherent and functional linguistic garb perfectly modelled on the textual needs gradually arising.

Translating ‘in the manner of’ does not satisfy anyone, apart from the aesthetes of philological virtuosity. On the other hand, translating ‘in the spirit of’ is a more virtuosic operation, in being less conspicuous. The translator is above all a historian of the language. "Being spiritual is conveyed in and not through language; in other words, it is not outwardly the same as being linguistic," explains Benjamin.

For such a ‘phenomenal’ approach not to become misleading, ‘language’ must be understood as the visible aspect of a movement inside the arts and ideologies, able to permeate them in clearly defined perspectives with expressions which, if taken separately, would not make any impact. Hence, those intending to approach the ‘epiphanic’ poetry of Baudelaire must carefully study his art criticisms: the various "Salons" which, like a ‘basso continuo’, articulate his development according to a progression in the ‘harmony of the senses’ achieved only starting from Correspondances. Everyone knows that "Nature is a temple", according to the famous incipit of the poem; but the meaning of those "confuses paroles" with "vivants piliers" will become the linguistic garb only for those who have examined the relationship existing between the ‘stain of colour’ theorized by Delacroix and the plain verse as a curse on which Baudelaire lets the meaning become confused in assonances is such as masterly way as to seem casual.
Those who have addressed the question of the ‘interior view’ – the supreme resource of the textual interpreter - will note the vox media inherent in that "confuses": confused words, because they are ‘merged’ together in a synolos and syzygy - both being symbols of the coincidentia oppositorum – that are evident and inscrutable at the same time.

And it is by the same process of circularity of the sign that the perspective from which the whole of the details in a text becomes a landscape, changes its centre of gravity with every interpretation. And it is why Pierre Menard, having faithfully rewritten Don Quixote line by line, really wrote another book.

If a translator fails to take note of this aporia of the interpretation he risks transforming that act of love which is the rendering of a text, into the neurosis Stanislawski calls "the identity crisis of an actor incapable of drawing those elements he needs from his soul".

And yet that neurosis is defined by many as the "principle of objectivity".