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1. Time and space as force fields: literature as "the stage"


b) The endless struggle between fantasy and imagination

Taking our cue from Coleridge’s distinction between fantasy and imagination, we can say that literary translation is always and in any case an imaginative action. For Coleridge, imagination is merely an intertextual translation, whereby what was intended to remain invisible materializes, as a textual suggestion, in the theatre of our mind. In the light of all this, a psychological, cultural and ‘technical’ variable takes shape: the ‘coefficient of estrangement’ – according to which, the more the imagination of a culture is alien to our own, the more the literary translation requires metatextual codifying. In short, if the Nibelung theology - whereby evil derives from the fact that Odin’s wolf swallowed the moon - creates a series of ‘counter-texts’ that are incompatible with our notion of the Original Sin, the present custom of certain Nigerian tribes of giving a visitor a warm welcome by throwing pikes just a few inches from his feet certainly requires a preliminary comment.
The coefficient of estrangement can be temporal (within the author’s culture) or spatial (within the culture whose rules it uses), and is quantifiable according to whether the estrangement concerns the material, aesthetic or legal culture, the artistic imagination or sacred mythobiography, in five levels.
Since everything that is text originates in the theatre of the human consciousness, everything that belongs to ‘other’ cultures can be translated into one’s own: the important thing is to reconvert the ontogenisis of estrangement into its phylogenesis. For example, archaic cultures have the same animistic codes as those implemented, in our technological culture, by schizophrenics; if one has to translate the Nibelungslied, with its world inhabited by voices and demonic beings, it is best to use as a manual the Memoirs of President Schreiber, the Diary of the passionate ballet dancer Nijinsky and the Diaries of Artaud, the creator of the ‘theatre of cruelty’; whereas it would be a big mistake to turn to De Sade, where violence is the gestural translation of a logical-analytical test: a cultural process, and not a natural phenomenon.

In fact, every interior theatre of the text lives on primary actions (perceptions) and secondary actions (cultural elaborations): the former are individual, unrepeatable, and transgressive; the latter, rituals, archetypes, able to be catalogued. Their difference is the same as that between langue and parole which De Saussure makes the basis of modern linguistics. When the phenomena of the individual imagination are strong and developed within a culture in a critical state, they in turn become ‘tradition’: going from the first to the second level. The painting of Picasso or Chagall is the cultural elaboration of that which in Lautrèmont and Artaud is perception of the world. Hence, for the literary translator there is the risk of taking as elaborations of the second level that which, in the text being translated, historically belongs to the first. And it is this that makes a poet like Eliot – a first-rate cultural figure, with his ‘poetry inspired by ancient ruins’ – so difficult. In Pound’s case, the use of musical counterpoint and Chinese ideograms, understood as ‘images’ of the meaning, in the same way the primitive peoples of Altamira painted bison on the caves to stop them on the run, makes everything paradoxically easier. In fact, the extraordinary aspect of Pound is precisely his desire to avoid at all costs an imaginative elaboration of the second type, while still reaching the end of an entire culture. For a translator, practising in the finely variegated output of these two poets is an excellent exercise in the subtle art of estrangement.