Logos Multilingual Portal

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


c) The literary text between autonomy and heteronomy

The maieutic system of the text derives from the force field it conveys. In Goethe’s Faust, the "Prologue in Heaven" served to project the flavour of an enlightened diversion onto the entire story. In general, the most esoteric secret a translator must know - the ‘a priori’ of every translation – is this: there is no drama without irony. The term ‘irony’ comes from the Greek verb aireo, meaning "deviation from the meaning". Hence irony is the expressive technique necessary for creating a counter-text. Interestingly, whenever a translated text is read, the first thing that seems entirely missing is precisely the irony. The reason ensues from what we have stated so far: if every language is the translation (in linguistic terms) of an interior representation, in the narrating subject the division between the signifier and the signified is a true rhetoric strategy; a sort of non-aggression pact between ‘feeling’ and ‘expressing’. And it is precisely in the context of this pact that the translator tends to carry out a distorting action. In fact, his sensitivity distorts that ‘interior resonance’ between perception and language on which the textual communication is built. If he does not wish to alter the author’s expressive strategy, the translator is obliged place a barrier between his connotation of reader and that of interpreter of the text. Thus, translating requires leaving a certain amount time between the phase in which the text is enjoyed on an aesthetic level, and that when it becomes a renewed force field, and for certain aspects independent with respect to its initial ‘figure’.

This independence does not translate into an individual reassumption of the rules. Literary translation is not a place for compensating unrealized creative needs. Instead, the play of opposite suggestions between author and translator is expressed as the permeability of one ecosystem with respect to another. Only the acceptance of what is heteronomous with respect to the language-system can give the translator the elements for identifying the text as an identification of the entire interior world.

In Gérard de Nerval’s Aurelia, the interior time marked by the confusion, in the narrator, between sleep and awakening is expressed through a series of portraits of women whose ‘psychic vampire’ nature appears from the way in which they deprive time of the perceptions for putting the blank scenario of the regressive psychosis in its place. For a translator it is a question of identifying the points of view through which the dramatic scenario reaches its sensorial definition: at times it is the narrator himself who is dreamed of by the women that he dreams.
Another text where the time-space curve question takes on paradoxical connotations is Steme’s Tristram Shandy: an autobiography in which the protagonist appears three quarters of the way through the book, presenting (in the material sense) the reader with his memorial tablet – fixing it with two good bolts to the pages of the novel – in the second chapter. The beginning of the novel is marked by the ticking of a lame pendulum clock on whose ‘basso continuo’ beat Tristram is generated, and which is the origin of his lop-sided gait. The regular flow of time in the novel has the fixity of an alienating phenomenon; mainly because, within this definition of ‘narrative infinity’, the space is limited to a garden and enclosure walls, to the point where, on having to describe the travels of Tristam, Sterne draws squiggles on the page as though they were the trails left on the ground by ants believing they are going all the way around the world.

The existential experience of a character can be communicated by empathy, judged by critical scepsis, repeated in a fable-like way or summarized by ‘epigrammatic disdain’. Leopold Bloom’s stroll through Dublin is an extreme case of the first strategy which, however, appears in a more direct way, in being free from metaliterary connotations, like those in Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. The second strategy is best exemplified in Madame Bovary, whose initial time-space is, and not by accident, that of a schoolroom where young Charles Bovary, the grey medical officer and future husband of Emma, introduces himself to his school friends who immediately mock him. Hoffman’s Olympia is an example of the sardonic, grotesque and very Gothic ‘aftertaste’ the third time-space can assume. Lastly, Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher succinctly expresses with very dramatic results the effect of ‘sterile counterwisdom’ and paradoxical anti-illumination that the fourth definition of time-space can achieve. The narrator knows he must not go to Roderick Usher; he expects the outcome, perceives the disaster, and involves the reader; and yet precisely the feeling of fate, of something that has already occurred and that will be repeated forever, stresses the horrific character of the narration. Who knows, perhaps the narrator himself is the author of the cyclic misfortune of the Ushers!

For a translator, determining these four strategies with extreme precision as opposed to economy of means aimed at defining the various theatres of time-space, represents a difficult and stimulating challenge. In fact, regarding the determination of time and space, no language possesses perfect criteria of analogy.