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4. The perception of colours, sounds and fragrances: synaesthesia in translation


d) From meanings to reason

In his introduction to Victor Hugo’s French version of Shakepeare’s works, André Gide speaks of the aporia linked to every translation of the meaning from one language into another, and then asks why the evocative power of the word remains ‘emotionally’ intact only in Shakespeare. According that suggested so far, the reason must lie in the ‘non-culture’ of Shakespeare: his being situated in a phase of transition between the Saxon substratum and England’s opening to the Renaissance, with Queen Elizabeth, and his sense of order inside tradition. Thus, Shakespearean rhetoric succeeds in maintaining its own ‘conative tension’ around the word without deviating from the complex articulations of the classical literary style. In Shakespeare, the use of metaphor is more tactile and gustative than symbolic. In him, archetypes become sense organs. This can be seen from a careful examination of the linguistic levels present in Macbeth. The witches use an archaic dialect full of references to an earth cult and a mythology of corporeal fluids clearly of Druid origin. Lady Macbeth has the interjections and exaggerated pomposity of the classical Lamias: the monsters evoked by Ovid and Lucan in that sort of ‘Gothic’ ante-litteram which is the Farsalia, a poem dedicated to the defeat of Pompey and that became a part of the Elizabethan play thanks to the mediation of Seneca’s tragedies. Characters like Banquo, on the other hand, express that control of instincts through language which is the conquest of court culture, of the world of the Franks, against the Mothers of European culture: the Celtic line. The interior confusion of Macbeth is the same confusion of Europe, today still suspended on the narrow bridge between reason and instinct.

When translating the language of the witches it is necessary to maintain the 'glossolalia', or those magic words that make their dialogue seem like a sinister childish game. Therefore, it is useful to approach the world of German popular poetry that flourished in the seventeenth century during the Thirty Years’ War, where the macabre and naive combine until becoming liberated in the picaresque irony that makes Grimmelhausen’s Simplicius Simplicissimus a truly singular novel.
Another canonical place of this phase of transition, and paradoxical synaesthesia of meanings and reason, is that retablo de maese Pedro (Master Pedro’s puppet show) where, in the microcosm of puppets, Don Quixote sees a parody of his own story. The attention to the colour variations and the scenery, the insistence on the way in which the 'facies' of the puppets connotes the story, summarized and defined in its articulation by the narrating voice according to the rules of classic literary style, presents in a synoptic picture all the ways of synaesthetic narration whose aspects have attracted our attention.

The development of Western literature occurred according to this gradual flowing of the figures of meaning into those of reason, and of the ‘conative function’ in explicative articulation, up to the ‘hidden’ reaction of Proust who reinserts the synaesthesia inside the most elaborate linguistic codes that a narrator had ever used, or the regression of Joyce who, under the ramifications of the discourse, reveals that sensorial and ‘mnemonic’ organization underlying classical rhetoric.
For a modern translator, the invitation to experience the text with his own body, marking its flow of free sensory associations according to dynamics within his own human experience, thus also becomes a methodological priority.