Logos Multilingual Portal

6. Tradition and crisis: the transgression of authors. Neologisms, archaisms, jargon and "idiolects". Theoretical definition of incompatibility between literary languages, by levels, and its resolution in practice


c) Private languages and awareness of the crisis

The main difficulty for a translator when faced with ‘idiolects’, is losing one’s Ego in order to follow the unpredictable drifting of the language. Two texts illustrating this process and coming from surrealism are Apollinaire’s Calligrams and that strange 'conte philosophique' in which Klossowski expresses his aversion for Enlightenment: The Laws of Hospitality. Apollinaire wrote papier-collée constructed on phonemes, syllables and sounds of nature separated from their context. Any possible translation passes through an acceptance of the structural choice, and its coinciding with any adoption of poetics. Here, ‘how to say’ is ‘what to say’; hence its translation lies in ‘saying more’. The poem "Piove", with those flowing words running horizontally on the pages, is the death certificate of any quest for syntactical relationship: a grammatical way of sealing Nietzsche’s "death of God". And here, who could offer an ‘exact’ translation?

Klossowski’s novel is constructed through a free articulation of treatises on poetry à la Boileau, play dialogues, lyric poems, and clinical reports where the narration is made impossible by its very meticulousness. The outcome of so much experimental protervity is its rejection of the point of view pursued by the Nouveau Roman school, where, at the moment of the murder in a detective story, the writer’s attention can focus on the colours of the killer’s jacket and even make the revealing of his name secondary.

A writer who takes this disarticulation of meaning to its limit is Georges Perec. In The Things, the narration consists entirely of a list of material goods, such as television sets, electrical appliances and department store clothing, in a merciless criticism of post-war lower middle-class false prosperity. In Life: a user’s manual, the protagonist is a condominium and the narrative is marked according to its places: the lobby, apartments, stairs, lift. With a stroke of genius Perec substitutes the description of the objects with their photos: everything is referred to a concrete world, hence the problem around which all of Western literature has toiled. Consciousness is removed with an act of violence. Here, even time does not exist; everything takes place in an eternal present which, in not being perceived by anyone, thus becomes memory. In this case, an effective translation is hindered by the innate tendency in our culture to dramatically resolve the implicit relationships, whereas only the forgoing of any possible dramaturgy constitutes the keystone of the problem.

After all, this type of anti-novel poses the same problem as limericks and aiku: poetic forms based respectively on the paradoxical effects of assonance and rhyming at the end of the verses, and on the obligatory enigmatic essentiality imposed by the regular structure of seven verses without rhyme and assonance. An exercise in these eminently Anglo-Saxon and Japanese national forms is certainly good practice for rendering similar modern paradoxes.

The aesthetic principle that superintends the degeneration of national languages into ‘idiolects’ – which are untranslatable because they change according to the ’tone of voice’ rather than the ‘point of view’ - is a perspective of the reversal of ‘signifier and signified’. What is said gains meaning from the actual rhetoric of the words; thus the more a translation can create its own rhetoric, the more ‘exact’ it will be. The best model every translator should begin with for a reconnoitre inside these new techniques is Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style: a set of one hundred variations on a trivial theme, an episode of everyday life whose insignificant evidence could not be further from any pretence of drama. Queneau expresses this counter-event using every possible style: from the mathematical theorem to the police report, sonnet and comedy, going through all the usual changes in rhetoric: hyperbaton, hypallage, synecdoche. Also Queneau’s other masterpiece The Blue Flowers, with its epic Carolingian linguistic background drawn from Chanson de Roland, with a superimposed modern story conceived in Paris slang, represents an ideal ‘exercise’. Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino have provided translations of Queneau that are indispensable study models. In the Italian context, Luigi Malerba used the same ideas with Il Pataffio; which is all the more noteworthy as a parameter of comparison for a translator, considering that today’s misunderstood needs of a ‘new realism’ have now determined a deformation of those grotesque orientations flowing in our century thanks to Döblin. Today, among many young narrators, realism lies in the verisimilitude of the obvious, and a crisis of the linguistic code no longer makes sense, since the loss of a centre is denied and the meaning has returned to being a mere expression of the time-space situations within which the action is visibly placed.