Monday, February 11, 2008

Translation: "Logical" Case II

update: the source for this post is Anne Carson's talk on "The Question of Translation."

(also in a print version online called "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent")

II. The Inquisitors of Joan of Arc
Let’s let translator Anne Carson lay out some evidence.
Carson recalls the trial of Joan of Arc (with my emphases added sometimes by colored and bold font):
All Joan's guidance, military and moral, came from a source she called "voices." All the blame of her trial was gathered up in this question, the nature of the voices. She began to hear them when she was 12 years old. They spoke to her from outside, commanding her life and death, her military victories and revolutionary politics, her dress code and heretical beliefs. During the trial Joan's judges returned again and again to this crux: they insisted on knowing the story of the voices. They wanted her to name, embody and describe them in ways they could understand, with recognizable religious imagery and emotions, in a conventional narrative that would be susceptible to conventional disproof. They framed this desire in dozens of ways, question after question. They prodded and poked and hemmed her in. Joan despised the line of inquiry and blocked it as long as she could. . . . Joan wanted to convey the jar on the nerves without translating it into theological cliché. It is her rage against cliché that draws me to her. A genius is in her rage.
Carson makes clear that “We all feel this rage at some level, at some time. The genius answer to it is catastrophe.” And I want us to know that “We all feel” certainly even includes Joan of Arc’s logical male inquisitors.
And she continues:
I say catastrophe is an answer because I believe cliché is a question. We resort to cliché because it's easier than trying to make up something new. Implicit in it is the question, Don't we already know what we think about this? Don't we have a formula we use for this? Can't I just send a standard greeting card or paste in a snapshot of what it was like rather than trying to come up with an original drawing ? During the five months of her trial Joan persistently chose the term “voice” or a few times “counsel” or once “comfort” to describe how God guided her. She did not spontaneously claim that the voices had bodies, faces, names, smell, warmth or mood, nor that they entered the room by the door, nor that when they left she felt bad. Under the inexorable urging of her inquisitors she gradually added all these details. But the storytelling effort was clearly hateful to her and she threw white paint on it wherever she could, giving them responses like:
...You asked that before. Go look at the record.
...Pass on to the next question, spare me.
...I knew that well enough once but I forget.
...That does not touch your process.
...Ask me next Saturday.
And one day when the judges were pressing her to define the voices as singular or plural, she most wonderfully said:
The light comes in the name of the voice.
The light comes in the name of the voice is a sentence that stops itself. Its components are simple yet it stays foreign, we cannot own it. Like Homer's untranslatable MVLU it seems to come from somewhere else and it brings a whiff of immortality with it. We know that in Joan's case this turned out to be a whiff of herself burning. Let's pass on to a less dire example of the escapade of translation, but one that is equally driven by the rage against cliché – or, as the tranlsator himself in this case puts it – “I want to paint the scream not the horror."
Joan's inquisitors cannot get around at some level, at some time their own rage against cliché.
(A) These male inquisitors can’t get around translation (although they would have the voices speak to them and not to be translated by a medium, by her transpositions).
(B) These male inquisitors can’t get around the feminine discourse (that resists the controlling binarying male logic).
(C) They finally burn her as a heretic, but these male inquisitors can’t get around her positive enduring influence on men either.
If you’re a man who’s appreciated Anne Carson’s works in translation, then you’ll appreciate Joan of Arc’s influence on her and now you (by reading more here).
Ready for case number III? We’ll work on it this week, and it should start like this:
III. The Representers of Sojourner Truth
Let’s let translator Karlyn Kohrs Campbell lay out some evidence.
--the intro and prologue to these cases is here;
--Case I is here.
--Case III is now here.


Bob MacDonald said...

Brilliant - how did I miss it!

J. K. Gayle said...

Carson is brilliant, Bob! None of us should miss her.