A stupid pun of a title like a poem in my book called "Fascist Nation," which is playing off the word fascination. It might be apparent that this'll be a post on language, along with translations and a semi-focus on Jorge Luis Borges. Listened to the June Poetry issue's podcast today and Claire Cavanagh speaking on the publication of Anna Kamienska's notebooks recollects my view of recording thoughts here or on Facebook or in text messages, what have you. It's for yourself, but you think others might be interested--for Kamienska she showed people her notes and they reacted positively, for me it's more of a feeling along the lines that you can't keep your ideas to yourself, that writing in a dark room with no one in hearing distance might be a productive technique, but is also somehow snobby and not to be supported. Err...so without further ado...
There is some allure to the fact that Borges’s Fictions is still published as Ficciones, even after the translation to English, a feeling that floats around those who think that the God of Islam still has to be called Allah, that words in different languages can never mean the same thing, due to their different textures. In the same language, words can be said to never mean the same thing because then there would be no reason for their existence—it is the subtle nuance of the terminology that allows it not to be engulfed by other phrases or ideas. And to write that is to speak about writing or at least about how I write—the times where you just have to stop because you can’t think of the right word that you want, that is on the tip of your tongue ( ) and isn’t even difficult, but won’t reveal itself to you; or the general issues of timing, needing to wait until you’ve gathered enough information to written to the project—it’s the importance of getting everything to be written the right way, which is a feeling. A personal one, but I think I’ve seen shades of the idea shown throughout a number of discussions/interviews with people much smarter (and better writers/creators) than I am.
So, then, there is something about Borges’s story collection that causes it to be Ficciones. I’ll explain the mystique of this away: it’s due to the simplicity of the title and the fact that the English and Spanish words happen to be cognates. Now that I’ve discredited this fantasy, I’ll let it fly: language is something that you have to love, to write for writing’s sake, because it’s so much of what you’re dealing with. There is, then, a feeling of comradery with your vehicle of thought expression. It’s the feeling I have for English, for knowing what I want to say and how to say it.
This is the issue I had with attempting to learn Spanish, the problem I would expect from myself studying any language, although I’d love to be mildly fluent in other tongues. Can we say, then, that Spanish is a part of Borges? That you can read him in translation, but that’s not really him, and any sort of retaining of the original is somehow more accurate? More real? And I’ve stumbled onto familiar ground; the translation as a fictionalization of the real text, the creation of more layers.
An article I read (for that ever-present on this blog seminar that I took last semester) by Borges on the Argentinean and, more broadly, on national identity seems to sit on these lines. The Arab doesn’t write about camels, Borges said, or some somewhat facsimile thereof, which is why I put it in italics (maybe it was a more kosher line, the reproduction I’ve made makes me blush a bit). The point he was making was that you don’t have to write about where you live or who you are: your writing will always reflect that, no matter what. But what of translation?
My reading is horribly biased. I know this. There’s an English-focus because like I’ve said, that’s all I know; there’s a male writer focus, which I’d like to blame on a somewhat lopsided field, but can’t completely, and would like to equalize; and there are plenty more lines to be drawn in the sand. So I’m not going to say I’m global or that I have anyway of stating how you should do things globally, unless I admit to being a hypocrite. However, translation is, perhaps, the closest approximation of the work. Charles Simic, a poet and translator, feels that “[t]ranslation is the closest reading one can do of a poem,” and that’s an interesting way of putting it. But doesn’t that change things?
This is the gap between a book called Ficciones and one named Fictions. I love Ficciones for several reasons. One of them is simply the foreignness of it, because this is such a capturing of the ideas of Borges’s thoughts, which are always twisting away from us, one plane of existence above us. Too smart for our own good is an attempt to remember a Neil Gaiman quote on Alan Moore and I think it works for Jorge Luis as well. Another, however, is because it makes the book somehow more him, the great Argentine writer, as I think I’ve quoted my astrobiology professor somewhere before.
It’s a sentimentality of a sort, I’ll admit. The staring at family pictures effect that I realized when looking at a neighbor’s photos taken from one vacation or another. Full of mainly unknown figures, they meant almost nothing to me. (It must be said that there is a beauty to lacking understanding, not knowing exactly what you are viewing, but that’s not my point here. I deal a lot in contradicting, in presenting both sides, which I think is a very important landscape to travel, when you believe you can see the logic either way.) The situation echoed the various starings that I’ve done throughout my time at musical notes, or language that do not use the Latin alphabet. Because as long as the alphabet is the same, or similar, you are left with pronunciations that, although often wrong, appear to have some sort of authority in your mind. My memory touches now on the difficulty I had in reading about the !Kung people in cultural anthropology texts, because I couldn’t read the click sound. It was just…awkward. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there’s something of accents in the thought, of my habit of lip-synching to music, even when I’m unsure of the lyrics.
Translation and language are very difficult topics to discuss for the present writer (oh the fun of academic illeism!), because of a lacking of knowledge, a specialization in focus. The poetic image comes to mind—that learning Spanish felt like drowning, the knowledge of vocabulary in English being that of how to tread water. So, because of this, all that comes before is discounted. Another random assortment of ideas expressed, all somewhat lacking in precision and worth. This, like everything, must be taken with a reasonably-sized grain of salt.