Choicelessness

A diamond in the mind is worth two in the hand.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsnavely on July 9, 2007

I just watched Ratatouille. It was very enjoyable. Shaky at the start but better and better towards the end. Of course, the visuals are just sick. When technology is demonstrated to children, no expense can be spared. They need to know how awesome it’s going to be. We have the technology, we will blow up the moon!

Currently I’m reading The Dispossesed, which is also pretty good, but not as immediately gripping as The Left Hand of Darkness.

So why mention two things that I saw/read recently that weren’t the greatest? Well, perhaps I realize that I’m no longer reading and watching with an open mind, I’m looking for something. I’m not sure what exactly, but I’ve given up the idea that it will be found, whole, somewhere. Instead I’m grabbing pieces of it from whatever is near to what I like already.

My friend T recently posted on his blog about Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. T talks very carefully about the translators relationship and responsibility towards meaning but also the futility of the gesture itself. Similary, I am reminded of a translation of my favorite play: Cyrano de Bergerac. Sadly, I’ve never read the original in French, since I am retarded when it comes to languages. Originally published in 1897, Edmund Rostand’s play has since been translated (the poet Brian Hooker’s translation was the canonical English version and the first that I read) and adapted (Steve Martin’s Roxanne is a favorite, but I admire The Truth about Cats and Dogs just for the attempt at a gender reversal– also I have a little crush on Jeneane Garofalo) numerous times.

My favorite translation, however, is by Anthony Burgess, the author of Clockwork Orange. His “translation” is both beautiful and drastic. He demolishes the original work. Burgess basically rewrites the entire play, structurally and language-wise: rhyme and meter are used in a completely different way, the original five acts are reduced to three, French idioms have been exchanged for English puns, and some French words, like panache, are left untranslated. The introduction, written by Burgess, is an amazing record of the destruction and reconstruction of Rostand’s play; he describes exactly, scene by scene and sometimes line by line, his criticisms and improvements. A sampling of his thoughts can be found at the bottom of this page, but you should really get a copy of the play just to read the introduction. (It’s not very long and you could read it in the bookstore.)

In end, Burgess describes Cyrano as one of the most compelling and romantic literary characters ever created, but one who needed more than Rostand’s play could offer. His translation is so severe it could almost be seen as a sampling and remixing of the original work, recombined so as to be more faithful to the spirit of the original than the original. I have some thoughts on how this relates to memory and another movie I watched this weekend, Memento, but I’ll save that for another post.

All of this, of course, relates to my thesis and thoughts on pastiche. Which may be more obvious here than when I start talking about memory.

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2 Responses

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  1. plain said, on July 11, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Wow, you’re making me want to read the Cyrano translation. I read the play for a French class in college, and the “chanter, rêver, rire, passer, être seul, être libre” is one of my favorite literary monologues.
    I don’t know if I buy that a translation can be more faithful to the spirit of the original as the original, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

  2. johnsnavely said, on July 11, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    You should read it. It’s awesome.

    I just bought a copy so I could own the book and I’m reading it now. It’s one of those plays which, because of the huge number of internal rhymes, might actually be better read than heard.

    The French passage you quote is frickin’ gorgeous and it reminds me that my belief that the Burgess translation is more original, is a little silly since I haven’t read the original. Ah well! I’ll talk about that in the Memento post.


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