What I know of translation comes from some naïve college years where I thought I could pick up the original French version of Camus’ THE STRANGER &, by reading it alongside an English translation, learn French. This was a stupid idea & a fruitless endeavor, but I did learn one thing: translating is pivotal. Only one or two pages in I came across some dialogue in the French version, the protagonist declining an offer – & while I didn’t (don’t) know French, I could (can) recognize even European quotation marks, so I knew that our character was speaking words. Strangely enough though, in the English version, Camus’ translator didn’t have our character saying anything – no – in fact, he merely shook his head, being ‘too tired to speak’. I am no translator, but this seemed wrong, was wrong, is wrong. I knew it, know it. & that is the entirety of my knowledge on the subject of translation(ing).
& then, there is this:
Z213: EXIT by Dimitris Lyacos, translated by Shorsha Sullivan (Shoestring Press, 2010):
A few hours more, station, deserted, a dirt road for into the town, mud, mud, blankets outside, mouldering houses of tin, the shattered pylon further behind, not even a car, rubbish, two children setting fire to a heap, two or three other fires on the horizon, houses, the smell even more acid, asphalt pieces and pieces, cement block houses, a few people, half-open doors, half-light, the mattress as if it were soaked, that milk, the cramp in the stomach and dizziness, when I awoke…
While I have no idea of Sullivan’s accuracy in translating this book, I do know that what I held when I read & read when I held Lyacos’ Z213: EXIT, an astounding river of words poured from an open wound. There is coming & going & loss & redemption. There are sharp & tongue-filled rhythms. & the book itself denies its own categorization or existence by straddling poetry & fiction, story & memory, creating a dizziness in our blindness, a castration of reader grounding.
It began with something like drowsiness. I could see what was happening but could not move, not even open my mouth. Not even think about simple things, where, what day or what time. I was not sure. In a confusion I couldn’t shake off. I was very hot. I wanted to take off my clothes. I lowered my trousers. There was someone stretched out beside me, fallen down, I wanted to piss on him as he was fallen there. I went and kept trying but nothing would come.
It is an uprooting, this book, & Z213: EXIT reminds me of the power of translation, of getting into my hands the words of a language I can’t read but can certainly feel, in Sullivan’s translation, in the rhythms & the pauses, the calculated words & the course of a book travelling a distance I can only image when I read.
Voyage: Z213: EXIT