criticism, rhyme, theater, translation


I just had an idea, which I think comes from time spent on Dr. Crazy’s blog.

As I contemplate the return to academia, I was trying to think if there was any topic that I care enough about to spend an entire thesis on it – something which resides within the family of English and comparative studies, relates to both poetry and theater, relates to other languages while still being grounded in English. Something with a relationship to performance without being exclusively about performance. Something more manageable than the history of rhyme in French and English poetry and theater. Something that lets me work on the Greeks without having to learn Greek.

What about some form of translation studies? You could take a given text and do a study of how its various English translations, over time, reflect (or don’t reflect) concurrent trends in poetry, theater, ideas of the time, etc. I guess it’s a kind of reception studies.

Maybe I could do a degree in creative writing somewhere with a 2-part thesis: a scholarly component on translation history of a particular text (ideally a French rhyming drama) and my own version.

I think this would allow me to prove, or disprove some of my favorite chestnuts (if anyone knows why a “chestnut” is called a chestnut in this context, please let me know), things like the ludicrous idea that it’s somehow “easier” to rhyme in French than in English.

I’m kind of into this.

style, translation

hypocrite traducteur

I have been writing a bit about my future translation projects for some applications these days. The idea, which isn’t really my idea, comes from the work of people like C. Moraga and O. Solis and other bilingual playwrights who I’ve been lucky enough to know & see work.

What I’m especially moved by in their work is this:

Lines where a character is speaking one language in the grammar of another, or lines that blend vocabulary from both languages.

The twist I have on it is that this kind of mix should be used for other translations, like rendering plays which were originally written entirely in French into English. There should be French vocabulary words mixed in, and French grammar mangled throughout.

Take, for example, this very famous final stanza from Baudelaire’s poem “Au Lecteur” (To the Reader)

C’est l’Ennui! L’oeil chargé d’un pleur involontaire,
II rêve d’échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

The link has several translations of the poem available, courtesy of Here’s a very, very literal one, by William Aggeler in 1954:

He is Ennui! — His eye watery as though with tears,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
— Hypocritish reader, — my fellow, — my brother!

Say that these lines were lines in a play, designed for performance. The take I would put on them, then, would be this:

C’est l’Ennui! The eye watering d’un pleur involontaire,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes son houka.
You him know, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
— Hypocrite reader, — mon semblable, — mon brother!

The ideas is to get as much of the French into it as possible, even to the extent of bad English grammar (You him know, The eye), all the words which are close enough cognates (Ennui, involontaire, houka, monstre délicat, even Hypocrite, which could be pronounced as in French) to leave in some particles and possessives in French (mon, d’un)…and so forth.

The word “lecteur,” which some people know and others won’t (think of “lectern”) could be translated in some instances and not in others.

The word “semblable,” which is variously translated as fellow, likeness, twin, double, etc., shouldn’t be translated at all.

Again, this would be for the purposes of a performance text. Read the entire thing with a French accent and French emphasis.

It would be like you were immersed in a bilingual household, hearing them speak, getting some of the words but not others.

You can only justify working like this if you believe, as I do, that playoetwrights like Molière and Racine and others cared just as much about the sound and rhythm of their words as the meaning – or, if you believe, as I also do, that we are justified in doing just about anything to a performance text, and that even the most grievous errors of misinterpretation will reveal more about it.

(Perhaps, and this is me being so Comp Lit, we could argue that the act of reading is in itself an act of misinterpretation.)

Say you were to do this method on a TARTUFFE script – perhaps you could begin with all English, incorporate more and more French as it went along, eventually get to the point of all French with English supertitles…of course you could preserve more rhyme & meter this way too, but the great thing would be to get the flavor of the original language.

That’s my idea. Qu’est-ce que tu penses?