Sunday, November 17, 2013

ModPo 2013 #68 Translation and Being of Two Minds: On Bergvall's "Via"

In Filipino, translation means "pagsasalin" or to literally pour from one
vessel to another. It reminds me of "a carafe. That is a blind glass."

Read the text of Caroline Bergvall's poem, "Via," here.


Inferno: Canto I

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

- La Divina Commedia
di Dante Alighieri

Bergvall goes through 48 translations, not privileging one over the other but just using alphabetical order to go through them. It does remind me of Stein. Repetition is difference. And also Armentrout..."abandoned/ in a story made of trees." In a dark wood, the way is lost.

This is meaningful to me because my M.A. thesis was about translation. I hypothesized that it's possible to regain a native tongue by means of translation. A re-membering of sorts. I've always been guilty of "losing" my Cebuano tongue. I was brought up in an English-speaking household. Even in my grade school we were fined for speaking Cebuano. Cebuano, for me, was street. I used it with our household help, for navigating markets, and making small talk. It was not the medium of poetry. They say that the test of first language is the language that you think in, the language with which you pray. My inner speech is English. And I can't reverse it anymore. I can only attempt to re-member.

In a way, I feel like an orphan, having unconsciously abandoned my mother tongue. My hyphothesis dealt with how my mother tongue wasn't really lost, just buried in my subconscious. And I thought that translation would make my mother tongue re-emerge. Well, I didn't really prove anything with my thesis. It got a grade of "good" (not "very good" or even "excellent") which, to me, means "good attempt." Actually, it was quite ambitious and perhaps needed more rigor in the analysis. But I still stick by that notion that translation is not a rote and passive activity (the translator largely lost and transparent in favor of the source text). It is an active engagement between cultures. It takes choice and creativity. What makes it interesting for me is that I am of two minds: an English mind and a Filipino/ Cebuano mind. I express myself best in English--the product of a colonized culture. Even in a postcolonial world (is it really postcolonial, though?) I am still speaking in a language inherited from my colonial past.

I am in a dark word, and my way is lost.
Naa ko sa ngitngit na gubat, ang akong dalan nawala. 

Brian Reeds's words echo in my head: "In other words, she is continually reasserting the fact that the world is always joined in media res, in the middle of things. The divinely ordained right way forward has been lost — but it will always remain so, and ever has been."

I am an example of the world joined in the middle of things. I am a work of cultural translation. And I am glad that there is no divinely ordained right way forward. Otherwise, I would have no choices.

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