What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking

from “The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation” by Jane Hirshfield

Knowledge is erotic. We see this not only in the Bible’s dual use of the term “to know,” but also, as classicist Anne Carson has pointed out, in the Homeric verb mnaomai, which means both “to hold in attention” and “to woo.” What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking. A great poem creates in its readers the desire to know it more thoroughly, to live with it in intimacy, to join its speaking to their own as fully as possible. We memorize it, recite it over and over, reawaken it with tongue and mind and heart. Many translators describe their first encounter with their chosen authors as a helpless falling in love: a glimpse of a few translated fragments can lead to years of language study in order to hear directly the work’s own voice. And in matters of art, it seems, Eros is generous rather than possessive: the translator wants to reciprocate this gift received, to pass the new love on to others—and thus the work of translation begins.

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One thought on “What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking

  1. Reblogged this on Andrea Beltran and commented:
    I’ve been reading a lot of translations lately and in my attempts to write critically about the poems, numerous questions about the translations have made these essays almost impossible. To me, there’s so much that can get lost in a translation. I want to talk about sound, but can only talk about the sound of the translated text. What did the original poem sound like? Why don’t all translations include the original text? But, then again, unless it’s in Spanish, I won’t be able to read it anyway. This is just the beginning of some of the conversations I’ve had during and after reading translated works. And I can’t stop reading them. Now, I want to translate poems, too.
    This summer, I had the opportunity to listen to Jean Valentine talk about her experience translating Marina Tsvetaeva with Ilya Kaminsky. She mentioned she was influenced by Anne Carson’s idea of two voices in a translation: that of your own and that of the person you’re translating. After her journey with Kaminsky, Valentine concluded there is a third voice: the voice of the translation itself. She said central to her approach was asking herself what she felt Marina’s strongest wish be if she knew her poems were to be translated.

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