On Translation – Nabokov, Borges & Sri Aurobindo

Nabokov & Borges seemed to have had opposing views on literary translation. While reading that post I could not but help think about Sri Aurobindo’s approach to literary translation, more specifically, translation of poetry.

The two contrasting views, as articulated in the post, are: Literal translation and Free-form Translation. Nabokov adheres to the literal school and views any change  in a translation as a deformation. While Borges delights in the “happy and creative infidelity” of the translated material to the original.

Sri Aurobindo had the following to say on literal vs free-form translation:

A translator is not necessarily bound to the exact word and letter of the original he chooses… We find that literal translation more completely betray than those that are reasonably free – turning life into death and poetic power into poverty and flatness.

Above quote was taken from an essay (warning, its a PDF file) by Usha Mahadevan on Sri Aurobindo’s Tirukkural translation. Some splendid examples there of how a translation could retain fidelity to spirit of the original, rather than the word-forms.

First Kural, first line – “Agara Mudala Ezhuthellam..”

Rev. G.U.Pope translates as, “A as its first of letters, every speech maintains”

Sri Aurobindo translates as “Alpha of all letters the first”.

Read the essay (PDF again) for some more examples contrasting Sri Aurobindo’s approach and others in dealing with Tirukkural.

I posted a comment on the Dialogos site about my views on literary translation. Yes, I do know its presumptuous to put my views in a post where Nabokov, Borges and Sri Aurobindo are mentioned..but hey, my Master is a tad lenient at such things 😉

Word-sense, sound rhythm, feeling and emotional aftertaste all make up our experience of language. To retain fidelity over all these factors while transplanting an idea from one linguistic landscape to another is a challenge.

For me, translation is less about the words than it is about transcribing that soul-state which yielded the words. The “sanctity of source text” resides not in the words but in the idea behind them and in the mind & heart that produced them.

To leave a reader in the target language the same joy, feeling and insight evoked by the original should be the primary goal.

Specific linguistic characteristics of the source language, say culture-specific ideas, puns, brevity of expression, sound rhythms…are more difficult to bring across and will invariably undergo a deformation, or mutation, driven by abilities of a target language and the translator.

So what do you think? Any strong views?

Note: Okay, I know this is not the most pressing issue for mankind's problems...but..damn..will shut up now!

DailyLit and a bookworm’s wet dream

Availability and access points for content is getting deeply pervasive. From blogs to RSS feeds to ebooks to mashups, we have indeed come a long way. Man’s quest for information/knowledge/gossip/porn has given rise to a bunch of means to facilitate easier assimilation.

To this list of tools, now we can add DailyLit. The service is simple and executed well. Online ebooks delivered to your mailbox or as RSS feed in bite sized chunks.

To read books on my blackberry, I have tried a bunch of options

  • MobiReader – It was buggy, based on Java and used to crash often. But, to be fair, the user experience was decent enough. Fantastic support for user content. No support for online content.
  • Mail – I used to copy paste content from places I wanted to read and mail it to myself. This was okay but the process was a chore and you had to remember to do it. So never read much! Advantage was you could read your own and online content
  • Browser – On blackberry browsers suck big time. Layouts change, images take ages to download, emulation of different browsers has a rendering logic of its own..in short don’t even bother. Here you need to assume content is available online

DailyLit, in the last 30 minutes, has impressed me with its sign-on process. The idea of getting bite-sized chunks of content is intuitive and appealing. No drowning in mountains of text. And you can determine when you want content sent to you!!

Now if only they allowed uploading of user content and deliver it via mail in chunks I guess we could all be in book heaven! I would not mind even paying for such a service, if they do not share my content with anyone else. And of course to have access to more content, now you know why am a greedy pig 🙂

Thanks to 43Folders for posting about this.

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