Daniel Bencomo is a Mexican poet and literary translator into German. He has published the collections of poetry ‘Apuntes en el baño’ (2005), ‘De maitines y vísperas’ (2008), ‘Morder la piedra’ (2009) and ‘Lugar de residencia’ (FETA, 2010), which won the Elías Nandino prize.
~ Translating poetry feels, at times, like climbing to a high peak and hearing the echo of a song sung on a different summit. After hearing it, you yourself have to shout, giving rise to another echo, one that is created as the sound warps along the length of another, completely different valley – foothills with different patterns of ridges, air, wings, diverse trees – towards someone who is waiting, as the case may be, on a third summit.
~ What ought to be preserved in the second echo?
~ The translator of poetry is enveloped in a narcotic fog, which arises from her fascination with the strangeness of another language, condensed in the strangeness that is uncovered, during the process and after it, in her own. This drunkenness that circulates between two languages diminishes the natural egotism of the author, and opens the space of the translator.
~ Translation seeks to establish a harmonic relation between the two languages, based on the verbal relationships expressed in the original poem. For Walter Benjamin, this coincidence was not to be found in what is communicable in a text: ‘The translator’s task consists in this: to find the intention toward the language into which the work is to be translated, on the basis of which an echo of the original can be awakened in it.’ In my reading, this echo is the tension between the music of the poem, all the aspects that give it shape – its register – and the ambiguity that obscures its meaning(s). Here, moreover, reside its violence and its pleasure.
~ In the poet who translates poetry, or the translator who writes verse, we do not find Jekyll and Hyde. Much more effective, to me, is the analogy with the twins Violet and Diane Hilton, characters in Tod Browning’s film Freaks. These Siamese twin sisters are in love with a pair of young men, but they have to face up to the dilemma of their two bodies’ being fused at the hip. We do not know how desire arises in and is projected from this corporal convergence, nor how it becomes two vectors which point to different territories. Was the desire of one of them greater than the other’s? Did one of them possess more body – extension, intensity – than the other? Which one, and how to find out? Right there is where the answer hides, right there is where the unknown quantity of writing is born.
~ At first it seems paradoxical, the link between translation and the contemporary world, so suspicious of anything that smells like Truth. A first reflection might lead one to believe that translating implies a vocation for preserving the truthful. To assume this position implies various questions: Where would such a condition of truth be found? In the meaning of the text? In the singularity of its form? The answer is not clear, and cannot be clarified in terms of ‘fidelity’ or ‘infidelity’. Translating poetry is, fortunately, a study in antifidelity.
~ Readers change. A language is as alive as its mutations. A new translation updates a poem – created as a sublime, select and enduring portrait of its language – into an object which evokes the vitality at a given moment of another language. For this reason it is and will continue to be a living practice.
~ Antifidelity is the key to these notes. I do not believe that the translator of poetry, when she undertakes her labour, thinks along lines such as I have sketched here. In general, this labour is resolved in an impulse, a bioluminescent intuition in the penumbra that roils between two languages.
Translation: John Z. Komurki