Balkan Babel: Translation Zones, Military Zones
As the field of translation studies begins to respond to new directions in transnational literary studies, there has been a foregrounding of topics such as the “dependency” of minoritarian languages on dominant, vehicular ones; the links among linguistic standardization, nation-building, and the colonial export of European languages; the ways in which a global economy reinforces the imperium of English; the emergence of an international canon of books that are translation-friendly (in a market sense); and the definition of a “translational transnationalism” in terms of diversal relations among minoritarian languages.1 This last conceptual area is clearly indebted to the pioneering study of Franz Kafka by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.2 In a seminal chapter entitled “What Is Minor Literature?” Deleuze and Guattari analyzed Kafka’s German as a pastiche of the “vehicular” tongue—meaning, in this case, the impoverished bureaucratese, the hollow state language imposed on Czechoslovakia by the Prussian state. According to their reading, Kafka subverted the vehicular by freighting it with unwelcome baggage, from Yiddish inflections to scraps of Czech vernacular. Now, even if the newly edited and translated Malcolm Pasley and Mark Harman editions of Kafka reveal a very differently textured use of the German language from the one characterized by Deleuze and Guattari, their idea of minor literature has been crucial to defining the “trans” unit in literary transnationalism.3 In the field of transnational translation studies, the ramifications are clear: rather than a major language acting as the general equivalent between two or more minor languages, the translation process is now conceptualized as occurring within a field of the minor.
Translational transnationalism, as it moves beyond Deleuze and Guattari, points to a future space-time of translation between, say, Tagalog and Ogoni or Wolof and Spanglish. And if these exchanges still seem far off, we already have the example of Michel Tremblay’s Les belles-soeurs, the pioneering work of Joual theater that was put on at the Edinburgh Festival several years ago as The Guid-Sisters in Scots translation, or, more recently still, the translation of Irvine Welsh’s Scottish argot in Trainspotting into Quebecois Joual.4 The British Council translation Web site refers us to the collaboration between Martin Bowman, born in Montreal of Scottish parents, and Wajdi Mouawad, a theater director born in Beirut and brought up in Montreal, in which they arrived at a particular orthography and transposed demotic to capture the language of Welsh’s Scots speakers in Joual. In the following excerpt from the Joual translation, the parenthetical numbers refer to the translators’ explanatory footnotes: “J’ai envie d’me battre (1) tabarnak (2)! J’veux dire (3)! Tu m’connais tsé, j’sus pas l’genre de grosse plotte tabarnak à charcher (4) des hostis d’problèmes, mais j’étais le gars avec le câlisse de bat de billard din’s (5) mains et c’te grosse plotte là à face d’étron (6) pouvait bien se r’trouver a’c (7) le câlisse du bout gras du bat dans sa câlisse de grosse yeule, si y’avait envie (8) J’suis prète à l’faire (9) tabarnak!” 5The notes reveal how the problems typically attending standard language translation—compensation for nonequivalency, the rendering of sound values and rhythm, the carryover of sedimented layers of linguistic history and “lost” inflection—become particularly acute when the transference is between socalled minor or highly idiomatic languages.
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- I discuss the term translational transnationalism in more detail in my essay “On Translation in a Global Market” (in this issue of Public Culture).
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
- For broader applications see, for example, David Lloyd, Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). For an example of the new translation, see Franz Kafka, The Castle: A New Translation Based on the Restored Text, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken Books, 1998).
- Michel Tremblay, The Guid-Sisters, trans. William Findlay and Martin Bowman (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1988); Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting (London: Minerva, 1994).
- “The Text in Joual,” in “Trainspotting” at http://www.literarytranslation.com/index2.html, available as recently as June 2000.