Translation, Emotion, and Embodiment

“I read with my body, I read and move to translate with my body, and my body is not the same as yours.”

Kate Briggs, This Little Art (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017)

When we read a text, the first voice we hear is our own. This is because when we read a text we are reading through our own bodies and our own experiences, in reading a text, we embody it. The same, of course goes for writing, we write with our bodies, putting our own bodily experiences, our bodily encounters into the text we are writing.

First and foremost, a translator is reader, then a writer or ‘re-writer’, with each of these actions being closely linked to the body. Unlike a person who reads a text, embodies, experiences and activates it only for this purpose, to understand or enjoy it, a translator takes this embodiment one step further. Like a reader, they embody the text as they read the words on the page, in their head, in their voice, the text is activated, yet unlike the reader, the translator continues this embodiment by becoming the writer or ‘re-writer’ of the text, they continue their bodily experience of the text, re-writing it in their own voice. The translator embodies both the old text and the new.

Taking this idea of reading as an embodiment, it can be said that one does not translate a text, but one’s interaction with a text, one’s embodiment of it, the translation therefore becomes a writing or re-writing of each individual’s personal reading experience and the emotions they bring to the text in order to activate it. When one reads a text, one is reading it through their own body, their own experiences influencing the reading and re-activating the text in a different way to everyone else. These differing reading experiences will in turn influence writing, and each re-writing or translation of a text will vary vastly from person to person. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, in reading a text through one’s body, the reader brings to it their own experiences, using these to activate their reading of the text. A translator will take their personal reading experience of the text, transforming this reading into their re-writing, in turn bringing their experiences and emotions that helped them activate the original text, in order to write the new text.

I wanted to experiement with just how much of this emotion and experience a translator can bring into their re-writing of a text. In recording my readings of texts, and the processes in which I then use to re-write these texts, I can also discover and harbour new ways of writing and translating that I may not have otherwise found. In intertwining the acts of creative writing and translation and realising and recording the different processes with which I read and re-write, I am opened up to a whole new world of possibilities in my writing and translation. In the following passages I will discuss my reading and re-writings of a text, the ways in which I personally activated the text, and how this effected my re-activation through re-writings. 

The text I will be working with is Claire-Louise Bennet’s ‘Voyage in the Dark’, a short story that appears in her collection, Pond….

“First of all, it seemed to us that you were very handsome. And the principal windows of your house were perfectly positioned to display a blazing reflection at sunset. One evening while walking back from the fields this effect was so dramatic we thought your rooms were burning. We liked nothing better than to rake the tinkling gravel on your drive, then to climb an impeccable tree along its passage and wait. We would hear the engine loud in the valley, followed by a thrilling silence within which we would wave our boots and imagine the leather grip of your hands upon the steering wheel, left and right. Oh, but we were only little girls, little girls, there on the cusp of female individuation, not little girls for long. The other two hung back by the brook with cups on sticks while I made my way over the wall into your ornamental garden, laid down upon the unfeasible grass and fell to sleep wrapped about a lilac seashell, which was of course my most cherished possession.” – Claire Louise Bennet, ‘A Voyage in the Dark’ in Pond (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017).

When embodying this text through my reading, I activated a sense of nostalgia. I beleive that this is because Bennet uses the short story to explore ideas of sexual awakening and coming of age. As a result, in my re-writing, whilst still following Bennet’s gaze, I created a similar metaphor in my writing, however, I also invloved my own emotions. As a child, I had a fear of growing older, of becoming an ‘adult’, my reading of this text resurfaced those feelings. This fear or hesitance, was captured as through my re-activation of the text that drew on my readerly and bodily experience, as a result, however consciously, I worked the emotions that I myself felt in the ‘coming of age years’ into my ‘re-writing’ …

Its presence was always felt. Even if we could not see it, we could hear it, its current flowing dangerously fast, sometimes gushing over the sides of the bank. I would watch it, overwhelmed by how much power it held over everything surrounding it. Alongside it, the flowering, leafy tree that we precariously swung from now appeared frail, almost lifeless. The once sweet birdsong now shrill and anxious. I returned to that spot only recently, that spot that held so many wonderful memories. Grazed knees, muddy fingernails, grass intertwined with hair. Now, under the dappled rays of sunlight fighting their way through the canopy of our tree, it seems so calm, inviting even. Why was I ever so scared of its waters? 

Whilst I enjoyed creating this re-writing of Bennet’s ‘Voyage in the Dark’, it was quite safe, and not very experimental. A few weeks later, I revisited this text, and, putting the source text aside, moved onto a re-writing of my re-writing. As stated, I wanted to make this re-creation a little more experimental and had the idea to work with a different medium. When reading and embodying my re-writing, my head was filled with images of the personal space and time that I was describing, therefore, I had the idea to translate these fleeting images in my memory into something physical. This thought led to me videocalling my Mum back home in Shropshire and asking her to sift through the many photographs she has from the weekends and summers myself, my brother, and my cousins had spent at our Grandparent’s home (the space within which my original re-writing is situated). After I had selected a few of the photographs through the pixelated screen of my laptop, she sent them onto me. I then made a piece with a collection of these photos. This collage encapsulates entirely the feelings and images that the source text originally surfaced when I activated the text, yet it was only through re-writing Bennet’s piece and reflecting on this process that I was able to actually bring these images to life and create this second piece. Without considering my process, and reflecting on the memories and feelings that came to the surface in my embodiment of Bennet’s text, I don’t believe that I would have had this idea for my second ‘re-writing’. This is only proof that exploring and discussing processes as a translator is extremely beneficial. 

Something that emerged heavily though this process were ideas of emotion. Each individual’s readerly and bodily experiences will heavily influence the emotion they feel when reading a text, everyone’s experiences making for a different reading, and therefore a different translation. Images were also a big part of my process, I had never thought of incorporating images into my translation practice, but this is something I found incredibly productive and will definitely think about doing again. This experimentation with images led me to think more in depth about my process as a translator, and just how much images and readings that I have already experienced before, will always affect my reading of a new text, and therefore also influence my writing and translation. As Peter Bush states:

“Translator’s readings of literature provoke the otherness within the subject of the translator, work at a level not entirely under the control of the rationalising discourse of the mind, release ingredients from the subconscious magma of languages and experience, shoot off in many directions, provoked by the necessity of the creation of new writing.”

Peter Bush, The Translator as Writer (London: Continuum, 2007)

Through embodying a new text, I will inevitably awaken old texts, experiences, images, and language, that now lie in a dormant place within my mind, they re-activate themselves in order to help me re-activate and re-write the text with which I am engaging.

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