carry, metaphorize, translate

Jane Stranz has a post up today in which she gets us picturing translation (literally and laughingly and metaphorically). Here’s the picture:


Here’s this picture as she translates it into English for us:

The exhibtion about the building of the bridge is in French and English … very technical vocabulary – a good learning experience. I was rather tickled however by the name given to this device built specially to build the bridge and called in French “le translateur”. The English for it is “the conveyor”, it conveys or carries, it bears the weight of and transports. This of course set off lots of thoughts about translation and how that conveys thoughts, ideas and communication from one language, one culture, one context to another.

Well, now I’m just tickled myself, laughing, wondering even more at technical words and notions for translation. Let’s see how far we can carry this over here.

First, by Jane’s post, I’m reminded of a rather funny sentence Willis Barnstone once wrote in a rather fun Parable he once told in his rather important book The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice. It’s called the “Parable of the Greek Moving Van”; and the long, therefore funny, sentence goes like this:

In a word, to come to Greece and find that even the moving vans run around under the sun and smog of greater Athens with advertisements for transportation, for metaphor, and ultimately with signs for TRANSLATION should convince us that every motor truck hauling goods from one place to another, every perceived metamorphosis of a word or phrase within or between languages, every decipherment and interpretation of a text, every role by each actor in the cast, every adaptation of a script by a director of opera, film, theater, ballet, pantomime, indeed every perception of movement and change, in the street or on our tongues, on the page or in our ears, leads us directly to the art and activity of translation.

Barnstone is discussing the real-life logo on the side panels of transport vehicles around Peloponnisos at the Greek port Piraeus: it’s the word, μεταφορά. Barnstone goes on to say the modern word means, ambiguously, “translation.” And he argues “translation is metaphor.”

I thought you might like to see a real picture now that you have Barnstone’s metaphorical picture, his parable, that carries all of this forward for us. Couldn’t find those trucks around Peloponnisos, so will this one do?

If you’re looking as closely as I am, then you’re thinking, with me, the following: “This looks like one of Aristotle’s trucks.” Why are we thinking that? Well, because it has one of Aristotle’s logos on it. It not only has the word METAPHORA but also has the IKE (that ‘icky’) suffix attached. Trademark Aristotle.

Now, what I’m wondering is why Aristotle had so much to say about metaphor but so little about translation.

(Somebody on wikipedia has rather incorrectly tried to make the ancient Greeks be responsible for some Aristotelean distinction here. Wrong. Ha! They pin this on one Christopher Kasparek in some obscure essay in some dusty newsletter, saying:

The Ancient Greek term for translation, μετάφρασις (metaphrasis, “a speaking across”), has supplied English with metaphrase (a “literal,” or “word-for-word,” translation) — as contrasted with paraphrase (“a saying in other words”, from παράφρασις, paraphrasis).[7] Metaphrase corresponds, in one of the more recent terminologies, to “formal equivalence”; and paraphrase, to “dynamic equivalence.”[8]

If I had a picture to show you here, I would. The best I can do is to draw the letters LOL in uppercase).

Maybe we should listen to Sara J. Newman.  Newman, an Aristotle and metaphor expert, says:

[M]etaphor has always enjoyed an independent scholarly life and an ascendant theoretical status. In contemporary coinage, then, metaphor can refer either to an “implied comparison” or to “figurative language” more braodly construed. Finally, these attitudes and their attendant problems owe a considerable debt to Aristotle’s definition of metaphor in the Poetics and the Rhetoric which is the source of all subsequent metaphorical theories and of metaphor’s purported figural authority (in fact, his broader discussions of figures are the foundation for all subsequent systems of tropes and schemes….) [page 236, “Recognizing a Rhetorical Theory of Figures: What Aristotle Tells Us About the Relationship Between Metaphor and Other Figures of Speech,” in Advances in the History of Rhetoric: The First Six Years].

Now, do we want a picture? Well, Aristotle uses the same truck for metaphor as he does for translation. So, look again at that truck above.

And know that there’s another metaphor expert, one I. A. Richards (interested in The Philosophy of Rhetoric) who actually uses the word “vehicle” to define and to carry (yes, it’s my pun) his notion of metaphor. Richards did not like Aristotle’s definition too much, did not like the Greek’s vehicle, made vehicle part of metaphor instead of the whole thing in which Metaphor IS a Vehicle, a Truck.

So enough of that, we’re out of time. I’ll try to show soon what a novelist like Harper Lee lets a little girl like Scout Finch get out of translation and from metaphor. Until then, make sure you visit Jane’s post to check out how she’s carried on there, conveying French and English and a picture with it all.

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4 responses to “carry, metaphorize, translate

  1. Thanks so much for this Kurk, the other thing that also occured to me but which I chose not to blog about is that “le translateur” is a “false friend” – and I rather like that too. It conveys something powerful and heavy and interesting and triggers thoughts about translation, yet technically it is a false friend. For me as my English becomes more French by the day it’s a warning that sometimes the translator thinks that they know what they’re talking about but actually we’re conveying the wrong message …

    • Thank you, Jane, for now sharing this other meaning of “le translateur.” You are a true friend! Thanks for sharing what you’re becoming as your English becomes daily more French. In part, you’ve inspired me to go on and on with the issues at a post on an Indonesian’s translation of a very famous book, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. False and true, no?

  2. Have just been reading some Umberto Eco on translation in Le Monde – “Je suis un philosophe qui écrit des romans”, he insists it is meaning and note literal translation that is important in literary translation.

    I loved you post about Harper Lee – it is one of my favourite books. Also made me smiel when reading throught farewell book we made for my retiring colleague – one colleague tahnks her for her wisdom and great advice including “leave it in English” – always of course said in English although the conversation took place in French!

    • I love that Umberto Eco confesses “Autant que possible, je travaille beaucoup avec mes traducteurs. Parfois même avec les traducteurs de langues que je ne connais pas. Mais il faut avoir confiance.” In his Experiences in Translation, he takes quite a jab a linguists, in a fun and funny way.

      Thanks for sharing your own experience with making and reading through the farewell book for your friend. The bilingualism you all share does allow for great fun with your wise colleague. I’d love to try To Kill A Mockingbird in French! “leave it in English” 🙂

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