“That is all.” “I am unhappy.”

With respect to blogging, come November this year, I’m saying “That is all.” I’ve got much to do, as David Ker says, IRL (“in real life”), too much. I can’t predict then whether I’ll be saying, “I am unhappy.” I sincerely hope all you other bloggers and commenters will be happy. But this is not the real, or at least not the only, reason for my post.

I’ve been reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I’ve been seeing things analogous to reading the Bible. By analogy, I’ve been thinking about translation, about novel translation, about Bible translation. So I’m posting. Did that with To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (Think far more of you read my post “Whose Mockingbird? A Parable for Bible Translators” far more than any other so far.) Do our novel writers do with their language things similar to what our Bible writers have done? Yes, I believe so.

So, in my edition of Mrs. Dalloway, there’s a wonderful forward written by Maureen Howard, in which she begins getting us readers noticing Virginia Woolf’s language. (I’d tried to get us looking also in this post and in this one. Anyway.) Howard pays attention (like some of us might pay attention to the Hebrew of the Bible, and the Hebrew Aramaic, and the Hebraic Hellene), and she begins with this paragraph:

With what pleasure we read the famous opening sentence of Mrs. Dalloway, for it rings with the confidence of the writer: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Virginia Woolf knew exactly what she was up to–title and heroine’s name sprung in her first line, the clarity of diction, the very simplicity of the domestic errand suggesting a world that we will comprehend. The novel is tempered by such easy lines: “That is all”; “I am unhappy”; “I have five sons.” Placed like stones at the rim of a billowing tent, these clear little sentences seem necessary stakes in the shimmering flow of language and emotion that strains, in paragraph after paragraph, to contain the intricacies of life.

Now if you’ve already read my two earlier posts on Mrs. Dalloway‘s language, then you’ve already read a couple of really really long English sentences from the novel. What Howard is trying to peg down for us is this “billowing tent” of a novel, and she notices how its author stakes it down with “clear little sentences” that are “like stones” well placed. And this, she suggests, is for the writer and for us her readers not just language of communication but is somehow our look into life. How did Howard put it? Isn’t it life with some few bits of language also “to contain the intricacies of life”?

But what if a translator, concerned for the “message” of the novel, comes along? What if native English speakers are polled, if natural language is field tested? What if the first sentence constructed and the long billowy ones and the short stony ones, what if they just point to the clearer meaning? What if the translator could just get that? What if he could be accurate then? And clear and precise? Well then. Readers would get it. Sure, they still might argue over who is over whom. Whether men really should be the head of the homes in the novel. Whether the marriages really ought to be complementarian or egalitarian. But the translators, of course, could reassure everyone that the copy of Mrs. Dalloway that they are now buying is better because it is linguistically based now. By linguistic, rather than theological or feministical or some such biased perspective, one must see that it is pragmatic. Yes, if we need a label for pragmatic linguistics, we know it’s Relevance Theory. That is better like Better bibles. It’s a better Mrs. Dalloway because we’re looking at context and such and coming up with what Virgina Woolf (like God and Paul) actually meant, the actual language, the actual message communicated in inferences from her (like Peter) to you and to me (like little stones). Wordplay does not matter because meaning does.

If you’re a Spanish reader, then know that the sentence length must be consistently natural Spanish sentence length. Otherwise, well, otherwise your novel La Señora Dalloway might come across unnatural; and that is not good. If you’re a Spanish reader, then know too that “La señora Dalloway decidió que ella misma compraría las flores” is a better translation than what the English readers got. We all know now, of course, that “When Mrs. Dalloway said” then it was Virginia Woolf deciding that this Mrs. had “decided.” When Woolf was saying, she was, rather, deciding. This is the essence of the communique, the practical inference, that implicature.

Just sayin. That is all.

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2 responses to ““That is all.” “I am unhappy.”

  1. Pingback: Blog ist tot « lingamish

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