Transmittance of Interpretation and Intention in Translation Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, although written long ago in a linguistic form foreign to the modern English speaker, finds new and relatable life by the whims and wits of Robert Fagles and Anne Carson’s translations, Antigone and Antigo nick respectively. After reading either translation and recognizing the great variation between them, the expedient question to ask encroaches as “Which is the more accurate version of the Grecian tale, or which adheres more wholesomely to the intentions and meanings of the original author?
” However, this becomes glaringly evident not to be the correct, nor even significantly relevant question one should ask when extricating meaning from the residual texts. Indeed no such judgment materializes as humanly possible. Rather, a question gives way to an investigation equipped with a determined process of translation, and in fact literature itself, to ultimately reach the deductible answer of how the apparent style and meaning influence the reader’s understanding of the text; a product of the translator as much, if not more so, than the original text.
That this aim might be achieved requires identifying certain driving purposes attributed to the texts as being birthed by the particular intentions of the translators. Translation comprises a difficult task. In her book Why Translation Matters, Edith Grossman lists these difficulties on behalf of translators in general, “Our purpose is to re-create as far as possible, within the alien system of a second language, all the characteristics, vagaries, quirks, and stylistic peculiarities of the work we are translating” (Grossman 2010).
Such an endeavor complicates given the intricacy of working merely in a single language, let alone taking it a step further to transform them for not only compatibility but functionality in another. Reading literature in but one language represents an entire process in and of itself. Essentially originating with the thoughts of one (probably in part inspired by those before it, though undoubtedly motivated by whatever it is about the human spirit that demands of itself to share aspects of itself ), these thoughts fall through the sieve of language further until wrought into the written word.
However, after having passed into language and especially into literature, by comparison somewhat sterilized to its spoken originator, these thoughts takes on a form of potential meaning of their own. In this conveyed form, although partially isolated from the originator, the opportunity for its grand purpose of reaching another human being for interpretation and extracted importance realizes. Although the author had an intended meaning for and in the communicated, the realized significance of the reader cannot be identical to the original, as no individual can formulate and feel the exact same meaning as another in the exact same way.
Translation adds further convolution to this process with addition of another interpretive entity and step, in essence altering the transfer of intention and meaning from the original to the end reader into two conjunctive, but nonetheless separate forms. Proof of this step is evident in “good translations” as Grossman describes, “We will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the esthetic experience of its first readers. This is the translator’s grand ambition. Good translations approach that purpose” (Grossman 2010).
In order to achieve this, Grossman goes on to say, “We do this by analogy—that is, by finding comparable, not identical, characteristics … in the second language” (Grossman, 2010). Joe Sachs, in the introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, echoes Grossman, asserting “If one regards the virtue of a translation as smoothness, and its greatest fault as awkwardness, then all writing … must be lost in translation, reduced to those ordinary choices of words that fit without a hitch into the thinking we have already done” (Sachs VIII).
Sachs goes on to provide an excellent example of these necessary analogies, and possible irregularity associated with them, by linking the true definition of the Greek work “energia,” fundamental to Aristotle’s philosophy, not simply and smoothly with “activity” unless contextually “its special and emphatic meaning is established for the reader” (Sachs VIII). Rather the central idea of “being at work” approaches “energia,” both in the sense of a “being” as an entity and “being” as an action or inherent condition of that entity (Sachs VIII).
In the face of such a daunting task, in fact one technically impossible in entirety, a translator invariably infuses personal interest into the resultant work. Admitting to the notion of personal infusion, Grossman states, “The undeniable reality is that the work becomes the translator’s (while simultaneously and mysteriously somehow remaining the work of the original author) as we transmute it into a second language” (Grossman, 2010). Rachel Galvin also attests to this notion in her essay “Looting” as she cites Horaldo De Campos utilizing the reminiscent verb regarding Carson’s text a “transcreation … a critical reading and transformation or re-creation of the original” ( Galvin, 2013).
As it pertains to Anne Carson’s Antigo nick and Robert Fagles’ Antigone, differences in overall style and meaning are evident in almost every aspect aside from a few necessary commonalities that still unite them as English translations of Sophocles’ Antigone. Either story contains the necessary background and the ensuing problem and plot of Antigone’s rebellion against Creon for the sake of her disgraced dead brother, leading to her internment and suicide.
To be sure, to translate they must, and do anyway, habitually, as Joe Sachs in his introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “bypass the accumulated baggage of a tradition that cannot accomplish that task” (Sachs VII). This accumulated baggage may be anything detracting from their determined necessary subject of transference. First and foremost among matching efforts directed toward this end entail both being direct Greek to English translations.
To do so avoids any further diluting or complicating of the resultant text, and perhaps more importantly side steps historically influencing thought inherent in, for example, a Greek to Latin to English translation. Written in comparably straightforward dialogue, the translations also shake off “baggage” in their more direct and thereby relatable language. Though sometimes similar, the two seem to never actually match, such as when Antigone speaks to her sister about their mutual uncertainty to the future as to why she has summoned her to the gate, Fagles’ translation stating, “I thought so, that’s why I brought you out here” (60).
And Carson’s translation similarly stating, “That’s what I thought that’s why I called you out here” (1). Yet outside ordinary necessities either translator’s take on the tragedy differs on most of the other major points. If they generate from the same story, how is it possible to have such essential variation between the translations? Plainly, Carson and Fagles, being two different human beings, inevitably interpreted the play differently. The translations principally diverge in the literal replication of his and her individual interpretations, and further how these interpretations perceptibly dominate the translations.
These differing strengths produce different styles and highlight differing meanings of the texts as congruent with the intentions for the works. The overall style of each text takes the predominant role of establishing the standard of “displaying reverence for a beloved text,” but also “tak[ing] ownership of it” (Galvin, 2013). This desire most strongly permeates the reader’s attention by the very style in which either translation is written and presented on the page.
Carson’s text is handwritten, in all capital letters, and of either black or red ink (red ink denoting extra emphasis). Furthermore, the writing itself emphasizes the artistic value as choppy yet punctually important. Fagles’ holds fast to what is normally expected of a book and simply appears as type of paper, separating characters’ dialogue in neat organization, all the while in iambic pentameter. This translation prefers a more verbally aesthetic approach, and by comparison to Antigo nick appreciates more of a prolonged beauty.
The evidence of Fagles’ translation as adhering to a more traditional approach regarding translation, in addition to storytelling in general, attempting to deal accurately with the original text bleeds through with the simplicity and smoothness, yet elegance of his language; such as the dialogue of Haemon trying to convince his father to bend: You’ve seen trees by a raging winter torrent, how many sway with the flood and salvage every twig, but not the stubborn – they’re ripped out, roots and all.
Bend or break. The same when a main is sailing: haul your sheets too taut, never give an inch, you’ll capsize … Oh give way, relax your anger (96). Whereas Carson’s version instead attempts to break new ground in the field of translation. The very same instance in Carson’s version instead recounts riding a bicycle and condenses the assumed original into, “Trees bend ships loosen the rigging no single human being has perfect knowledge” (26).
Both translators are attempting to “recast the language in a new age,” but Carson’s intention aligns more so than Fagles with the “goal of rendering these works in [her] own idioms” (Galvin, 2010). Take for example the first page of Antigo nick, as Antigone speaks to Ismene she says: We begin in the dark and birth is the death of us Ismene: Who said that Antigone: Hegel Ismene: sounds more like Beckett Antigone: He was paraphrasing Hegel (1). Fagles has no equivalent to this.
Including these thoughts and thinkers, moreover, seems intuitively counteractive to good translating, considering Sophocles’ tragedy existed thousands of years before these thinkers. But preeminently establishing this precedent identifies the very purpose of Carson’s translation: to make something relatable to the individual human and historically meaningful human thought. The emphasis of death and darkness as timelessly uniting factors takes precedence over the development and presentation of the tragedy of specifically Antigone.
Most notable, and indeed basic amongst the intentions of Carson blatantly occupies the front cover: simply the title Antigo Nick, beginning with Antigone but ending as Carson dictates it, with the name Nick (an added character and subject of fatalistic time in and of himself) not only portends another discrepancy, but lessens the weight of Antigone herself. Furthermore, Antigo nick more adequately presents itself as a vehicle characterized by and celebratory of these meaningful connections, exemplified by Carson’s handwritten text as it artistically dances amid illustrator Bianca Stone’s cryptic imagery.
Though the images impart an account of their own, “the rhythm between text and images is often surprising and their relationship mysterious” (Galvin, 2013). These images often speak to the desired immensity of Carson’s translation, complementing the text rather than the story with enormous “dreamscapes. ” Conversely, Fagles’ translation dwells on the specificity of this story; the utmost evidence being the long introduction of historical and cultural context. In doing so Fagles makes his translation able to understandably stand alone with inclusive significance.
For example, with the provided historical and cultural lens, the meaning of Antigone’s rebellion amplifies by its subversion of these historical and cultural factors, namely her being a woman as well as the daughter of Oedipus, etc. Her rebellion in Antigo nick does not in specific mean anything, rather rebellion against authority in general means something. Moreover generalized, passionate rebellion once again proves more relatable to the universal human as well as holistic history.
Carson intentionally requires both modern and prior knowledge to both know the story and understand its allusions, such as “here comes Kreon rowing his powerboat” (5). Or: Your Clumsy Its TrueClumsy as your FatherRemember how Brecht Had you do the whole play with a door strapped To your back (35). The reader is left at the mercy of this language and its allusions and inherent emphases, all of which are completely based in the interpretation of meaning by Carson as she, although creating new meanings, embraces an avant-garde tradition.
The reader is dependent on former knowledge to understand the text, and is thereby led to different connections personal to Carson, though alien to Fagles’ translation. Originating from the same story, the reader acquaints with differing constructions of importance. The themes of Sophocles’ play are themselves altered by the translated language in alignment with Fagles and Carson’s intentions for their translations. The translators differing purposes for what their texts are attempting to accomplish cultivate a differing sense most notably of tragedy.
When presented with the actual Greek, Fagles presumably understood it going in through the lens of a classical Grecian tragedy, and consistently depicted it as such. Therefore, characters carry themselves and are motivated heroically with artfulness; in other words not very relatable. Carson’s stressed theme strays away from the emphasized sense of tragedy, and instead, through the strong and often piecemeal dialogue emphasizes the less glorious reality of blunt death overlooked in usual tragedy. Characters therefore come across as impulsive and somewhat unaware: relatable.
These differences are evident from the beginning of the play, as Carson’s Antigone relates to Ismene regarding their dead brother, “Dear sister my dead are mine and yours as well” (2). Fagles’ translation more nobly depicts the body as brother, saying instead “he is my brother – and deny it as you will – your brother too” (61). This notion goes on to be further reinforced as Ismene attempts to share in hers sister’s fate, as in the Fagles version, “I did it, yes – if only she consents – I share the guilt, the consequences too,” while Antigone responds, “No, Justice will never suffer that – not you, you were unwilling.
I never brought you in” (87). Yet Ismene in the equivalent line of Antigo nick states, “I did the deed I share the blame Antigone: You did nothing you shared nothing leave my death alone” (18-19). Fagles’s smooth language and invocation of justice and guilt dignifies both parties, while Carson’s fast and choppy language: blame, nothing, and death diminish graciousness. Furthermore, this wanting of an inglorious death undermines the sense of tragedy in that portraying it in such a fashion weakens purposefulness, or the ‘beauty / art’ of it.
The massive tragic void in Antigo nick compared to Antigone illustrates most profoundly in the suicidal end, as Fagles’s messenger describes: And there we found her hanged by the neck in a fine linen noose, strangled in her veils – and the boy, his arms flung around her waist, clinging to her … and then doomed and desperate with himself, suddenly leaning his full weight on the blade, he buried it in his body, haldway to the hilt. And still in his senses, pouring his arms around her, he embraced the girl, realeased a quick rush of blood bright red on her cheek glistening white.
And there he lies body enfolding body (122-123). Antigo nick, true to form, forbears from such a tragically moving finale, with the messenger instead explaining the scene “The girl hanging the boy a bloody lung … the sword sinking up to its own mouth” (34). A greater distinction cannot be made, concerning the language of tragedy, as recounting something as an enfolding crimson kiss vs. a “bloody lung. ” Fagles’ melodrama and Carson’s understatement engineer discrepant intensities of admirability for their characters: in their beliefs, actions, and ends.
The management and development of tragedy or considerable lack thereof, via these characters, aligns with the intentions of the translators to relate not only their interpretation of the initial text, but also their intentions in translating it true to their forms. Discrepancies among translations come from discrepancies among translators. The differing versions of style and tragedy ultimately adhere to the grand intention of either translator for either translation.
Galvin quotes Osip Mandelstam, when speaking of Dante, though she believes the statement to be “equally rue of Sophocles,” as saying, “It is inconceivable to read [these texts] without directing them towards contemporaneity. They were created for that purpose. They are missiles for capturing the future. They demand commentary in the futurum. ” (Galvin, 2013). Both Antigone and Antigo Nick achieve this end. Fagles’s succeeds in producing an understandable and straightforward look at the original play.
Fagles importantly also succeeds in manufacturing a stand alone, most probably accurate version of Sophocles’ original Antigone, customarily emphasizing tragedy. Carson succeeds in bringing a new, futuristic, or rather modern spin to an old story. Her fabrication of a relatable piece, both in terms of relevance to the lay man as well as its self-proclaimed correspondence to historical thought and an avant-garde tradition, reserve it its place in this necessary ongoing “commentary.
” Creative literature and translation by means of personal infusion enriches language with diverse meaning, because, “The more a language embraces infusions and transfusions of new elements and foreign turns of phrase, the larger, more forceful, and more flexible it becomes as an expressive medium” (Grossman). The preservation of art as well as the exemplification of translational truths unite both texts just as their mutual origins in the Greek of Sophocles do.
The crucial conclusion regarding the derivation and understanding of meaning among these two translations, and translation as well as literature overall, depends upon the author’s (or translator’s) literal adaptation of his or her interpretations arousing an analogous notion in the reader. It constitutes a personal process reliant upon the ability to transmit specific significance through style and emphasized meanings. Or simply: the reader is never free from the author (perhaps gladly so).
Works Cited Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Trans. Sachs, Joe. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2002. Print. Galvin, Rachel. “Looting. ” Boston Review. Boston Review, 1 Mar 2013. Web. 12 Nov 2013. . Grossman, Edith. “From Why Translation Matters. ” Why Translation Matters Yale University Press. (2010): n. pag. Words Without Borders. Web. 12 Nov 2013. . Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Carson, Anne. New York: New Directions, 2012. Print. Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Group, 1984. Print.
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