Tuesday, 8 May 2012

foreign comprehension

languages are interesting things. even if one were to understand all the available languages humans have come about, would one really be able to understand the ideas behind written work? language extends beyonds the use of words for conveying ideas. languages are born of thought processes and ideologies, they are tainted with culture and limits of knowledge.

for example, notice how english has an ever-expanding and dynamic vocabulary, whereas, say malay has (relatively) not. or how some languages have feminine and masculine modes. or how japanese speech and grammar and choice of words depends on gender. or how rough the arabic language is, when spoken or written. these are only a handful of examples that i present based on the languages i know, and i'm sure there are a million more peculiarities associated with each and every language, that are attributable to how the language originated, is used, evolved, and is envisioned for the future.

this brings me to my particular dilemma. reading through the list of nobel laureates in literature, i find that, without understanding the native language, and having to rely on english translations, i am lost. i find the works lacklustre and begging for something more than the mere translated words can offer. and it is simple to use the term 'lost in translation', but really, there is something more to that. something i cannot ascribe. the 2011 laureate, tomas transtromer's poem reads, for example:

April and Silence
Spring lies deserted.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side without reflections.
All that shines
are yellow flowers.
I’m carried in my shadow
like a violin in its black case.
The only thing I want to say
gleams out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnshop.

why are the ideas of reflections and velvet-dark associated with april? is it to do with the fact that it is influenced by scenes in sweden? why shadows during summer, which is more associated (possibly) with the equinox, when shadows are at a minimum? why violins and pawnshops? who can say, really, even if we were presented with a dissection by the author himself. would it make sense?
to me, this poem is lost. i cannot appreciate it, much to my dismay. but i do not hold language responsible. i do not hold the author. and i do not hold the ideas behind his inspiration. 
in comparison, my poetry is simple, and discernible, but i wonder, if anyone read it, would they feel the same? would it be translatable and still lost? and would it even be comparable, in the first place? unlikely, but it is comforting to know that if anyone is responsible, it is myself, instead.

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