Monday, January 13, 2020

Rabbit of Usk Translations

Translation from one language to another is a curious area. Mentioned quite frequently in The Rabbit of Usk, where an Eighth Century book had been through two translations, from Ancient Greek to the Armenian and then into the English Language. Put aside sentence construction, the gender of words and the more mechanical structures that can vary between languages, think more in terms of the idea that almost all languages contain words that aren't easy to translate. Take the German word Schadenfreude. In English the word means "Taking pleasure from another's misfortune." If it was written in a sentence it would be something like "I felt a bit of Schadenfreude when I heard his dog had been run over." Easy to assume that "I took pleasure from" substitutes for Schadenfreude. But it doesn't. Pleasure is too open ended a word. You can take pleasure from chocolate cake. The word Schadenfreude contains the reason why I took pleasure from the dog ending its sojourn upon the earthly plane. These reasons include a sense of rivalry between myself and the dog's primary care giver, an understanding that the dog was generally badly behaved, and a sense that I saw justice at work when the dog's remains were scraped off the pavement and popped into a plastic bag, and at the same time there's an understanding within the word that my pleasure came at the expense of a whole horde of urchins blubbering for days because Bongo was gone forever.

And you can't really apply all that to the experience of eating a chocolate cake, but if you did at least you'd have a sense that you took pleasure from chocolate cake not because it was delicious but because someone more obnoxious than you at the breakfast table nearly choked to death when he or she was eating his or her chocolate cake. In a long round about way composing your mind around words in other languages that do not contain an immediate translation into your own mother tongue is therapeutic, and far less jolting than for example electric shock therapy. What it does is to take you out of the context within which you have your day to day by offering your mind a single word that which ever way you look at it contains a wider range of meanings than you might have anticipated. A momentary thing of course, doesn't take all day, but the respite from your own pattern of thinking can check the flows in your mind that may have got themselves caught within a spiral that has nowhere to go but down, and you find yourself in something like a shopping aisles filling your basket with sundries you don't really want, certainly don't need and probably end up throwing away which leads to a sense of depression and pointlessness. All of which could be so easily avoided by simply directing your mind to engross its wayward self in something that has no substance outside of your mind. Mind you, in The Rabbit of Usk, the narrative does send our hero into an asylum for the mentally less able.

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