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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Translations: Gap between Linguistic and Literary Criticism

Criticism of translations quite obviously is a legtimate activity of the linguistically-bent literary critic. The evaluation of a work's translation, however, becomes unnecessarily narrow without considering the content/context of the literary work. Quite naturally, a gap between linguistics and literary criticism would exist if the translation is debunked as hopelessly incompetent in the first place. However, the translated literary work may be evaluated from other planes -- like its universality.
Some of the best compositions in other languages come to us in translations. Although we realize that a lot is taken away from their enjoyment because they do not reach us wth the original flavour and vigour of the language in which they were first written, we still marvel at the power with which they jolt us. They may be about other people, other voices, but they do not cease to be meaningful. It is quite easy to realize that they have become the property of mankind because they depict man as a universal being, afflicted by the same pains and triumps wherever he may be; only the accidents differ--the substance is man. Such epics as Homer's "Iliad" and "Odysssey," "The Song of Roland" and others, have become part of the universal fabric of literary treasures--they have even surfaced in other forms but with the same substance in other countries other than their land of origin.
It is this value which often stands out when critics, using the totemic or archetypal approach, unearth universal patterns of man, as well as traces, according to Wilbur Scott, of the Jungian "universal unconscious (which shows) that civilized man perserves, though unconsciously, those pre-historical areas of knowledge which he articulated obliquely in myth." ("Five Approaches of Literary Criticism.)
Bad translations are an abomination, to be certain. But one has no business translating if he is not competent in the first language. Competence here does not necessarily mean the qualification of a native speaker. All too often native speakers may miss that "quaint nuance" peculiar only to literary expression. Nevertheless,the second language writer must always be prepared to be evaluated from a "linguistic" angle -- that approach being itself a function of the formal approach.
Has any one surfaced as a serious "literary critic" who does not possess "linguistic credentials" in the first language? Good translations make good literature.
This also becomes a good argument for the literary critic to be an acceptably competent creative literary artist before putting on the hat of an arbiter of valuable literature. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

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