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Grande Sertão: Veredas by João Guimarães Rosa | W.Martinez | continent.
"What is a translation that stalls comprehension? That, when read, parsed, obfuscates comprehension through any language – English, Portuguese.

It is inevitable that readers expect fidelity from translations. That language mirror with a sort of precision that enables the reader to become of another location, condition, to grasp in English in a similar vein as readers of Portuguese might from João Guimarães Rosa’s GRANDE SERTÃO: VEREDAS.

There is the expectation that translations enable mobility. That what was written in one language be accessible in another. And that a translator is to serve as a mediator, acting ultimately in service to ideas within the source text. To disperse them.

However, this notion of translation is partly antithetical to the ideas in Rosa’s work. Or, alternately, to convey the despair of terrain slipping beneath one’s feet, and to encounter the heightened suspense of magic, the translation, as part of its strategy, cannot devotedly rely on its original language, not as its source text.

The work undertaken by Felipe W.Martinez is a new form of translation that risks everything in order to encounter the same treacherous knowing Rosa had traversed. And it takes its risks by not taking risks: by being, almost word for word, a literal translation. This is an approach that reductively converts, as opposed to translates. The idiomatic differences between English and Portuguese are not accented. The syntax is not finessed.

Liberties are not assumed on account of improving readability. What stands, resoundingly amid such absences, is the awakened challenge of reading. The genuine peril of not knowing.

That is, this translation, one that purports to know nothing, creates access into the guileful world Rosa had created in Portuguese. But not by translating.

If anything, GRANDE SERTÃO: VEREDAS is speaking a cosmic language through a linguistic one. And W.Martinez does us the service of recognizing this, as what configures the shapes of words and sentences is not as simple as neologisms, portmanteaus, and digressions, but as terrifying as the path the fool traverses: all paths.

As such, this translation doesn’t speak English, just as the original does not speak Portuguese. It is the assemblage of paradox as a new logic that can be navigated, if only one could suspend the comfort of readability, of expectation. If one could descend a mountain in the pitch dark of night, each step shocking the body, unable to acclimate to the unleveled heights.

Without a doubt, the translation is incongruous to the Portuguese. Taking a small excerpt to compare:
Eh, well, thereafter, the rest the Sir provide: comes the bread, comes the hand, comes the god, comes the dog.

What is striking is the interplay between “god” and “dog”. To most English speakers, this anagram is a familiar one. But in Portuguese the words god (“deus”) and dog (“cão”) are not so closely linked. In fact, there is no direct mention of “deus” in Rosa’s text:
Eh, pois, empós, o resto o senhor prove: vem o pão, vem a mão, vem o são, vem o cão.

Both are fascinating. In Rosa’s excerpt, the rhythm is unmistakable and precise, despite, of course, the indices of hesitation: the commas, the Eh, the uncomfortable way of searching through prolongation and wait. This is the sort of paradox Rosa can engage within a sentence. W.Martinez’s does this as well, at a scale that reverberates beyond the sentence, and with one noticeable addition: deus.

What may appear to be an overstep, to add such a weighted word that draws out wordplay but is, nevertheless, not in the source text, is exemplary of risk. The translation buzzes because of it. This is because throughout the text we encounter dogs frequently, as some primal beast on par with humans. The dog is one that masters and can be mastered. A creature that is at times its face, and at others a mask. It is a powerful presence. For the translator to be attuned to the reverent undercurrent attributed to this animal, and create within the translation such charged play in English from what was only an implication in Portuguese, is in tribute to the grand beauty within dissonance.

What aberrant modes of writing and translation can teach us most assuredly, is that things, words, are not in states of rightness or wrongness, but of oscillation. This isn’t so different from what Rosa says himself:

The Sir look…see: the most important and beautiful, of the world, is this: that the people are not always same, still were not completed — but that they go always shifting. They tune or detune.

We find this so readily in W.Martinez’s translation, this tuning and detuning."

[Long sample of the translation with original Portuguese]

"INTERVIEW: FELIPE W.MARTINEZ (Interviewed by Ben Segal)

1) How did you come to be interested in João Guimarães Rosa?

While I was studying Literature & Writing at UC San Diego, a friend produced and surprised me with a wonderful and mysterious xerox copy of The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, the so-called failed, 1963 English translation of Grande Sertão: Veredas. The book, as a book and not a translation, to me was outstanding, and struck me as magnificently as had other works I was encountering at the time, by writers like James Joyce, Juan Rulfo, Samuel Beckett, and William Faulkner, among others.

When I finished reading the Devil to Pay in the Backlands, I took to the business of seeking out more work from the author. It was then that I learned that Guimarães Rosa was not like the other authors I mentioned, insofar as no one I knew had read anything by him, and very few people (outside of

University departments of Spanish & Portuguese) were talking about him. This led to the realization that none of his books were for sale, and hadn't been in decades.

2) Can you talk about the history of the book's reception in 1963 and its bizarre history of failed English translations?

In 1963 the North American publisher, Alfred A. Knopf--after rejecting publishing deals with many other soon-to-be rising stars of the Latin American Boom (including Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar)--decided to undertake what is today considered by many to be the most complex, Post-World War II novel in all of Latin America: João Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas. The English translator, Harriet De Onís, was no match for Rosa’s linguistic ingenuity and vast erudition. Her experience was in translation from Spanish, and while her willingness to undertake the task was commendable, it was flawed from the outset. She opted to make the text approachable to English readers, whereas it was nowhere near approachable for Brazilians in the original Portuguese. Imagine: Finnegans Wake translated into plain English for the general reader. Well, no one would like it, and so was the case with The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. Brazilianist scholars called it a sham, a completely deficient simplification of a masterpiece. General readers were either unimpressed or not reached. Sales of the translation declined continuously after the initial launch, and after that, the text was never published again. Some amazingly qualified translators have tried to retranslate Grande Sertão: Veredas since 1963 to no avail. Subsequently, Knopf translated two more works by Guimarães Rosa, two collections of short stories. Neither was published beyond the initial run.

3) To a reader unfamiliar with GR's work, the original English translation appears much more fluid than your version. You've explained why that fluidity is in fact a problem in the HDO translation. Can you talk a little bit about how difficult this is even for readers of Portuguese and the ways in which this is a highly disrupted and jarring text.

The novel in the original Portuguese is so disjointed, fragmented and seemingly desultory, both on a narrative and linguistic level, that both practiced and unpracticed readers alike initially struggle to gain, and then are rarely able to maintain their footing on first read. In this sense the common analogy drawn between GS: V and Ulysses by James Joyce is justifiable: it's a masterpiece of its language, though relatively few native speakers are able to understand it. This is in large part due to the fact that Guimarães Rosa was not only extremely erudite, but he had travelled much, and, from as early as the age of six, studied languages. He spoke six and read in fourteen others. His work is artfully overrun by neologisms, portmanteaus, words colloquial and archaic, many altogether invented, rearranged syntaxes, digressions, meanderings, illusions, recollections, etc. Another novel one might think of is Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. On several planes, Pynchon is the closest thing to a North American Guimarães Rosa.

3b) Can you talk about some of the strategies you've employed in order to create awkwardness and difficulty, and how that difficulty might be different in the English version from in the original Portuguese?

Guimarães Rosa said of his work that he didn’t wish to let the reader rely on clichés, that he wished to shock the reader at every moment, just like life. He considered this in every sense. No cliché words, phrases, grammars, or plots. This was not to be difficult, but to create at every word and turn of phrase, something the reader had not read or experienced before, yet could comprehend or intuit.
I tried to follow in this lead and before I began, I established these rules for myself:

● translate all neologisms into English (in the De Onís translation, neologisms were in many cases omitted; invented words replaced with standard words they signified)

● syntax remains faithful to the original (this in an attempt to see that the English language and its readers adapt to the Portuguese structures of signification rather than the other way around)

● punctuation remains unchanged

… [more]
translation  joãoguimarãesrosa  brasil  brazil  literature  nancyfumero  2013  portuguese  bensegal  grandesertão  guimarãesrosa  felipemartinez  flow  fluidity  grandesertãoveredas 
december 2013 by robertogreco

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