“On the fluidity of narrative and translation”: launch of the book of selected poems by Giorgos Christodoulides
Let me take you back a few years; at 15and century.
In Cyprus, during Frankish rule, when few people could read and write, storytellers visited villages and told crusader stories to crowds thirsty for adventure. The stories were generally based on the chronicle tradition, which is an account of historical events. However, the main purpose of the storytellers was not to tell the historical truth but rather to entertain. Their stories were open-ended and could be readjusted based on crowd reactions.
I relied on the fluidity of the narrative to establish a parallel with the task of the literary translator. Storytelling in Cyprus during Frankish rule involved a subjective treatment of original material in which fact and fiction were blurred to better serve the performative effect of a story. Storytellers interpreted old stories through the lens of their contemporary audiences and relayed them in engaging ways – just as translators do, hopefully not so freely! Nevertheless, the practice of translation is a highly personal and creative process. And it’s something we all do, consciously or unconsciously. In our daily exchanges, do we not interpret or misinterpret events, happenings and feelings and then tell them to someone else? Aren’t we all translators of our own experiences and those of others? If so, would it not be futile and rather pretentious on the part of writers and translators to claim an immutable narrative? Or assume that there is always a fixed meaning to communicating in the same language or across different languages?
The very notion of translation implies movement, and movement implies displacement and destabilization. Transporting a varied assemblage of verbal and pictorial signs into another system is an act of transformation that should not be defined by loss or gain, but by multi-layered new reception. When you leave one place to go to another, you give up the physical form of the experience that sustained you there, but are you ever completely rid of it? I think we all carry traces of where, how and who we were, and these traces are embedded in our present and future versions. They are embedded in the way we speak and write, especially if we write or translate poetry. We use the fascinating potential of rhetorical devices to draw attention to the polysemy of our discourse; to the various motives of our intention to communicate with others, let them know who we are and what we have been through so far – but not in so many words.
In 2017, I had the great pleasure of translating a Cypriot poet who was born and raised in London and whose mother tongue is English. His name is Georges Tardios. His mother tongue, in the sense of his mother’s language, is Cypriot Greek. Thus, when he wrote the collection “Buttoned up Shapes”, a tribute to the first Cypriot immigrants in London in the 1930s, George alluded among other things to the tumult of spatial, verbal and emotional displacements. He wrote well-crafted, evocative, not overly explicit English verse – imbued, however, with an underlay of his Cypriot Greek origins. For fear of appearing too vague, I must tell you that the English original of the poet George Tardios contained his Greek translation wonderfully. For example, the poem “Alien Light,” about a young man, Xenophon, who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and, ridiculed by his friends and family, loses his mind, is actually a metaphor for the name of the alien. man: Xenophon in ancient Greek means “strange voice”. Its Cypriot Greek variation, Xenophos, means Strange or Alien Light.
We speak with metaphors to appeal to the listener’s emotion or sense of logic. We use parallels to develop our story, we repeat to make a point, we compare to clarify. Like storytellers, we slip snippets in and out of our stories to connect more deeply. And that’s what we do as human beings, fully aware of our ephemeral nature but also happily aware of the longevity of art. Our poems and our translated poems will be here long after us – they might even thrive in our absence. To attempt to isolate them within a fixed framework of authorial intent or translational fidelity would be to overlook the poem’s hard core of embers which ignite each time it shifts to a new system of vocal symbols, illuminated with enriching potentialities. .
These hundred poems that we have selected from a corpus of 25 years have been translated into English in order to expose the vision of the world of Giorgos Christodoulides, not only his work. Everything I have offered above – my vision of the translation process and my practice of it – would not have applied as easily as I suggest without this particular poetry and this particular poet. That he gave me the absolute freedom to interpret his work and reproduce it, tinted with the colors of my choice, is a privilege that will always be dear to me.
This lecture was delivered at the launch of “Giorgos Christodoulides, Selected Poems 1996-2021” (Armida, 2021) at the Cyprus High Commission in London, in April 2022. The event was organized and coordinated by the Cultural Advisor, Dr Marios Psaras.
– by Despina Pirketti, literary translator