Last night, I was not quite having a conversation with a friend whom I haven’t seen since 2003. It was late, and we were messaging each other through Facebook—my ambivalence about technology and social networking temporarily suspended while we “chatted” through e-space. He was telling me that he’s in the last gasp of getting an MFA, and he’s busy translating the work of a Catalan poet into English. Never mind he doesn’t speak the language. He has Skype and a translator on the other end. Now, let’s think a moment about how many degrees of separation we have here:
1) the Catalan poet is being read and interpreted by a translator in Spain,
2) the translator has somewhat of a loose grasp of English,
3) the translator and my friend are not conversing in person, but through an electronic medium across thousands of miles,
4) my friend is taking copious notes and pondering the many ways we misunderstand words even when both parties speak the same language,
5) my friend spends late nights re-creating the poems in English, and then
6) you, the reader will interpret these poems for yourself.
I don’t know what you all think, but I’m thinking that with six degrees of separation, my friend is writing his own poems possibly based on another writer’s inspiration.
And now let’s consider the death of the original. What will the coroner say? Is it when the translator reads and interprets the original text and communicates its meaning in broken English? Or when my friend puts words to the page? In any event, I think the original suffers many deaths, both large and small. But if my friend’s translation turns out to have wings, I will celebrate his ability to call forth the Phoenix from the ashes—however, I will never presume to have known the original bird.