Documentation

Gansel, Mireille (2012/2017): Translation as Transhumance. (Translated from French by Ros Schwartz) New York: Feminist Press, 128 p.[Record]

  • Susi Septaviana Rakhmawati

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  • Susi Septaviana Rakhmawati
    Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia, Bandung, Indonesia
    Kent State University, Kent, United States of America

Mireille Gansel’s Translation as Transhumance is a beautifully crafted, half-memoir, half-philosophical series of essays. It is no wonder that it won a French Voices Award and an English PEN Award. Gansel has published translations of German poets such as Peter Huchel, Reiner Kunze, and Nelly Sachs (her correspondence with Paul Celan). After residing in Hanoi for seven years, she was the first to publish a volume of classical Vietnamese poetry, translated into French during the Vietnam War. Ros Schwartz, who undertook the translation of Translation as Transhumance, is the award-winning translator of some seventy-five works of fiction and nonfiction, including a 2010 edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. Through 25 powerfully narrated chapters, the book presents a translation process that is intertwined with political acts involving power, nations, languages, and cultures. The short essays or chapters are presented in a sequential order according to the author’s life. As the title Translation as Transhumance suggests, the book carefully lays out the evolution of Gansel’s understanding of translation through the timeline of the author’s life: the author, the daughter of Jewish Hungarian parents, grew up in Nazi Germany. Her family lost everything, including their native language. In an act of resistance to political and military oppression, she translated poets from East Berlin and Vietnam to broadcast their political positions to the rest of the world during the 1960s and 1970s; she describes the period when she lived in Vietnam during the U.S. bombings and, lastly, she reflects on her practice of translating the Jewish German-language poet, Nelly Sachs. Her early years span ten essays, from Listening to the Silences to Interior Exile, which illustrate her experience living and understanding the poets she translated. Her years living in Vietnam are recounted in the subsequent ten essays, between The Universal Language and A Second Glass of Light, while the last chapters focus on her translating Nelly Sachs (from In the Crystal-blue Dusk to Language of the Childhood). The first ten chapters belong to Gansel’s early period, when her reflection on her work in translation started. She begins to notice that no word that speaks of what is human is untranslatable. In the context of exile, she learns that “taking turns” plays a role in the language of the soul. Here, she explains that, in order to understand deeply, we have to listen by taking turns in communication so that we can reach the very deep meaning intended by the author, which she describes as the language of the soul. It is a language that, for her, has no home, a language of the salvaged. She refers to the term doublespeak language to explain the complex meanings to be constructed when words and silences are used to understand the poems of Imre Kertés. Translating Brecht’s poetry required her to go deep into thought, image, and music so that she could facilitate ways to see the familiar in the foreign and the foreign in the familiar, in her translation. For instance, experiencing the strange effects of the poems, and comprehending the poet’s writing are part of her learning experience as a translator. When learning to understand, she sees herself as an apprentice to the work of the poem in terms of working diligently to immerse and to be part of the works so that she was no longer foreign, thus achieving her fullest understanding of the poems. In addition, she explores this immersion in a metaphoric apprenticeship as the effort to understand the text, to practice, to learn, and to listen. Gansel learns a great lesson about the …

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