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.