Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part VI

The poet's work ends. The words are fixed on the page and reconfirmed in various critical editions and special editions of collected or selected works. Anthologized. Rarely--after such publication history--does the poet return to the text to tease it into (another) shape. But the translator must always go back, back and forth from the original fixed poem to the recreated poem in a new language (a "new house of being" if you want to get Heideggerean about it), and onward toward a better, more authentic translation/interpretation. Here is my second (and always already still imperfect) draft.
Brueghel’s Two Monkeys (Draft II)

This is how the big final appears in my dreams:
two monkeys confined with chains are sitting in the window,
in the distance the sky is aflutter
and the sea is awash.

I’m stammering and blundering my way
through the history of civilization.

One monkey, gazing at me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be nodding off—
but when I hesitate after a question,
he nudges me along
with the stifled jangle of his chain.


  1. I've enjoyed this so much! I've been thinking about how one of my favorite novels is still inaccessible to me because I do not read or speak Portugese and I'm dependent upon the translator. A lifetime ago I took a hermeneutics class and recall distinctly a conversation about interpretation and translation as a never-ending process and the horror expressed by several students of the idea that what they'd been reading and ideologizing might not be "finished" so to speak--only chaos could result, they fretted.

    Love it, love it.

  2. I would argue that chaos is a necessary result of trying to pin Truth down to a single translation (or interpretation of an original text), hence what we might be able to call "Christiano-Islamic history" if such a term were not pure blasphemy already. (The Judeo- suffix was left off intentionally because I know I need to think more deeply about Judaic approaches to history. To that end, I'm reading Levinas' Unforseen Histories now.) I'm reminded of a statement by an Israeli archaeologist: "I'm digging the catastrophe of my ancestors." When we tell ourselves these stories about the past catastrophes--and our version of the Truth--we always call it "progress" or worse: "God's will." As someone not fluent in Hebrew, I'm still doubtful any (if not none at all) of it had anything to do with God per se. The trick is to learn to love and trust the translator as the bearer of tidings (of the truth of the text) as much as the author her/himself. But again, there's not much sense in privileging one messenger over another ... or over the message itself. How's that for some good, non-conclusive babble?!?!

    Thanks for your comments.