Škvorecký e suas duas línguas

9 12 2007

Agora é a vez de Josef Škvorecký falar da experiência de escrever numa língua estrangeira. É dele o terceiro texto do livro “The Genius of Language: Fifteen writers reflect on their mother tongues”.

O primeiro trecho descreve uma experiência que eu também tive com o português, depois que saí do Brasil:

A strange thing and Henry Miller got it right. Surrounded by the sounds of the foreign language—speaking, on a daily basis, my very good English, as friends kindly assured me—my eyes, my ears, my inner receptive organs became attuned to Czech to a much higher degree of precision than back in Bohemia. I awakened to aspects of my mother tongue of which formerly I was unaware, having used them subconsciously, mechanically. The sex appeal of feminine endings, the lure of verbal aspects, the capricious scherzos of prefixes, such things.

A segunda passagem fala do poder da linguagem apesar dos problemas com textos mal-traduzidos. Škvorecký, como ele mesmo diz, também traduziu.

The reviewers never read my novels as I had written them in my “small”—for most American critics, even “obscure”—language. They read only translations. And I thought of my early days, of the Sinclairs and Dickenses, and Dreisers, not to speak of Curwoods and Setons and Edgar Rice Burroughses, all of them enjoyed in dubious—no: bad—no: horrible translations, translations really insulting to sensitive speakers of the obscure language of the westernmost Slavs. And I wondered. What made me enjoy Mr. Babbitt, who constantly used the second person plural in addressing his children, his wife, his closest friends? What made me ignore the shocking impoliteness of characters who addressed their physicians with the disrespectful “Doctor,” not “Mr. Doctor”? What made me so imperceptive of the twisted sentences that slavishly followed the word order of the originals? Did they sound alluringly exotic? Sweetly foreign? What made me not wonder about a military band in Thackeray whose bulky musician played very loudly on the dulcimer? All that?

Surely, there was nothing resembling genius in the language of those translations. Yet the novels spoke to me, with great intensity. So strongly that they decided my future. True, there was Eliot, whom I first read in English, then years later in a supposedly good Czech translation, who, after the true magic of “Because I do not hope. . . ,” was almost torture. Was it Josef Hora’s labor devoted to each word which the translator, paid by that word, obviously neglected? Something else?

For a decade of my life, when my own efforts were banned, I turned translator myself. The experience taught me to appreciate my excellent translators in Canada. I bitterly learned what it was to cleanse your text of the abundance of auxiliary verbs so foreign to Czech, of the prevalence of the passive voice, of possessive pronouns used with parts of the human body, all these and other translators’ errors which so uglified the American magic of Faulkner, the British acrimony of Waugh, the translucency of Hemingway’s diction. Would any American monolingual or even—in the major languages—bilingual or trilingual reviewer dare to say what the late Czech critic said about my sentences?

No, and it wouldn’t be their fault. Although they were unaware of my originals, their reviews were rarely scathing, often favorable. What about language, then? What is it that makes even books that present only a ragged shadow of their model enjoyable, even enthralling? What makes a teenager in a landlocked little country ruled and butchered by foreign invaders and mighty Big Daddies enter the skin of an illiterate boy from Missouri, of a nigger slave—enter a world as far away as the stars?

Yes, language can be of supreme beauty. But there is more to works of fiction than just language. Style in Chandler’s sense, the experience of Dickens but also that of Henry James, of life’s martyrdom or of life’s sweet mellowness, and many other things.

Let’s leave it to the horses, they have bigger heads.

Or perhaps to the elephants.


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