Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Translating = Creating

Some thoughts on Ivor Martinic’s play “Bojim se da se sada poznajemo” (“I’m afraid we know each other now”)

by Renata Britvec, translator of the play from Croatian into German

„A language is always a whole world view”, my professor of philosophy used to say. What seems so obvious opened up a new perspective to me and raised a lot of questions. During my studies, I started to ask myself about my native language from another, broader point of view and I also started questioning how my mother tongue affected the way I express myself in German, or any other language I speak. Back then I realized how strongly my mother tongue determines my personality and how the simple fact that I am bilingual causes many misunderstandings, and that there is always the imagery, the fierceness, the head-on brutality, the meekness, the sense of humor, and the meandering ways to tell stories of my home countries which always seeps through and interferes with my expression and way of speaking.

I love my language, I love the way it creates and destroys images. I also love that you can be obvious and subtle at the same time. But how can you translate this language without losing all the richness? I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to these questions, and not only on a theoretical level. I wanted to contribute to creating an understanding for the cultures of the Ex YU countries. So I started translating, short texts at first, then longer ones, from different genres, and as my way has always led me to the theater somehow, I ended up being a translator of dramatic texts.

When Jürgen Popig of Theater and Orchester Heidelberg asked me to translate Ivor Martinić’s new play for the project The Art of Ageing, I was honored and excited. I had read Martinić’s work before and his subtle writing and his ability to create a strong narrative in dramatic texts impressed me a lot.

In Martinić’s new play “Bojim se da se sada poznajemo” (“I’m afraid we know each other now”) Ivana leaves Filip for his increasing inability to create a common narrative and therefore (a personal) history. He cannot remember important moments of their relationship, like the first time she told him she loved him, nor is he willing to remember or to recreate those moments for the sake of her – and his! - wellbeing. Even when she breaks up with him, he refuses to react appropriately. Instead of saying something valuable, he just recites what his mother told him once. Ivana cannot accept his reaction and comes back and back again to demand a real and just ending, an ending she will be able to retell as part of her personal history. As soon as they aware of the break-up, Filip’s neighbor Andreas and Filip’s friend Natalija come to support him. While Andreas is trying to persuade Filip to come Ivana’s way and find a nice ending, Natalija is holding on to her conviction that Ivana does not deserve a man like Filip anyway. The two of them probably serve as hidden undercurrents of Filip’s persona. When these antagonists eventually knock each other out and Filip is alone again, he subsequently finds a way to create the story of his relationship and to make peace with himself, with Ivana, and with their failed relationship. “I’m afraid we know each other now” is a subtle play about the human need to locate oneself in history, and moreover, to create a personal narrative, where memory, emotion and what one desires supplement the truth.

As I have stated before, Ivana leaves Filip because of his inability to create a common narrative, which means specifically that he is unable to express his emotions through language: He himself explains at a later point of the play that he always felt the most urgent need to tell her he loved her while she was asleep, and as soon as she would wake up, everything was gone. When she tells him the relationship is over, he cannot find words to express his feelings and instead quotes his mother, who told him about the best way to please a woman. He shifts his emotion into somebody else’s words, and he shifts the actual problem into something easier, more materialistic and “real”. But in the course of the play and in the course of his involvement with Andreas and Natalija, i.e. with himself, he realizes how important it would have been and still is to communicate. 

More important, he realizes he needs to actively translate his innermost feelings into words, and that he needs to talk, to narrate. He may be right with his assumption that words can never describe appropriately what we actually experience and/or feel: “How strangely do we diminish a thing as soon as we try to express it in words.”, says Maurice Maeterlinck (we’ve all been sceptics since the beginning of the 20th century, but …).

But the sole act of speaking is always a translation of what we feel, of something indescribable into words other people can share and understand. In the end Filip is able to open up and create a story by which he is able to express himself and his love for Ivana subsequently, and by doing so, he creates an end to the relationship he will be able to remember, and Ivana will be able to remember, too. By remembering and retelling their story, they will know it has been there, it has been true, and now it is over, finally.

Ivor Martinić created the play during and after the workshop with artists of Theater and Orchester Heidelberg and Gavella Theater Zagreb. With this play inspired by artists of at least two different nations, he beautifully demonstrates the human need for words, language, narration, memory and therefore history. But above all, he depicts the act of struggling for words which will translate what we feel into something we can grasp, we can understand, we can share and make peace with.

Renata Britvec, October 2014

1 comment:

  1. One of the findings in a research conducted with ESL educators in USA also showed that educators strangly believed that.‘’The more students are exposed to English Professional translation, the more quickly they will learn; as they hear and use English, they will internalize it and begin to think in English.