Saturday, June 16, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #2

I am struggling with the capitalization in this phrase. I understand what it means (although even there, I could make an argument for any of several shades of meaning) but can't quite figure out how to render it in English to retain the purity of that meaning:

"... me daba cuenta de que no era hora todavía de encerrarse en una habitación rodeado de volúmenes de Historia." (...I realized that this wasn't the moment to shut myself into a room where I would be surrounded by volumes of History.)

The reference to Historia is, as we might say in English, History-with-a-capital-H. It is the concept and the totality of, well, History.

What I don't like about using History to render Historia is that by now, twenty-five years after the book was written, the capitalization of nouns that have to do with countries' glorious pasts is a rhetorical technique employed by the Tea Party, and I don't want to load this book with that kind of politics. So the simple, elegant, closest cognate solution is out because of the cultural connotations of capitalization in English that do not exist in the Spanish of a quarter-century ago. Or, as Walter Benjamin put it more eloquently, "Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own."

And so although the author's Historia refers to an abstract concept, I have chosen to give it a more concrete sense. I have translated it into English in a way that incorporates the "volúmenes" that precedes it in the original text, making it the books that contain the history so that I can retain the capital H and have it refer to the titles of such works, like Gibson's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Wellhausen's Geschichte Israels, works that still evoke an image of weighty tomes and authorities and that abstract totality of my author's Historia.

And so the phrase, in my translation, reads: "...I realized that this was not the moment to shut myself into a room, surrounded by Histories."

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