Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Meddling with Myths: Or, My dissertation, but less serious.
In the beginning was the word. Or the void. Music. A lump of mud fished out of an endless sea. Something big that went bang. Whatever it was, it was at the beginning, and it started it all. It got the ball rolling. Across all cultures, explanations for natural phenomena start with stories. All cultures have myths, tales, fables, folklore about how they came to exist. And the stories change, like flowers springing out of a different soil, growing in different environments, some reaching with their roots deep down into the culture they find, some only lasting a couple of seasons, before they are eradicated, trampled or forgotten. But they all try to cling as tenaciously as possible, like limpets, for survival. As Roland Barthes said, myth ‘is a language which does not want to die’ (1957). And here is where we come in. If myth is a language, it can be made to travel to other lands, cultures and minds – it can be, no, it wants, even needs to be translated (Benjamin 1923; Chesterman 1997). If myth is a language, storytellers are translators, reflecting, refracting, amplifying, modifying those tales for the new audiences. If myth is a language, it cannot be set in stone (Warner 1994). The new audiences, however, will not want sloppy repetitions of a fourth-hand story heard from some guy at the market, with frail horned gods and overhyped floods. They will want the new snappy, snazzy, jazz-handful up-to-date version, with CGI (Culture Generated Innovations) and special effects (Hermans 1996; 2002). To go, please, too – they have a busy schedule. And so we, the translators, the unacknowledged (re)creators of the world, will step into our performance tights, pack our satchels with some theory (and a towel, always bring a towel), grab the academic gloves – in case of critical conditions – and go, towards our goal, towards the creation of the new stories, the new myths. Which are actually the old ones, but with different clothes. We will tell tales of Titans and Olympians, fighting in court (or The Jeremy Kyle show, at the audience’s request) over who owns fire. We will sing of the twelve labours of Heracles, from queuing at the Job Centre to trying to cross Times Square on foot. We will reveal where man-beast Enkidu gets a haircut, before chilling out with Gilgamesh. We will recount of the wolf Skoll’s quest for mouthwash, after he swallowed the sun on Ragnarok. We will spin new stories of the old gods, for a land and age that feel no need for any of their own. And by doing this, we will choose who to let speak, we will give a voice to the unheard, shift perspectives and points of view, manipulate details to let the tales within the tale shine brighter (Tymoczko 2007). We will adapt to the audience, but tell our own tales, with our agendas, our ideologies, our points of view (Holman and Boase-Beier 1998: 9). For, in the end, myths reflect values held dear by the society and culture that created them. In recreating them, translators imbue them with their own belief system. Sneaky. The serious version also contains horrible things like memetics, norms and DTS, stylistics, psychoanalysis, anthropology and sociolinguistics. Oh, and is about 20000 words long. Aren’t you glad I wrote the abridged version? People I have intentionally plagiarised: Mike Carey, Percy B. Shelley, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Cesare Pavese. ---- Alex Valente translates Italian and French into English, and English and French into Italian. He will be starting a PhD in Literary Translation at UEA in October 2012, on the translation of comics (which are really just myths in disguise). He can be found in front of a computer screen reading messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.