As a leaving present back in March I received a generous token for a bookshop chain with which I bought the kind of things I can't often afford: a newly published hardback, a couple of expensively imported Spanish paperbacks and an unabridged French CD audio-book of Ni d'Eve ni d'Adam (translated as Tokyo Fiancee), a short novel by Amélie Nothomb, read by the French actor and director Sylvie Testud, who played the Nothomb character in the film of Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling) - the two books evoke the same period of Amélie Nothomb's life as a very young Belgian woman working in Tokyo.
Shock! Concentrate as I might, I had a hard time following these quick, clipped tones, listened to the whole 3.5 hours and wasn't doing much better. It's ages since I spent much time in a French-speaking country and the 'ear' for a less than open rhythm and intonation that you haven't heard recently can slip away: I know this happens, though I don't know why, and I know it does come back. So I tried again, put the CD on quite late last night, listened attentively for an hour or so and fell asleep with it playing, put it back on when I woke up and... womp! there the words were, back in focus, dropping crystal clear from every sentence.
Magic. Here, I think, we're at the heart of language, which goes deeper than words - what I most love and least understand. What my brain just did is remember how to translate this clipped Parisian French into meaning - translation, the 'bringing across' of meaning, as it takes place between two languages, but also in the processing of a single language. And not just verbal language: are these the mysterious bits of my particular brain that work pretty well for words, but not, alas, at all well for figures, or algebra, or html...?
And does a similar dynamic extend to visual language? Is this why I always feel these photos - my favourite photos I've ever taken, ever! - have something to do with translation: the visual image dissolving in the pavement and re-forming in reflections, brought across, different, but with some of the same meaning?
Amélie Nothomb's novel, now I can 'hear' it more clearly, with its tale of a Belgian-Japanese romance, is much about the things that can and can't be translated between languages and cultures - a tense mixture of fascination and despair.
Submitted for Edition 16 of the >Language >Place Blog Carnival, with the special theme of Translation.