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Trans-fusion cuisine; or, cooking with your ears.

ZSOLT LANG USED TO RUN a critical workshop where students were invited to text-tastings. He would choose texts by well-known writers and replace a few words with synonyms; like sommeliers or chefs, the students had to identify ill-fitting words, dissonant tannins, and spices--an interesting introduction into writings molecular chemistery, since it teaches readers to focus on mouthfeel. A word's mouth-feel, or word-bouquet, is determined by its sound, its etymology, the sur lie cultural and literary echoes it may carry. Ideally, a professional reader (a category that includes translators) would chew words with as much "discernment" as Leopold Bloom the "toothsome pliant meat" of his kidney, which gives the palate "a fine tang of faintly scented urine." Toothsome and pliant are synonymous yet have poignantly different mouthfeel: one is of Latin, the other of Germanic extraction; they belong to distinct registers; the latter's sensuousness contrasts with the former's sibilant-fricative cluster, an obstacle to fluency.

When the translator attempts to re-create the effect the original elicits in the source language, mouthfeel is as important as accuracy. In translation's fusion cuisine, some spices will inevitably fade while others become more pungent; spices that sound exotic in landlocked Hungarian might taste perfectly unadventurous in another language. Lang is fond of peppering his satirical pieces with spurious arcania. In his recipe for roasted lover thighs (p. 54), Lang references steak a la Queen of England; I decided to abandon this in favor of the virile roast beef of Old England, adding a pinch of hardboiled culinary nationalism.

Sometimes translation is a short-circuit. Lang allegedly wrote his first short story at fifteen upon reading Ulysses in the Hungarian translation of experimental novelist Miklos Szentkuthy. Szentkuthy's flamboyant 1974 translation certainly appropriated Joyce's novel yet did so with a verbal inventiveness, sprinkling it with gargantuan word games that at times seem to land the reader in the middle of Finnegans Wake. His Ulysses had a huge impact on the postmodern turn of Hungarian prose in the 1970s and 1980s, whose heir Lang is in many respects; his own cuisine has more to do with Mulligan stew than with Kafka's soup. In Lang's satirical love story written in the form of wine labels, "marble-tender gums" make a cursory appearance. The allusion is to the canonical nineteenth-century Hungarian translation of Hamlet by poet Janos Arany, where in act 1 Hamlet meets his fathers ghost: Arany renders the sepulchre's "ponderous and marble jaws," with a shocking poetic license, as "ponderous marble gums." A marble sarcophagus agape like deaths toothless gums is certainly an image to "make night hideous"; the syntagm has become an emblem of Arany's idiosyncratic transubstantiation of Shakespeare's imagery. Obviously, in the English Wine Labels the Shakespeare phrase had to be "restored," replacing Arany's signature line, which in Lang's text is a comment on translation itself; in order to hint at the implied translation, I added an odd adjective, so the fictional wine is gulped down by "tenderest marble jaws."

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Finally, apart from taste buds, another sense plays a key role in translation: hearing. In this sense, translation is like playing ping-pong with the original. Ping-pong, as Lang writes elsewhere (see WLT's January 2015 issue), is the game of the ear: "If the harmony of rhythms is adequate, the intensifying resonance will break the game's habitual nature, will break its boundaries." But how can the aspiring translator, a mere scullion in the writer's kitchen, obtain the ear? Here is a recipe from one of the greatest cookbooks of fusion cuisine, Flann O'Briens At Swim-TwoBirds: "The ear is the main thing, said Lamont. You can wear the last tatter of skin off your knuckles with a fiddle and a bow and you won't get as far as your own shadow if you haven't got the ear. Have the ear and you're halfway there before you start at all."

Editorial note: Visit the WLT website to read Lang's wine labels, recipes, and an essay about his relationship to music, books, and art.

For a biographical sketch of Erika Mihalycsa, see page 47.
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Title Annotation:TRANSLATOR'S NOTE
Author:Mihalycsa, Erika
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Sep 1, 2015
Words:837
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