quinta-feira, agosto 06, 2015

Camoens vs Shakespeare: "Retratos de Camões" by Vasco Graça Moura



Published 2014.

Disclaimer: As I’ve stated elsewhere, classics-wise, my literary heroes have always been Camoens, Pessoa, Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Celan, Hölderlin, Rilke, way too many to enumerate here. Read the following review/essay at your own peril.

This is one of the most beautifully designed book I've ever had the pleasure of holding in my hands. For the visual learners, creative thinkers, and arty types among you, who need a kick in the pants to get motivated and express themselves to the fullest, this book is for you. Unfortunately only available in Portuguese.

It's because of books like these that books in print will never die. I'm all for visceral takes on things, and holding a book in my hands is one of those things. I've always said there's something wonderfully weird about holding a book in one's hands (and smelling it:  the scent of physical books, the paper, the ink, the glue...Book sniffing is still a major kick for me. I just love to crack open a book and catch a whiff of the pages.)

I don't know. There's something about books stacked everywhere that gets to me every time. Going to a bookshop I immediately feel a sense of nostalgia. It's good for the soul... This visceral act of physically turning a page that, for me at least, can't be matched with pixels on a screen. For me the need to possess the physical copy of a book like this one, and not merely an electronic version of it, is something akin to a sacred object (maybe I'll do a post about it one of these days if I'm in the mood...)

I don’t know again. Maybe my favourite books define me in some unfathomable way, and e-Books don't seem to convey connections that are quite as meaningful synapses-wise.

Once again VGM (Vasco Graça Moura) shows his erudition. What were Camoens first portraits? How did they get to us? How authentic are they? VGM wrote this little monography in order to help in discovering Camoens' vera effigies.

Camoens could have said of Shakespeare (and vice-versa):


. .. and glad to find a kindred mind

who with my spells I might entwine, 

no earthbound soul who's words extol


the beauty of my off'ring.

The effect Shakespeare and Camoens have on me I like to name as “The Physics of the Impossible”, i.e., our thoughts are linked to an invisible energy and electromagnetic force field and it determines what the energy forms, and the mirror is thus able to reflect. My thoughts literally shift the universe on a particle-by-particle basis to create my physical life and mental perceptions. When I read Shakespeare and Camões the universe changes. Look all around you. Everything I see starts as an idea, an idea that grows as it's shared and expressed. I literally become what I think about. My life becomes what I've imagined and believed in most. My world is literally my mirror, enabling me to experience in the physical plane what I hold as my truth … until I change it again... Physics, Camoens and Shakespeare show us that the world is not the hard and unchangeable thing it may appear to be. It's a very fluid place continuously built up using energy field forces...

What we think is in fact an illusion. That's what Camoens, and Shakespeare embody as far as I'm concerned.

Being Portuguese, I’ve always been intrigued by the similitude between Shakespeare and Camoens. What's with Camoens and Shakespeare? Camoens' lyrical poetry has also a double fascination for me. First, before Shakespeare he was writing lines like "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun", thus also creating poems of wonderfully lucid wit and beauty like Shakespeare. Second, the lyrics show us his progress towards being the poet who would write "The Lusiads" later on.

Thinking about Shakespeare and Camoens always leads me down the path of the limits of translatability. Translating Shakespeare's metaphors is a very difficult subject. I'm also working on translating Shakespeare into Portuguese, and Camoens into German, and I'm tackling problems left and right. For starters, I think that primary conceptual/original metaphors tend to remain intact across translations whereas complex conceptual metaphors tend to be replaced by different complex metaphors specific to the era and cultural background of the respective translators (in my case Portuguese).

I believe that metaphor is translatable. In my view, translating Shakespeare's and Camoens’ original metaphors poses three types of problems: wrong choice of diction, mistranslation, and deletion. On the other hand, translating Shakespeare's and Camoens’ cultural metaphors poses cultural problems resulting from the use of references to a tale that the target audience may not be familiar with. When all these hurdles I chose the cognitive approach translation-wise, because it is modern, actual and more complex than the others. Modern cognitive linguistics regards metaphor as a basic mental operations as a way of knowledge, structure and explanation of the world. Man does not only express his thoughts through metaphors, but also thinks in metaphors, thus creating a world in which he lives. Cognitive approach is the most promising direction, because the study of knowledge transfer mechanism is the main problem in the methodology of acquiring knowledge. Having read a ton of literature concerning this question my ultimate goal is to create my own algorithm of translating conceptual metaphors. With the help of this method and some handcraft algorithms developed in Python I improved the translation of Shakespeare's and Camoens’ metaphors and thus the understanding of their respective works.  Maybe one day I’ll post a technical something regarding this fascinating topic.

Camoens, for me, has always been a vehicle instead of a destination. It’s a vehicle that allows me to understand all the complex texts that I may have to encounter in my world in the future.  But the basic movement through a text, a movement through a complex text, a language that is 400 years removed from our own; if I can do that, I can read law books, I can read medical journals, I can interact with my child’s pediatrician, I can do any number of things, and that, to me, is what Camoens is really for. Becoming reacquainted with him through Vasco Graça Moura’s latest book is always a bonus in itself (he wasn’t among us long enough to see it in print).


What VGM attempts here is an historical study of Camoens’ portraits, identifying the ones which may have been made during Camoens’ lifetime, and the ones derived from the mental image we have of him. As with Shakespeare, we don’t a definite portrait of Camoens:




To my German-speaking friends I cannot resist showing an exercise in translation I did a long time ago when I dared translate it into German. I only chose his most famous stanzas (foolish of me…):

“Amor é um fogo que arde sem se ver,
É ferida que dói, e não se sente,
É um contentamento descontente,
É dor que desatina sem doer.

É um não querer mais que bem querer,
É um andar solitário entre a gente,
É um nunca contentar-se de contente,
É um cuidar que ganha em se perder."

(Liebe ist eine Feuersbrunst, die man nicht sieht,
Ist eine tief Wunde, die man doch nicht fühlt,
Ist unbefriedigtes Zufriedensein,
Ist ein verrücketer Schmerz, der doch nicht qäult,

Liebe heißt nichts zu wünschen als zu lieben,
Heißt unter allen Menschen einsam sein,
Heißt nie sich zu begnügen, zu bescheiden,
Heißt glauben, man gewinnt trozt allen Plagen.)

Richard Zenith also did a wonderful translation into English which I’ll reproduce here for the benefit of my English-speaking audience (taken from my copy of “The World’s Favourite Love Poems” edited by Suheil Bushrui):

Love is a fire that burns unseen,
A wound that aches yet isn't felt,
An always discontent contentment,
A pain that rages without hurting,
A longing for nothing but to long,
A loneliness in the midst of people,
A never feeling pleased when pleased,
A passion that gains when lost in thought.

NB: “Retratos de Camões” in addition to VGM’s text, is also comprised of contemporary portraits of Camoens by some of the most internationally renowned visual and plastic artists: Júlio Pomar, José de Guimarães, João Cutileiro, and José Aurélio.

NB2: Luís Vaz de Camões (1524 – 1580)


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