“Ler o Que Não Foi Escrito - Conversa inacabada entre Walter Benjamin e Paul Celan” (To Read What Hasn’t Been Written – Unfinished conversation between Walter Benjamin and Paul Celan)
I’ve always been interested in the “mechanics” of translation. To be interested in the inner workings of translation is to be interested in reading Walter Benjamin, which I’ve been doing for a long time. Once again the influence of one of my German professors: Winfried Scheulen.
The Portuguese German studies owes a lot to Prof. João Barrento, namely his monumental translations from German into Portuguese of poets like Goethe, Musil, Celan, and Benjamin, to name just a few of the great German thinkers that we’re able to read in Portuguese because of his efforts. German translation is synonym with the name “Barrento”. I still remember one of his notes regarding the difficulty in translating German texts with many relative clauses…the problem lies in the fact that Portuguese does not allow the construction of nested clauses one after the other, as it’s pretty common in German, at least in literary texts.
This book comprises two of my favourite authors: Walter Benjamin and Paul Celan. I’ve written a lot about Celan, but it’s the first time I’m dealing with Benjamin. This is neither the time nor the place for that. My dealings with Benjamin will remain unsaid for the time being. What interests me here is the way Barrento was able to “verbalize” a philosophical conversation between these two, namely to put on paper something that never took place. If this conversation were to have taken place, who would have be better equipped to eavesdrop into these ponderings than Barrento himself?
I won't dwell on it. I’ll try instead to elevate our mental awareness by just giving you two excerpts from the book, wherein these two passages will give us a nice philosophical and philological sum-up by way of Walter Benjamin, Paul Celan, and João Barrento:
“Se quisermos olhar a História como um texto, então aplicar-se-á a ela o que um autor recente diz dos textos literários: em ambos o passado depositou imagens comparáveis àquelas que foram fixadas numa chapa sensível à luz […] O método histórico é, assim, filológico, e assenta sobre o livro da vida. Hofmannsthal fala de ‘ler o que não foi escrito’. O leitor que assim lê é o verdadeiro historiador.” (Page 59)
Walter Benjamin, in “Sobre o Conceito da História/On the Concept of History”
My own attempt at translating this: "If we want to look at History as a text, then we’ll be able to apply to it what a recent author says about literary texts: in both, the past has deposited images comparable to those that were fixated on a light-sensitised plate […] The historical method is thus philological and rests upon the book of life. Hofmannsthal talks about ‘reading what has not been written’. The reader who reads like this is the real historian."
And now Paul Celan:
“Não te escrevas
entre os mundos,
a variedade de sentidos,
Confia no rasto das lágrimas
e aprende a viver.”
(Schreib dich nicht
Zwischen die Welten,
Komm auf gegen
Der Bedeutungen Vielfalt,
Vertrau der Tränenspur
Und lerne leben.”
Paul Celan, in “a Morte É Uma Flor/Death Is a Flower” (translation by João Barrento)
Now in English, the abovementioned Celan’s poem, in a translation of mine, for the benefit of my English-speaking friends:
“Don’t write yourself
In between worlds,
Rise yourself against
the wide range of meanings,
Rely upon the Trail of Tears
And learn to live”