Umberto Eco fascinated me with his Foucault’s Pendulum. So much, that I haven’t dared to read any of his other books. Sounds crazy, but when you start with something like Foucault’s Pendulum, you fear if the other books are going to live up to it.
Anyways. I was surprised that I didn’t know Umberto Eco was recently in India, something that I got to know from Element’s of Eco-logy, Antara Dev Sen in The Week. The article was more relevant for me, as it talks about travails of translation:
The context is important, he said while chatting with us later. “If you say ‘my nipote’ in Italian, I know that it cannot be your grandchild—you are too young!” he said, which reassured me. “So it must be my niece or nephew,” said I breezily, trying to pass off as a native Italian. “You have read Mouse or Rat!” said he, reassured in turn. Indeed my knowledge that nipote means any of the above was based solely on this book, where Eco lucidly explains the concept of translation as negotiation.
Speaking of translations, TOI has an interesting article (surprise surprise!) that has a title that’s abused left and right these days: Lost In Translation, which incidentally also mentions Eco’s India visit.
The organization that brought Eco to India, Transcultura, has been campaigning for alternative anthropology and “is constructed on the principles of reciprocal knowledge, respect and mutual enrichment, it develops methodologies of transcultural analysis applicable to different situations and intercultural contexts”
The French Connection is the context, of course, but then what I liked about the article is that it exemplifies how anthropology can affect perceptions and can cause havoc. In India, we ignore it almost as a irrelevant discipline and let others define us in any way they please, not realizing that the images that float in air come back to haunt us.
Coming back to the original article, let me end on a lighter note, with Eco again. Lighter, not frivolous, mind you:
Similar situations may seem completely baffling in different languages. “If I say I went into a bar, ordered a coffee, gulped it down in an instant and left,” said Eco, “it is perfectly understandable to an Italian audience. But in America, where coffee is served too hot, and in large mugs, it is confusing. Similarly, if I say, I ordered a coffee and sipped it for half an hour thinking of my beloved, it is okay in America, but in Italy they would not know how I could take half an hour over a coffee served at room temperature in a cup barely an inch tall!” The translator needs to negotiate such difficult terrain when rendering a work into another language.