Eco, Translations and The French Connection

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.


6 thoughts on “Eco, Translations and The French Connection

  1. anonymous says:

    The last para of course served as a stimulus
    Did go on to read the Island of the day before
    Interesting that he still picks on a ” known behavioral pattern” in an unfamiliar context rather than vice versa … like ‘ i know how coffee is drunk or is supposed to be ‘ , now how is it drunk in america … vs
    ‘i know pizza is served with pineapple in america ‘… now how would it be if that was done in napoli 🙂
    there is really a difference to the two approaches and if translators stayed faithful to one throughout they would paint a much more consistent portrait of the author’s intentions

    transgressing on some form of “translation license” the meaning would be elucidated much more … but i guess at the end of it its just technique 🙂

    Good article Asuph ! 🙂

  2. asuph says:

    hey rita,

    The name of the rose is his most well known book, i think. These days with the Da Vinci Code hype, Foucault’s Pendulum has again come into limelight of sorts. That’s sad, because the latter is in different league altogether. Maybe you can try it if you like TNOTR.

    Meanwhile, I’m planning to pick up TNOTR, only my booklist is in overflow mode.

    Thanks for visiting.


  3. anonymous says:

    I have TNOTR on my list to read. got the book. I have every man’s fear … the fear of commitment 😉 all its details and possibility of losing the thread with a few days break is quite a scary thing. I am going it do it over the winter break. ;))


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