“The Absence of Language Is the Reason for My Eternal Insomnia”: We Are Summoned to Resurrect the Word

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“The Absence of Language Is the Reason for My Eternal Insomnia”: We Are Summoned to Resurrect the Word

“The Absence of Language Is the Reason for My Eternal Insomnia”: We Are Summoned to Resurrect the Word

Holy Sail! Clearly indicates that the translator has not only dedicated himself to vocabulary archaeology, excavating and restoring the words from the written Macedonian sources. On the contrary, he also fished for words outside the written pool, in those areas of Macedonia where seafaring is part of the daily lives, among the people who lived the seafaring. “Someone might ask if we have speakers who know these words and who have used them,” (Чемерски, 2015: 133) he says, and adds: “We would respond that those were the many citizens of Macedonia who had served in the Yugoslav navy: some of the them for three years, some of them for two years, and some of them for a year and a half” (Ibidеm). Some of them for three years, some of them for two, and my father for long fifteen years, because it is at this place of Ognen’s book where my story also enters, the one because of which, as I said somewhere at the beginning, I needed a whole year and a half to write this.

During those fifteen years, my father, as a sailor at the training ship Galeb built his seafaring language, that special mixture of the Debar dialect of his parents, his native Bitola dialect, the freshly hatched standard Macedonian language that he was taught by the first generations of teachers after World War II, the Dalmatian speech of the Croatian language from Pula and its surroundings, the official Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian language of the Yugoslav navy, the many foreign words collected from the eastern, exotic harbours of the Non-Aligned countries. For him then, as Ognen says, I was but a possibility, but with his return home, to the land, this possibility for me to also be one day, as a promise, became closer and more real. At the age of forty, at the same age when Ognen wrote Holy Sail! I lost my father’s language. Not a single written or oral record of his seafares remained, and I am always troubled by the thought that I had an obligation, almost a holy duty both to him and the language, to give it some sort of an afterlife, because I am scared that in this way, it dies of terminal oblivion, slowly but definitely. I often think of Misirkov who says that “we have forgotten what is ours by learning the foreign” (Мисирков, 143). The absence of my father’s language, as it is so precisely said by Snežana Bukal, is the reason for my eternal insomnia.

However, when I read Holy Sail!, I felt again the presence of this, for me once lost language. With my father’s language I travelled the seas as the characters of Vlada Urošević’s short story The Ship Named Skopje enter the distant, miraculously present ship via the gates of the Skopje neighbourhoods, in the thick autumn fog. And then, just as they enter their terrestrial homes, in the big port, via the ship called Skopje, I too, via the unexpected translation portal of Holy Sail!, entered my father’s language. “Blessed is the one who humbly and nobly accepts the words s by his old ones and lift them to wave on top of the mast as fiery flags!” (Чемерски, 2015: 180), says Ognen at the end of his book. With this book, “we arrived in a place as close to the same place as two human beings can ever hope to be’ (Debeljak 13). And for this he has my eternal gratitude.



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1. The author himself says that he was researching seafaring terminology since year 2000, and the translation of Moby Dick was published in 2014.
2. This is the second translation of Moby Dick into Macedonian – the first was made by Sveto Serafimov (Мисла, 1982). If we leave aside one of the clichés of the translation trade “that every great work of literature should be translated at least once a generation” (Debeljak 7), Holy Sail! Is not only a sort of a long and elaborated footnote to the new generation translation of Ognen, but also a detailed, transgenerational, Bloom-like, son-father polemics. This polemics does not only position the new translation in an intertextual way vs its predecessor, but the latter is also thoroughly deconstructed as opposed to the original that is translated, but also opposed to all texts that secretly, as mediators slipped between Melville and the Macedonian language. In this process, the son-translator is strict to the father-translator, he is thorough and critical, led not by the blind respect to his predecessor, but by the faithfulness to the task that both have taken upon themselves: “The looseness and freedom that the translator took upon himself in 1982… have created confusion in the stage setting of the play” (Чемески, 2015: 143).
3. Ognen himself stresses this on many occasions, with examples and polemics. For example, when it comes to his search for words as opposed to not having an etymological dictionary of the Macedonian language, he says: “because we do not have a dictionary made on historical principles, I had to do it on foot, diving into many literary works” (Чемерски, 2014: 275). Debating with proofreading puritanism present in the instructions for translations which are part of the recent big project of the Macedonian government related to translations of literary classics in our language, he says: “I have to express my disagreement with the directions of the creator of the glossary of the Editorial Board, where certain mistakes are rightly mentioned, to also dismiss some quite legitimate words. I am an advocate of the view that vocabulary should be enriched when there is a basis for it, and not to intentionally dismiss words because of their origin or because of their similarity to the words of some related or neighbouring languages. Synonyms and homonyms are the wealth of a language. I strongly support this view in my translation, which is my original work” (Ibidem).
4. Or, as our Dragi Mihajlovski writes: “The literal transmission of syntax quite destroys the theory of reproduction of meaning and it is a direct threat to understandability. The freedom when translating (not the rampant freedom of bad translators) finds its meaning in the very liberation from the obligation to transmit the meaning” (Михајловски, 51).
5. In his note to the novel, regarding his vocabulary-related research and solutions, Ognen says that “words from all dialects of the Macedonian language have been used without complexes and reservations” (Чемерски, 2014: 273), and “words were drawn from other Slavic languages as well, as Melville and the sailors drew from the many related and unrelated languages from which the rich lingua franca of the seafarers was created” (Ibidem). These views of his are essentially identical to those of Misirkov, who says that “history, both of our language and of the others shows us that every dialect, subdialect, speech and sub-speech can be used in literary translations” (Мисирков, 1946: 138).
6. Or, as Derrida would say, “the original always already lacks its translation” (according to Chattopadhyay).
7. As a matter of fact, “the task of the translator is to dive into, to stir the very process of maturation of the language of the original, search for defamiliarizations that the linguistic creations of that language make the big literary works thirsty for translation, discover the way of the intended…” (Михајловски, 81).

AuthorElizabeta Bakovska
2020-05-05T09:25:46+00:00 October 21st, 2017|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 116|0 Comments