luni, 11 aprilie 2016

Academic Translation as Cultural Challenge


Academia Tehnică Militară, Bucureşti

Abstract: In the context of the Romanian-American cultural exchanges taking place in the period between the two world wars, translation from American literature was initiated so as to bring prestige to the vernacular language and also to increase the quality standards of our national literature. In the early 1940s, Petru Comarnescu took up the difficult task of translating Eugene O’Neill’s dramatic masterpieces in the attempt to establish a viable connection with the playwright’s universe, one that would benefit both intellectuals and their respective countries. As their correspondence stands proof, O’Neill was extremely pleased with Comarnescu’s critical insights into his work and trusted him with the title of sole translator and representative of his work in Romania, in other words he made our critic his Romanian cultural agent. While the translating act in general implies the effort of finding the ‘equivalence’ of meaning sustained by a ‘correspondence’ of form, in the case of drama this effort of rendering meaning and form is far more complex, since the translated text equally has to fit the staging requirements. However, Comarnescu was the perfect embodiment of the ‘academic translator’, an intellectual whose background knowledge of the works he is translating recommends him for a special relationship with the text and with its author. His versions are generally more literary and complex, avoiding the regime of adaptation that other translators used for their stage-oriented versions - where such parallel versions do exist, I will discuss them by comparison with Comarnescu’s efforts, in a stereoscopical manner. I will mainly focus on the Romanian critic’s translation of O’Neill’s monumental plays, Mourning Becomes Electra and Strange Interlude, and then briefly discuss his renderings of several one-act plays that are crucial for O’Neill’s dramatic concept: Bound East for Cardiff, The Moon of the Carribbees and Before Breakfast. In doing so, I intend to stress upon the cultural challenge of translation that Comarnescu took up in earnest, completing his task with deep affinity and respect for the source culture.
Keywords: academic and stage translation, cultural dialogue, equivalence, correspondence.

According to George Steiner, “translation is, and always will be, the mode of thought and understanding” (1991: 264). In his insightful study, After Babel, Steiner provides the link between reading and translating as modes of understanding and links the translator’s interpretive abilities to those of the critic, actor, editor or reader because “all processes of expressive articulation and interpretative reception are translational” (Steiner 1991: 294). Thus, even a producer’s choice of performing a play in a certain key represents an act of “practical criticism” or “interpretative transfer” of the text’s meaning by the engagement of one’s identity in a communicative process with the work (Steiner 1991: 28-29). And, as all forms of communication, translation can be subject to failure or generate misunderstanding, since “every interlingual transfer is ruled by a principle of indeterminacy” (Steiner 1991: 310). On the other hand, Paul Ricoeur believes that the pleasure of translation consists in the hospitability of language and the acknowledgement of the dialogical nature of the translating process (Ricoeur 2005: 74) - a difficult transition because of the double resistance of both source and target language (Ricoeur 2005: 71). The metaphor of “playing host to” and “being hosted by” another language implies the generous and constructive reciprocity of a give-and-take process, meant to bridge (and not to efface) the incommensurability of linguistic difference. One can also speculate that the appearance of translations from another language indicates political and spiritual affinities with the respective culture that open up the possibility of a mutually benefitting dialogue.
Starting with Ioan Heliade Rădulescu’s timid attempts, translation into Romanian was considered a creative act, the distinction being made between translation (“traduceri”) and adaptation (“tălmăciri”). Initially, most translations were done from or through the French language, much of the criticism of world literature originating with this same language. As Mihail Sebastian noted in a 1940 article, “A Note on Translations”, literature is a communication of a spiritual nature and cannot be translated (or staged, in the case of drama) without knowledge of the cultural context defining it. This knowledge implies preserving the internal link with the original and it requires the translator to give “a serious battle with expression, which demands vigilance, good taste, an instinct for language, and a feeling for nuances” (Sebastian in Perry 2001: 168).
In the context of the Romanian-American cultural exchanges taking place in the period between the two world wars, translation from American literature was initiated so as to bring prestige to the vernacular language and also to increase the quality standards of our national literature. This explains why the translating choice was sometimes made after a very selective process. Yet, as Sebastian informs us, even when the translation was of poor quality (as initially most translations from English were), the work selected was a valuable one, meant to forward the ongoing literary debates and to fuel the already existing cultural claims. The first Romanian translators from English focused on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Benjamin Franklin, followed by the works of Poe and the Transcendentalists, such translations being done mostly by members of the 1948 Generation, who militated for our synchronization with Western culture. The role of the Romanian mindset (Perry’s phrase) operating on these works was to extend and refine some of their meanings, as well as to make the works themselves better known, introducing them into the Romanian canon of world literature. As an integral part of this process, the reception of American literature played a crucial role in inspiring Romanian literary creation and supporting the political aspiration towards ‘a greater Romania’.

Translation theorists seem to agree that literary translation always implies cultural issues, since “not only do cultures express ideas differently, but they also generate concepts and texts in a different way” (Bantaş and Croitoru 1999: 19, my translation). And the negotiation of these differences, Paul Ricoeur points out, requires intercultural translators, i.e. cultural bilinguals able to accompany the transfer of the text to the other cultural universe, while fully respecting its landmarks (Ricoeur 2005: 49). The dynamics of translation, therefore, has to account for the norms, culture, setting and traditions of the source and target languages, brought by the original writer and by the new readership, while the stake in translation is the negotiation of a cultural equivalent, i.e. an approximate translation of a source language cultural world into a target language cultural word (Newmark 1995: 82). [1]
Regarding the concept of equivalence, one can speak of dynamic equivalence (an equivalence of effect) and formal equivalence (an equivalence of message, both as form and content). According to Umberto Eco, the principle of equal reference could be violated for the sake of “a deeply equivalent translation” (2003: 41) – and, consequently, I will pay particular attention to the cases of denotative deviation that are nonetheless a means to achieving cultural correspondence. In her study on Translation: The Interpretive Model, Marianne Lederer discusses more extensively the notion of equivalence, making it the basis of her recommended approach to literary translation, termed “interpretive translation”. The idea of equivalence (i.e. the faithful rendering of the sense) is opposed to correspondence (i.e. the word for word translation). In Lederer’s opinion, the overuse of correspondences makes for a bad translation, while equivalence itself is “an original correspondence and the general mode of translation” (2002: 45).[2]
In my assessment of the Romanian translations from O’Neill’s works, I will employ Lederer’s notion of “interpretive equivalence” to investigate the textual version in terms of the areas of difficulty identified by Leon Leviţchi: denotation, emphasis, modality, connotation, coherence, and style. Regarding the last aspect – style – I am using Leviţchi’s definition: “the style is the specific way in which the author has organized his message, as regards coherence and expression, with a view to maximum valorization in the conscience of the presumptive receiver” (Leviţchi 1975: 219, my transl.).[3]
I also agree with Leviţchi that the translator has to be able to transpose himself, through empathy, into the writer’s psychology and that he should “be equally capable of linguistic empathy, of immersion in the style of the author, character and epoch” (Leviţchi 1975: 223, my transl.). Successful immersion is, nevertheless, inconceivable without a pre-existing common background of experience or, as Leviţchi notes, “our own experience teaches us the premises of linguistic empathy” (Leviţchi 1975: 223, my transl.). Ultimately, translating a literary author is understood as a matter of “elective affinity” – meaning that one should translate only what one feels a calling to translate. In this respect, Petru Comarnescu’s renderings are particularly fortunate examples, although not devoid of failings.

One can say that the transatlantic connections functioned well enough as regards the Romanian literary translations from O’Neill’s drama. Starting from the late thirties, Petru Comarnescu took on and successfully concluded some of the most difficult of these translation tasks – commencing with Strange Interlude in 1939, followed by Mourning Becomes Electra in 1943 (which he accomplished together with Margareta Sterian). In 1946, he collaborated with Ruxandra Oteteleşanu and Mihail Ranciu for the translation of a volume entitled Dramele Mării şi ale Pământului and in 1946, he published the translation of  Drame din Marea Dragoste. When analyzing Petru Comarnescu’s translations from O’Neill’s drama one must take into account the complexity of his cultural endeavor, which spanned more than three decades. His translations of O’Neill’s works were published in 1968, at the Editura pentru Literatură Universală, in a three-volume edition. Comarnescu translated for this edition several of O’Neill’s plays – especially the early plays and the most ambitious modernistic projects – Electra’s trilogy and the monumental Strange Interlude. Moreover, Comarnescu wrote the critical introduction for this edition, a comprehensive study entitled “Coordonatele creaţiei lui Eugene O’Neill”
(“The Landmarks of Eugene O’Neil’s Creation”). Therefore, the Romanian critic and translator had all the necessary competence to achieve a successful translation, finding himself in the position of a cultural bilingual whose previous knowledge of the background of the work and his former acquaintance with the author recommended him as O’Neill’s most dedicated Romanian supporter. In fact, Comarnescu “discovered” O’Neill in the thirties, after his direct experience of American culture, and since then he labored constantly to bring the playwright’s works to the attention of the Romanian literary and theatrical environment.
Comarnescu’s drama translations are more of a literary nature, the critic being concerned to mediate the reception of the American playwright to a wider Romanian audience and thinking less about their suitability for performance. His work can be regarded as a generous contribution to the dialogue between the American and Romanian cultures, as well as an instance of academic translation, a situation in which the translator has the extraordinary privilege of translating works of a literary figure towards whom he feels a particular affinity and with whom he can also communicate:

Academics-cum-translators can also be more selective; can choose authors of substance with whom they feel a genuine rapport. And if one is fortunate enough to find an author of stature, there is nothing more satisfying than staying with the same author and deepening one’s knowledge of a special voice with each new assignment. One can enter into fruitful correspondence, which leads to privileged collaboration (Pontiero 1992: 304).

While this situation creates certain favorable premises, the translator must also be a vigilant and imaginative reader, striving to preserve and transmit “the deep humanity between the verbal utterances” (Pontiero 1992: 306) as well as to achieve an empathetic immersion in style of the author. This action involves the ability of crossing the cultural and stylistic barriers posed by the source text, in the attempt of making it more palatable to the target language audience.
Since I have previously discussed Comarnescu’s translation of Desire under the Elms,[4] in the present paper I shall focus on O’Neill’s novelistic plays – Strange Interlude and Mourning Becomes Electra, as well as on several of his one act plays that were translated into Romanian.

Comarnescu’s translation of Strange Interlude is a highly accurate one, which respects the rythm and stylistic matrix of the original text, with only few denotation errors. The translation is faithful to the original, respecting the fluency of the monologues, the propriety of the terms that point towards philosophical notions and preserving the distinction between the accoustic masks of inner thought and outer speech of the characters.  Therefore, semantic  and stylistic equivalence is generally succesfully achieved, with only minor exceptions.
An example of felicitous translation is the key phrase un interludiu al acestor întrebări delicate” (O’Neill Teatru II, 1968: 10) for it is the interlude that gently questions” (O’Neill The Plays II, 1982: 5), a case in which the only syntactic difference is the subtle and effective transformation of a verb into noun. As for the few misfires, Comarnescu translates dim by înnegrise’ and aggressively by arțăgoasă’, as seen in examples 1 and 2 below:
1. „how dim his face has grown” (1982: 5) à „cum i se înnegrise faţa” (1968: 10)
2. „so aggressively his wife” (1982: 5) à „ce femeie arţăgoasă” (1968: 10)
In both cases, the choice of the underlined words is infelicitous, since it modifies the subtext significantly: in example 1, dim is meant to connote distance from the paternal figure (loss and regret rather than revulsion) and in the second one aggressively speaks about the engulfing force of feminity that is a hallmark of the main character and is meant as a clue that shouldn’t be lost in translation.
As for the ending of this novel-play, whose rythm is never felt sagging in Comarnescu’s translation, it can be said that the Romanian version captures the full poetry and irony of the life force embodied in its characters. Except for a minor but significant omission of an adverb from Nina’s discourse (example 3), the text is highly coherent and Mardsen’s final lines are extremely well rendered (example 4):
3. „I’m so contentedly weary with life!” (O’Neill The Plays II, 1982: 200) à „Sunt atât de obosită de viață!” (O’Neill Teatru II, 1968:189). In this case, the omitted adverb might have been incorporated through the following phrase: „Sunt sătulă de cât am trăit”, or it could be introduced as a paranthetical indication: „cu mulţumire, „cu un oftat satisfăcut” etc.
4. „God bless dear old Charlie...who, passed beyond desire, has all the luck at last!” (O’Neill The Plays II, 1982: 200) à „Dumnezeu să-l binecuvânteze pe dragul și bătrânul după ce a trecut dincolo de orice dorință, are în sfârșit noroc cu nemiluita!” (O’Neill Teatru II, 1968: 189)
As a text composed mostly of short lines of dialogue and long monologues, Strange Interlude requires the translator to alternate between the brisk tones of everyday speech and the pensive, tortuous line of thinking. The translation undertaken by Comarnescu in the forties meets the literary challenge of the text and can still be safely regarded as a playable text, if its demands could still be statisfied by Romanian directors. Moreover, Pentru Comarnescu had a special relationship with this text, that helped him pass through a most difficult moment in his personal life – the divorce from his wife, Gina – this novellistic drama seeming to share certain characteristics with the Romanian critic’s misfortunes, as his journal indicates:

In these terrible times for me, so as not to go mad, I translated at the most difficult moments O’Neill’s The Strange Interlude, in which I found so many situations similar to those I was going through, although infinitely less infamous, and yet with similar complications (Comarnescu, Jurnal Vol. 1, 2003: 154, my translation).

Like the American playwright, similarly given to understanding the diversity of the world though traveling, the Romanian critic notes that his life is marked by a “dualism of joys and sorrows, of pleasures and ill fortune” and asserts his belief in destiny, which he identifies in one of his diary entries as “a metaphysical reason”, noticing that his “existence is determined by an irrational play of contrary forces” (Comarnescu, Jurnal Vol. 1, 2003: 193, my transl.), a phrase that is reminiscent of Nina Leeds musings on the nature of fate. However, Comarnescu believed in the human personality defined by an “active and rational life, through harmony, measure, balance, tireless aspiration towards perfection” (Vasile Morar in Cristea, 2003: 264, my translation). For him, the work of art was a search for goodness as the ultimate purpose in life and it is on this basis that his understanding of O’Neill’s characters lies:

he suggests that there is a constant in individual and societal life, that requires, ultimately, for the authentic human development to be accomplished through the fusion of the moral substance with the aesthetic phenomenon (Vasile Morar in Cristea, 2003: 264, my transl.).

The Romanian version of O’Neill’s trilogy, Mourning Becomes Electra is the result of a close collaboration between Petru Comarnescu and Margareta Sterian, who both translated the play in the early forties. Apparently, Sterian’s version had preceded Comarnescu’s, hers being accomplished in 1939 at the request of Camil Petrescu - the first National Theater Director to consider staging the trilogy, under the title of Familia Mannon (The Mannons). On the other hand, Petru Comarnescu published a version signed only by himself in 1943, at the Socec Publishing House, and he co-authored with Sterian a second edition (published at Pro Pace, in 1945). While there is no big difference between the two versions, the latter is more complete and polished and therefore more literary, while the differences are minor ones in fact. As specified in the 1943 edition, the great performances given by the National Theater team in Bucharest in the early forties were based on the Socec text. But the question remains: how much had Sterian contributed to the final version, given that both translators agreed to co-sign the 1945 text? Could it be that, in order to obtain the publication rights back in 1943, only Petru Comarnescu could appear as the translator of the trilogy? In a letter addressed to the Romanian critic, Eugene O’Neill seems quite hostile towards Sterian’s undertaking, being disturbed by the fact that she had attempted the translation without his permission. Also, given the Jewish origins of the Romanian painter, she might not have been able to sign the translation published in 1943 even if she had so intended. Therefore, it is possible that a great part of the trilogy’s text was in fact translated by Sterian, who might have also contributed the catchy metaphoric title, thereby offering a felicitous equivalent to the English original – Din Jale se întrupează Electra. Besides the final title, there existed two other versions: Jalea devine Electra (Comarnescu’s early suggestion, an obvious misfire in terms of denotation) and Jalea îi stă bine Electrei (an alternative accurate translation by Margareta Sterian, which is, however, rather verbose for a title). The 1945 edition of the text was reprinted by Comarnescu in 1968, in the collected works of the third volume of the collection Eugene O’Neill - Teatru.
Given the fact that the translation is the result of a collaboration between two intellectuals who were dedicated to examining and conveying the meanings of American civilization, the resulting text is remarkably faitful to the original, with only minor failings. Besides a few colloquialism improperly translated or simply sidetraked, the Romanian text is fully domesticated without departing from the original meanings and formal conception of the dialogue (semantic and syntactic equivalence is carefully preserved). The Romanian tongue in which it was written is naturally sounding, with literary resonances pointing towards the tradition of great tragedy. For instance, Lavinia’s exasperated cry from the last act, Always the dead between! It’s no good trying any more” (O’Neill Teatru II, 1968: 177), could have been rendered neutrally as Întotdeauna intervin morţii! Nu are rost să mă mai zbat” but instead it is translated more emphatically as Mereu reapar morţii! Zadarnică, orice încercare” (Din Jale,1943: 232). Even though the translation pattern by inversion recalls the lines of classical tragedy, adding majesty and emphasis to the statement, it would be hardly suitable in a modern staging of the play, which demonstrates the necesity of a new translation of the text.
All through the trilogy, the translators prove their ability in finding equivalent expressions for the original exclamations (i.e. He’s able, Ezra is!” is rendered by Un om şi jumătate!”), with only rare denotation errors (nervous transalted as nervos’ instead of agitat’), unnecessary additions to the text (the phrase describing Christine, Furrin’ looking and queer is overtranslated as Are o înfăţişare străină ciudată. Mereu încruntată şi supărată’) and occasionally strangely unfelicitous attempts at finding an equivalent familiar phrase (i.e. Orin’s childhood nickname for Lavinia – you old bossy fuss-buzzer – is rendered as boţ cu ochii înlăcrimaţi’ in the 1943 version and as obstrucţionisto’ in the 1945 text - sic!). An interesting improvement on the original text could be considered the translation of Seth’s final assent to Lavinia’s orders (his last two Ayeh-s) as S-a făcut’, so that the concluding word of the trilogy imparts a sense of destiny accomplished, of justice being done (as in the Romanian equivalent phrase s-a făcut dreptate’). By comparsion to the latter version, the former one is lacking certain local references (the Western Ocean or West Point are not translated), indicating that for an early Romanian audience these details of American geography were less relevant. One may notice minor changes to the better that make the 1945 version stylistically superior to the 1943 one. For instance, the syntagm this damned town (1982: 175) was initially rendered as oraşul acesta aiurea’ and later on as oraşul acesta blestemat’.  Also, Lavinia’s indication – Close the shutters and nail them tight (1982: 178) was initially translated as Închide obloanele şi bate-le cu piroane să nu se mai deschidă’ while later the last part of the sentence was replaced by the more accurate and concise bate-le bine în cuie’. To conclude, the final version of the trilogy, reprinted in 1968, constitutes a captivating reading and a possible point of departure for a new staging that would require, of course, a careful updating of the text.[5]

A less demanding but not insignifiant task, Petru Comarnescu’s version of Bound East for Cardiff is a combination of normalizing translation (the various speech types – Irish, Scandinavian, Russian – are rendered in plain Romanian and solecisms are eliminated, see ex. 5 below) and foreignzing (several idioms are rendered word-for-word, ignoring the connotations, see ex. 7, 11, 14). Occasionally, equivalent phrases are found to replace the original colloquialisms (ex. 2, 3). For instance, the meaning of rake” is far from crai”, but only for the irony implied by the Romanian equivalent; sometimes the reverse happens, the term “skypilots” being an ironic designation for what Comarnescu translates more neutrally as feţe bisericeşti”. There are several instances of undertranslation (ex. 9, 13), which decrease the poetic suggestiveness of the text but increase its literariness, purging it of colloquiallisms and jargon. Besides, Comarnescu makes several denotative errors, which could easily be ammended by a careful pruning of the script and by confronting it with the original. These could have occured because of lack of knowledge regarding the original phrase’s connotation, such as blighter -  translated wrongly as căpcăun’ (instead of nătâng’, gafeur’ or încurcă-lume’); but for him =/= pentru el’ (instead of dacă nu era el’); divil may care (adj.) =/= lua-ar dracu’ (instead of nepăsător’, dur’, dintr-o bucată). There also occur several instances when the rythm is felt to be sagging, because of translitteration (i.e. word-for-word translation) or to overtranslation. Usually, however, the meanings are faithfully rendered even if the original intention is sometimes replaced by an equivalent one, with a similar emotional load.  To complement the discussion of the text, Mihnea Gheorghiu’s excerpts from Orientări în literatură and Alcalay and Zamfir’s version of 1957 are useful resources for possible new stage adaptations of the play. In the following lines I have atempted a comparison between the existing Romanian versions of this play, in an assessment mode called stereoscopics (i.e. presenting the existing translated versions side by side and making comparisons between them and with the original).[6]

 Sometimes, Gheorghiu’s less polished version comes closer to the original stylistically speaking although I believe his excessive swearing style is not always appropriate: thus, the interjection Gawd blimey! (O’Neill Plays I, 1988: 490) is translated as Paștele mă-sii’ (Gheorghiu Orientări,1958: 378) in an attempt to approximate the sailor’s vocabulary with that of factory workers, while the other two versions communicate meekness, resignation or lack of vitality: Doamne, iartă-ne’ (Comarnescu 65)/ Doamne, iartă-mă!’ (Alcalay and Zamfir 67). The original exclamation, on the other hand, represents an expression of awe and distress, somewhat less vulgar and more idiomatic, which could have been more properly rendered by Ei, drăcie!’ or Ferească Sfântul!’.
Regarding the overall achievement of Comarnescu and that of the team Alcalay - Zamfir, there occur regrettable dennotation errors to which the translators are ocasionally pushed by the original’s ambiguity and informality. Thus, for instance, a blooming nigger (o afurisită de negresă’) is rendered as o negresă ca o floare’ by Comarnescu and as un boboc de negresă’ by the other translators, while the simile trying to look as wise as an owl on a tree (O’Neill Complete Plays I, 1988: 479) is translitterated by Comarnescu as făcând pe deşteptu’ ca o bufniţă-n copac’ - which sounds foreignizing and inappropriate coming from a sailor, while Alcalay and Zamfir use an equivalent idom that doesn’t misfire: se holba ca o bufniţă şi făcea pe deşteptu’’. Another phrase that  repeatedly confuses the translators is but for him, from the line: and many’s the toime I’d been on a beach or worse, but for him (O’Neill Complete Plays I, 1988: 480, emphasis mine). The translators believed that the content of the undelined words refered to an idiom meaning to have a hard time, while they were obviously ignorant of the exception introduced by the adverb but and mistakenly translated the unit with a meaning of purpose:
à Comarnescu:  “şi adeseori rămâneam pe geantă pentru el” (56, sic!);
à Alcalay and Zamfir: “şi nu o dată am tras mâţa de coadă pentru el” (58, sic!).
On the whole, Alcalay and Zamfir prove the ability to be more concise, which is a virtue in terms of stage translation, while Comarnescu’s version is more faithful to the original and ocasionally overtranslated, as befits a literary translation (see examples 1 and 2, below). Despite these tendencies, it can’t be stated of Comarescu’s translation that it lacks a feel for idioms (ex. 3), while Alcalay and Zamfir sometimes chose to express themselves in less appropriate naturalistic overtones (ex. 4):
1. “Blarsted fatheads” (478) à “Belstemaţilor! Capete de lemn!”  (Comarnescu 54)/  “Dobitocii dracului” (Alcalay and Zamfir 57)
2. “a spindle-shanked gray wiskered old fool” (479) à “un bătrân bezmetic ca acest căpitan cu picioare ca niste fuse şi favoriţi cărunţi” (Comarnescu 55)/ “bătrânu’ ăsta nebun şi mustăcios, cu picioroange de cocostârc.” (Alcalay and Zamfir 58).
3. “’Twas a Christmas dinner she had her eyes on” (478)à “Pusese ochii pe tine  ca să aibă cu ce se ospăta la masa de Crăciun” (Comarnescu 54 - felicitously rendered)/ “Să ştii că umbla sărăcuţa după o friptură pentru masa de Crăciun!” (Alcalay and Zamfir 57 - overtranslated).
4. “His breath was chocking in his throat” (478) à “Răsuflarea i se îneacă în gât” (Comarnescu 55)/ “Îi horcăie beregata” (Alcalay and Zamfir 57).
In Comarnescu’s version (maybe less that in Alcalay and Zamfir’s translation), the accoustic masks of the characters are less individualized, due to his purging the text of untranslatable colloquialisms and dialects, leaving it to the cast to bring their particular talents to the dramatic enrichment of the parts, a feature which was felicitously exploited in the radio versions of the play (which, unfortunately, was never staged in Romania).

In his translation of The Moon of the Carribees (Luna Caraibilor), Comarnescu generally finds satisfactory equivalents for the informal address and the idioms used by the sailors (shrimp = prăpădit’; runt = stârpitură’; squint-eyed = cu ochi zbanghii etc.). The few instances of overtranslation do not interfere too much with the syntactic pattern of the lines, and sometimes creative ways of obtaining equivalence are found (e.g. dhrink rendered diminutively as băuturică’), while the presence of colloquialisms triggers fewer denotation errors than in other translations (e.g. Tis them right enough!  becomes Sunt destule pentru noi!’). A normalizing and communicative translation, this version preserves the acoustic masks of the characters as well as the vocal energy of the text,  as proven by the succesful radio performances of the play.[7]

Another text that was successfully transposed as a radio play,[8] Comarnescu’s translation of Before Breakfast (Înaintea gustării de dimineaţă) reads almost as easily and is as engaging as the original text, demonstrating our critic’s gift for capturing the rythms of dramatic language. His transposition is therefore a successful one, with only minor mistakes regarding connotation (ex. 1), while the rythm and original syntax of the phrases are carefully preserved (ex. 2). The informal speech is also successfully rendered, while the acoustic mask of the only speaking character, Mrs. Rowland, stays faithful to the original (ex. 3):
1. “to make a beast of yourself” (O’Neill Complete Plays I, 1988: 628) à “să te porţi ca o bestie” (Comarnescu, O’Neill - Teatru I,1968: 72)
2. “It’s been nothing but pawn, pawn, pawn with you” (1988: 627)à “Ai ţinut-o una şi bună – să amanetezi, să amanetezi” (1968: 71)
3. “This Helen must be a fine one” (1988: 633)à “Helen asta trebuie să fie o poamă bună” (1968: 76)
As further proof of the continuing validity of Comarnescu’s translation of this play, there also stand the recent performances of the play discussed above, after the year 2000. [9]

Besides the translation of Desire under the Elms, which was not the object of this paper, and yet constitutes one of his greatests acheivements, Comarnescu also translated a few other plays by O’Neill that are less known and were never staged in Romania, such as Ah, Wilderness! and Days without End. These texts remain interesting as reading material yet reflect concerns that are mostly outdated for the contemporary audience. However, reading them alongside other texts from our dramatic literature of those times, one can see how they contributed to sustaining our own playwrights’ efforts. Therefore, Comarnescu’s overall translation achievement remains one of the most impressive contributions a literary critic could bring in order to further the knowledge of a foreign playwright in his own country.


Primary Sources

Comarnescu, P. (2003) Pagini de Jurnal. Vol I-III. Bucureşti: Ed. Noul Orfeu.
---., Ed. (1968.) O’Neill - Teatru, Vol. 1-3. Bucureşti: Editura pentru literatură universală.
O’Neill, E. (1988) Complete Plays (Volumes I-III). New York: The Library of America.
---. (1982) The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (Volumes I-III). New York: Random House,.
---. (1943) Din Jale se întrupează Electra (Trans. Petru Comarnescu). Bucureşti: Ed. Socec&Co.
---. (1945) Din Jale se-ntrupează Electra. (Trans. Petru Comarnescu, Margareta Sterian). Bucureşti: Ed. Pro Pace.
---. (1946) Dramele Mării şi ale Pământului (Ed. Petru Comarnescu). Bucureşti: Ed. Fundaţiilor Regale.
---. (1947) Drame din Marea Dragoste. (Ed. Petru Comarnescu). Bucureşti: Ed. Casa Şcoalelor.
---. (1957) Teatru. 4 piese întrun act (Trans. Alex Alcalay, Sima Zamfir). Bucureşti: Fondul literar al Scriitorilor din R.P.R., Serviciul Drepturi de autor.

Secondary Sources

Bantaş, A., Croitoru, E. (1999) Didactica traducerii. Bucureşti: Teora.
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[1] Since the meaning of many words is determined by their collocations, which are culture-specific, Newmark recommends that cultural expressions should be clarified by equivalents or paraphrasing (especially in drama that doesn’t allow footnotes).
[2] Following Koller, Lederer also offers an extremely useful scheme for evaluating equivalence in literary texts: denotative equivalence (information about the extralinguisitc reality), connotative equivalence (respecting the style of the original, i.e. the language register, sociolect etc.), normative equivalence (conforming with the genre), pragmatic equivalence (adapted to the reader’s knowledge), and formal-aesthetic equivalence (an equivalence of effect).
[3] A sound analysis of the literary qualities of a translation will have to rely therefore on the previous analysis of the stylistic properties of the source text.
[4] I have delivered a paper on the topic at the conference Translation, Semiotics, Anthropology: Transferring Space and Identity across Languages. The paper was entitled “Desire under the Elms: Translation for the Stage by Horia Popescu based on Petru Comarnescu’s Textual Version” (Spiru Haret University International Conference, Bucharest, 2011).
[5] A possible suggestion in this respect is provided by Mihnea Gheorghiu’s convincing translation of a sample of dialogue from this play, appearing in his 1958 critical study on O’Neill from Orientări în literatura străină, pp. 383-384.
[6] See Marianne Lederer’s volume, Translation: The Interpretive Model. The author treats the translator as an interpreter of the text.
[7] Adapted by Nicolae Neagoe in 1991 and directed by Cristian Munteanu.
[8] Adriana Trandafir offered a thrilling performance of this part in the radio adaptation by Leonard Popovici in 1993.
[9] Staged by Crenguţa Ţolea in a coupé show with Aurel Palade’s version of Hughie and presented during the Eugene O’Neill Symposium in 2003 at the National Theater in Bucharest. Beforehand, the play had benefitted from almost no professional staging – although there had been two previous successful “readings” of this dramatic text: Cristi Puiu’s movie of 1995 (awarded a prize at the Lucarna Film Festival) and Radu Apostol’s staging at The Cassandra Studio in 2000. The play was more recently staged in 2008, at Palatul Copiilor in Bucharest, for a limited audience attending a presentation on O’Neill organized by The DIALLOG Cultural Associatio

SOURCE: “Academic Translation as Cultural Challenge: Petru Comarnescu’s Contribution to Eugene O’Neill’s Reception in Romania.” Annales Universitatis Apulensis, Seria Philologica 15/2014.

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