“Language as Path” by Charlie Hilton of Blouse

Charlie Hilton

Blouse

Photo by Brianne Wills

Whenever I read a translated work, I'm embarrassed to say that I only consider the original writer. I can't help myself. Because a translator works from the heart of the author, I only see and contemplate that heart in the writing – just the one heart all by itself, not two. It's not a terrible thing, because mostly that's the idea behind translation. But it's not a good thing either. In overlooking the translator's hand, I've blinded myself to an entire art form, and – ever since attending a lecture by Lydia Davis a few weeks ago – I'm determined never to miss it again.

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Translation is a quiet art that stands extremely close to another, so it's not surprising that I missed it for so long. To borrow Davis's metaphor, the translator creates a veil behind which we should be able to make out the original work, flickering through the gauze. Physically, there are two, but we aren't meant to see both, because one is translucent. But if we were to turn the veil 90 degrees so that nothing lined up, we would make a discovery. Aha! These are two separate things behaving as one, or even better, two separate things behaving as separate things with a shared aura.

Shamefully, I'm just now appreciating the art of translation. I'm in love with its complexity. This isn't just a matter of writing well–this involves deep understanding of a written piece, careful and slow consideration of each word and phrase, and an overall dedication to the style of another. For the translator, there is no clear path, only the jungle that is language, and I picture him or her like a surgeon transplanting a delicate poem from one world into another. He examines it first, because one must know the gist behind language before moving it. Words are only abstractions for things that can't stand still, things like moods and ideas. If the translator's goal is to form a new path of language, it must lead to the very same mood or idea, held perfectly intact. To me, that is magic, that communication could be so flexible, a translation, never absolute. Maybe the secret joy of the translator is that haze, the fact that even the smallest phrase could be reworked, could always become something new, something better, closer, closer still. At Davis's lecture, I got the sense that, if she could only live that long, she would continue refining a translation forever.

So. All of this thinking about language aroused a curiosity in me. I began to wonder how my songs would behave in translation. Would they stand up, just as they are, or would they suffer or even strengthen? I decided to do an experiment. In scientific terms, the thing is completely meaningless, fraught with holes. The only clean thing about it is the fact that it makes a circle. All of its worth is derived from the absurdity of it along with my own enthusiasm for it. Anyway, it unfolds as follows:

I used three human translators, just friends really, and friends of friends. I took a song from our latest record, Imperium, and asked that it be translated to French, then from French to German, then from German to English, completing the cycle. It should be noted that the second and third translators were not privy to the original English lyrics. I guess you could say this song went on a little trip.

Of all the songs on the record, I chose a simple love song, which is dangerous territory. I think I expected some embedded magic thing to be revealed through the process, but what was returned to me read more like a sappy anniversary card (although the line, “you've been playing all season” turned out nicely). But that's not to say this experiment failed. In fact, I couldn't be more pleased! It proved to me once again, just how complex and powerful language is, that is doesn't necessarily stand for something else, but that it is also something in and of itself. From now on, I'm going to pay attention to the delicate nature of translation. The next time I pick up The Brother's Karamazov, I'll be imagining Constance Garnett working carefully behind Dostoevsky, her hands bathed in the cool glow of his shadow.

Thank you to the friends who helped me get this done. If you're curious, you can read the full translation below.

THE ORIGINAL: (Trust Me)

Trust me, I'm the one who loves you.
Trust me, I'm the one who dares.
Trust me, I'm the one who loves you now.
Trust me, I'm the one who dares.

You're in every photograph;
It's the season of you.
It's as if the hour glass had nothing left to prove.

Trust me, I'm the one who knows you now.
Trust me, I'm the one who's there.
Trust me, I'm the one who knows you now.
Trust me, I'm the one who cares.

I knew you when you were down,
and we made it better.
It's beyond a fashion now; I'm tied up in you.

I'd never turn down your request
(If you needed something)
I'd always treat you like a guest
(If you wanted me to)
You'd never have to explain
(When you felt something)

I'd always love you the same.

AFTER FILTERED THROUGH TRANSLATION:

Believe me, I love you
Believe me, I have the courage to tell you so
Believe me, I am loving you now
Believe me, I have the courage to tell you so

You are on every picture
You’ve been playing all season
There’s nothing the hourglass can proof to us

Believe me
I knew when you didn’t feel well
We made sure it would get better
This is more than a whim, I need you

I would never say no,
(if you need anything)
You are always welcome
(if you want to)
You will never have to explain
(whatever you feel)

I will always love you so much

Blouse's Imperium is out now on Captured Tracks.

Spring tour dates:
March
07 San Diego, CA – Casbah*
08 Las Vegas, NV – Backstage Bar*
09 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom*
10 Albuquerque, NM – Sister*
12-15 – Austin, TX – SXSW
16 Dallas, TX – Club Dada*
18 Nashville, TN – Exit / Inn*
19 Birmingham, AL – Bottletree*
20 Atlanta, GA – The Earl*
21 Raleigh, NC – Kings Barcade*
22 Washington, DC – Black Cat*
23 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda's*
25 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom*
26 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall Of Williamsburg*
27 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall*
28 Montreal, QC – Il Motore*
29 Toronto, ON – Lee's Palace*
30 Ferndale, MI – Loving Touch*
31 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle*
April
01 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock*
04 Vancouver, BC – Biltmore Cabaret*
05 Seattle, WA – Neumos*
06 Portland, OR – Doug Fir*
08 San Francisco, CA – The Independent*

* w/ Dum Dum Girls

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