Mas­ter­ing the chal­lenges of trans­la­tion in SA

CityPress - - Voices - CHARLES CIL­LIERS charles.cil­liers@city­

Sy­napse An­tjie Krog Hu­man & Rousseau 128 pages R200 rec­om­mended re­tail price

An­tjie Krog will al­ways be an Afrikaans poet, first and fore­most, and any trans­la­tion into English will only be able to cap­ture so much of what she is renowned for be­ing able to do in her mother tongue: test­ing the bound­aries of Afrikaans, cre­at­ing new words and turn­ing the lan­guage into a mal­leable putty of mean­ing, am­bi­gu­ity and trans­for­ma­tion.

With this in mind, Karen Press does well in the trans­la­tion to try to con­vey some of what Krog does best (be­cause so lit­tle of her Afrikaans verse has been made avail­able in English) while, in ef­fect, help­ing to cre­ate a new work that cre­ates its own set of im­pres­sions and re­ac­tions for an au­di­ence in English. It’s in­escapable that the ref­er­ences will dif­fer slightly from those an Afrikaans au­di­ence is likely to re­late to.

But Press does well to play with English, no doubt inspired by Krog’s cre­ativ­ity and vi­sion, such as in a phrase de­scrib­ing a body that “tune­forks with abun­dance”.

In Afrikaans, the col­lec­tion was pub­lished as “Mede-wete” – which means “co-knowl­edge” or “co-con­scious­ness”. In­stead of such a di­rect trans­la­tion, in English, Press de­cided on Sy­napse, a ref­er­ence to the many con­nec­tions of one’s own mind and body as well as those of oth­ers – the core theme of this col­lec­tion.

Krog writes mov­ingly about her fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly the older gen­er­a­tion. She also vividly imag­ines and reimag­ines farm­land and the con­cepts around it, fo­cus­ing on the power it holds over peo­ple and deal­ing with the trou­bles of a racially di­vided and pa­tri­ar­chal past.

Phrases such as “hold your ear to the tear in the skin of my coun­try” are pow­er­ful, typ­i­cal Krog, in any lan­guage. Through it, she re­turns to a sub­ject she knows well and has writ­ten about mov­ingly, the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

She con­cludes that “con­crete bunkers” were built in­side the mind of one of apartheid’s sol­diers – im­ply­ing his crimes against those who were not like him – not white – were driven by his in­abil­ity to con­nect to them, to see them as fel­low be­ings, con­tigu­ous with him­self.

His was a pro­found fail­ure of the synapses.

Through a com­par­i­son of a de­vel­op­ing set of three dif­fer­ent texts, which form a nar­ra­tive trio, first with verses in English, then in isiXhosa and then a trans­la­tion of that isiXhosa, she shows just how hard or even im­pos­si­ble it can be for dif­fer­ent cul­tures to un­der­stand each other.

Nev­er­the­less, she is able to move be­yond some of these trou­bling themes to verses that ex­plore the “mir­a­cle” of our demo­cratic tran­si­tion, though she finds we nev­er­the­less do still let our­selves down “in eth­nic avarice”.

The col­lec­tion is about far more than only pol­i­tics, although her eu­logy for Nel­son Man­dela will prob­a­bly be the poem that will en­joy the great­est longevity – and de­serves to be counted as one of the bet­ter poetic re­flec­tions on Madiba. As you con­tinue with the book, though, a dif­fi­cult mus­ing style comes to dom­i­nate, with long ram­bling sec­tions that do, at least, re­ward care­ful read­ing. It’s heavy go­ing though.

All in all, if you’d like an in­sight into why Afrikaans academia gets so ex­cited ev­ery time Krog writes any­thing new, this col­lec­tion will show you why she is so cel­e­brated.

You could do worse to your own synapses than to lose your­self to these well-crafted words.

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