Assessing the Translator’s Commitment to Polysemy – Dr Karen A Brown
Assessing the Translator’s Commitment to Polysemy: Five English-language Versions of Sonetos del amor oscuro
Whether Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) engaged in sonnet-writing for catharsis or to offer his own contribution to stylistic approaches that had suddenly become fashionable again during the early to mid-1930s, he was neither reluctant nor overly committed to the ethos of self-revelation or to structural rigidity. The poet’s nonconformist urges are simultaneously articulated and silenced, and the silencing takes place within the text itself. Indeed, like some of his contemporaries, Lorca’s classical sonnets structurally contain his reflections on sexual marginality. But while the likes of Emilio Prados (1899-1962) and Juan Gil-Albert (1904-1994) were more explicitly revelatory in their approaches, Lorca opted for maximal disguise. Sonetos therefore functions equally as a work about generalised forbidden love, as well as textual evidence of Lorca’s personal preoccupation with unorthodox sexuality. Silences pervade the source text, as he strategized concealment via polysemy and ambiguity.
Arguing that the translator’s responsibility extends to preserving Lorca’s dual purpose, I look for what Kristine L. Muñoz describes as “instances of language use, especially that which involves silence and the unsaid,” which “make the properties polysemy, ambiguity, and strategy clear and memorable tools for analysis” (2016: 43). This paper discusses the extent to which such devices, employed by Lorca, are evident in the translated text. Extracts from five different English translations of Sonetos will be analysed: Willis Barnstone’s version in Masters of the Spanish Sonnet (1993), renderings by Angela Jaffray included in the Christopher Maurer compendium (2002), Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia Lorca’s collaborative effort (2016), Sarah Arvio’s version in Poet in Spain (2017), and Mar Escribano’s Sonnets of Dark Love (2018).
Dr Karen A. Brown recently completed her PhD in Spanish at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on the poetry of Federico García Lorca, specifically theories surrounding Retranslation and their relevance to the Spaniard’s prolificacy in the English language. Dr Brown is currently based in Oxford, where she works as a freelance translator and tutor.
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