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Unread 02-01-2018, 11:19 PM
Orwn Acra's Avatar
Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Originally Posted by AZ Foreman View Post
Honestly though I would not trust Richard Burton in, well, anything when it comes to his translation of the Thousand And One Nights. Or anything else for that matter. His version is full of bizarre speculations in the footnotes, inexplicable additions, questionable excisions.
His essay on the sotadic zone is ridiculous, his footnotes spurious and sexualized, his translation not literal--yet his version is the best and in certain ways the most accurate to the spirit of the thing. He understood, in a way that critics of the Orientalists never understood, that the Nights have no center, no definitive edition, no single origin; that to say there are incorrect additions or subtractions is to presume a "correct" version of the Nights, though no such correct version exists, and to engage in the very act of essentializing for which the Orientalists are criticized. It seems far healthier to take a step back and see Burton et al. as providing one more layer to this messy, amorphous story that spans generations and cultures in the same way that Scheherazade adds layer upon layer to her story, embedding one within another.

But I really don't understand the criticism of improper additions. Why is a line drawn between Burton and all those anonymous people who also added their own stories to this concept we call The Thousand and One Nights?
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Unread 02-02-2018, 12:12 AM
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AZ Foreman AZ Foreman is offline
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I don't usually bother myself one way or another with Burton. He's not very useful, I think. Not in the way that e.g. Lyall or Rueckert are.

But I'll say this.

Criticism of Orientalists is greatly overblown, and I have spent a decade being irritated by the kneejerk flagellation they receive. I don't have a problem with the non-literal, or the interpretative. I find the "Politics of Representation" to be tiresome and overrated. In short, I think you're reading into my response a load of pretty heavy baggage, but it is a cargo I have never taken on board and vehemently refuse to transport.

My problem with Burton is his combination of ineptness and disingenuousness. Burton acquired a reputation as a brilliant linguist that appears to have been a little bit inflated. His translations are error-strewn, and when he didn't understand, (and when his friend and collaborator Yacoub Artin Pasha could offer no help) he often seems to have fudged things. Which itself still wouldn't bother me if he'd just owned up to it.

"But I really don't understand the criticism of improper additions. Why is a line drawn between Burton and all those anonymous people who also added their own stories to this concept we call The Thousand and One Nights?"

Probably because Burton himself drew such a line in the way he operated. There is a world of difference between print and manuscript culture, and between print and the semi-oral popular milieu in which the Nights coagulated before being sanitized into good literary Arabic in the redactions.

But I think you misunderstand. I don't really think the job of the translator is necessarily to be a glorified fax-machine. I am without opinion as to whether the taking of liberties, or making of additions, is a bad thing or not, because it really depends on the circumstance. I don't really have much of a problem with, say, Galland fudging an entire story (that of Aladdin) and adding it to the Nights. So successful was Galland that Aladdin is now part of the Nights in every sense that matters. What I have a problem with is the pretending that this is not what he was doing.

Additions and transformations are all well and good as far as it goes. But false advertising is still false advertising. One should be honest about what one is doing. At least in a context where readers are expecting your work to be something other than what you actually did. If you don't do that, then I basically don't trust you. So I see every reason in the world to, for example, tell someone on this board who doesn't know any Arabic that Burton should not be trusted.

If the aim was to add yet another layer of the spiral, the work would have been presented very differently.

"his version is the best and in certain ways the most accurate to the spirit of the thing."

I don't think the Nights have much of a "spirit" per se. I also don't think Burton has very much to recommend him as a story-teller, or editor.

"though no such correct version exists"

This by itself means nothing, or at least it means nothing when it comes to my assessment of Burton. I mean, the point that "no such correct version exists" is also true of much of a good deal of scripture, or of Gilgamesh, or the poetry of Hafiz. I could go on. Anyway, I do think one ought to be honest about the relationship one is engaging in with the texts at hand. There is something horribly deceptive about Borgesian games when nobody knows they're being played.

Last edited by AZ Foreman; 02-02-2018 at 12:14 AM.
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Unread 02-02-2018, 01:47 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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The Galland exerted a significant influence on French literature, coming out at the opening of the C18th, considerably before Burton, or Rueckert for that matter.
Friedrich Rueckert is an interesting guy; Wikipedia notes that Rueckert "was master of thirty languages", and others than Schubert (Winterreise) and Mahler (Kindertotenlieder) set his work to music: "Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms (Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, among others), Josef Rheinberger, Mahler (song cycles Kindertotenlieder, Rueckert-Lieder), Max Reger, Richard Strauss, Zemlinsky, Hindemith, Bartok, Berg, Hugo Wolf, Heinrich Kaspar Schmid, and Jah Wobble." From what I've seen, no edition of his works is in print (partly because of extensive translation in it).

Update: OK, I've figured out part of what gets eaten at present. Any character with a diacritical mark deletes all subsequent text. Rueckert, Bartok did so. I've removed the diacriticals.

Last edited by John Isbell; 02-02-2018 at 01:55 AM. Reason: post eaten
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Unread 02-02-2018, 09:58 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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AZ, I commented because what you said seems to contradict what you expressed in this thread and in particular when you said "Perhaps this accounts for some of the paradoxical modern dislike for literary translations of poetry that in various ways make the reader unsure of whether to admire the translator or the "original" poet or both. We are not equipped to handle or appreciate creativity when it takes the form of adaptation or appropriation of others' work." I realize you were talking about poetry but I think the same applies to Burton who seems to be working in the same tradition, which is what I meant by "spirit of the thing.” I had mentioned the element of deceitfulness in that thread and I don't find what Burton does deceitful--the fustiness of his prose suggests he was going for an unnatural style, one that was very much his own and doesn’t seem to be presented as literal. But anyway you said that deceit is "mostly in the eye of the beholder" so it doesn’t matter. My point about drawing a line around Burton is that many people have added to the Nights; you gave the example of Galland. So why is it a problem when Burton does it? Maybe because you don’t like his writing style or his stories, but that is a different issue. And I don’t see how there can be “inexplicable additions” because such a thing implies a definitive edition against which one could measure the authenticity (not the right word, but will do for now) of Burton’s additions. You are right of course that many religious texts have no or had no definitive version, but that is why so much effort has gone into creating such a thing; I am thinking for instance of the scramble after Mohammad’s death by Uthman and friends to collect and write down the hadiths in standard edition so that corruptions could not occur.

We are in agreement regarding criticisms of the Orientalists. I think even Edward Said came to regret opening that door.
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Unread 02-03-2018, 11:17 AM
Jan D. Hodge Jan D. Hodge is offline
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Thanks, AZ, your comments were most helpful. But I didn't mean to spark a feud on the provenance of the "Arabian Nights." Of course, unlike, say, Chaucer or Boccaccio, or even the Brothers Grimm, where there is an established core text even though many of the stories can be tracesd to other sources, there is no established core text for the Arabian Nights, and in all likelihood some of the best known tales aren't "Arabian" at all. Many, e.g., were introduced by Galland, including Ala al-Din ["our" Aladdin and his magic lamp] and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, which he may or may not have gotten from the Syrian Hanna Diyab; no precedent Arabic text has ever been discovered. And since many of the tales come from folk tradition and many retellings, various versions exist. I suppose that makes them fair game for a range of "translations" and adaptations.

One of the intriguing things about the Sphere, of course, is that one never knows where any post, any topic, may lead.

Cheers, Jan
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