Image: Refugees at Knossos, 1922. Image reproduced with permission of the UN Archives. The original image shows on p. 190 of League of Nations, Greek Refugee Settlement (Geneva, 1926) https://owncloud.unog.ch/s/CnijycaeZtxXsac#pdfviewer
Literature in the Aftermath of the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe: Translation
This is the first of two panel discussions co-organised with the Centre for Hellenic Studies and Aiora Press, concentrating on translation issues: How can we convey pain in another language? What, if anything, remains untranslatable?
David Ricks is Professor Emeritus, King’s College London, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Birmingham. His translations include versions from Cavafy, Sinopoulos, Vayenas, and Ganas, and he is working on a translation of selected short stories by Michail Mitsakis for Aiora Press.
‘The Challenges of Conveying the Underlying Historical Emotions of Trauma’
I will present three challenges involved in translating the Greek text of A Prisoner of War’s Story (1929) into English for a contemporary readership. (i) Can the translation convey the narrator’s horrendous and complex ordeal? In particular, when it comes to the narrator’s words for repeated killings and arbitrary executions, can the translation find the appropriate lexical equivalents? In other words, can the translation convey the underlying historical emotions of the novella? (ii) Can the novella’s intrinsic dual cultural and linguistic element be conveyed? How can we signal the change or mix of language to readers? (iii) Given that the Greek-Turkish War (1919-22) and centuries of co-existence amongst religious and linguistic communities in the Ottoman Empire are still not familiar to many readers, how can this information be conveyed within or parallel to the text? I will use examples from the Greek and the English translation to illustrate.
‘Translating the unspeakable – the language of lament’
Lament is the ultimate example of ‘speaking the unspeakable’. My focus for discussion is how the language of Greek folk laments can be translated into English – and how this language can be understood by the foreign reader. I will refer both to laments proper and to a demotic song about the destruction of Smyrna, which draws on motifs of the laments.
‘Smyrna 1922: Solace through translation’
Kosmas Politis, a witness of the 1922 events, wrote his novel Στου Χατζηφράγκου [At Hadjifrangou] in 1962, on the 40th anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe as a memorial to his much-loved Smyrna. He was 74 years old and had found solace through describing in detail the city of his youth, which now existed only in the memory of those who knew it before the fire.
In 1992, the novel was translated by Osman Bleda into Turkish and was published under the title Yitik Kentin Kırk Yılı İzmir’in [Forty Years of the Lost City of Izmir], which paraphrased the original Greek subtitle of the novel Τα Σαραντάχρονα μιας Χαμένης Πολιτείας.
As a young girl, Gülfem Kâatçılar İren had also lived through the 1922 events which had left her with indelible trauma. She found solace by revisiting the ‘lost’ city of her childhood through the translated novel. She was 77 years old and went on to publish her own memoirs.
The presentation will relate the events as experienced by the young Gülfem and juxtapose her memories with Kosmas Politis’ own recollections. The aim is to highlight that, with Smyrna itself as the main ‘hero’ of the novel, here translation acts as mediator, conveying the shared pain for the lost city and granting solace to the trauma suffered by both sides.
This contribution is dedicated to the memory of Peter Mackridge (12 March 1946 – 16 June 2022), who brought so much to the critical study and evaluation of Kosmas Politis’ Στου Χατζηφράγκου.
Please register here to attend online via Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Gpw17ZNDTyG7ykV5W-cUrA
Wednesday 18 January 2023, 5pm (UK) / 7pm (Greece)
The second session will focus on reception issues and will take place on Wednesday 25 January 2023.