When Beckett speaks Lebanese
“Oh to End” at Mansion examines the work of the Irish playwright: when the end justifies… the translation
The silhouettes are outlined under a twilight-like light, no doubt meeting the wish of the director, Hashem Adnan. The effect forces the audience's ears to take over where their eyesight falls short, and capture the magnitude of every word being uttered. What follows is an outpouring of uninterrupted lyrics, repeated sentences, memories, dialogues and soliloquies punctured by poetic-psychedelic projections across the four corners of the venue.
A kind of hypnosis takes place, due in large part to Samuel Beckett’s texts, marvelously translated into Lebanese Arabic by Dik el-Jinn. The reprises whirl around the eardrums like a dervish reaching a state of mystical trance. The “Oh to End” performance, with Carole Abboud, Hashem Adnan, Saseen Kawally, and the translator, Dik el-Jinn, is built around four short texts from Beckett: “This Time”, “Not I”, “Lullaby” and “Ohio Impromptu”.
Beckett’s metaphysical theater deserves to be read and reread. Thanks to this troupe of artists and Snoubar Bayrout Editions, the work is available to the Arabic-speaking public. In addition to the performance, “Oh to End” includes a series of events: an art installation, roundtable discussions, a translation workshop, which took place on May 4 and 5, as well as a book signing session on May 5 with the translator of “Kayf al-Hal”, the Arabic version of Beckett’s 1961 novel, “How it is”, Snoubar Bayrout’s latest publication. At the event, excerpts of the book were read and a sound installation was put in place.
Dik el-Jinn explains his approach as a translator of literary texts
Dik el-Jinn, who are you?
How did you get into the world of translation?
By chance. When we like a text we retell it to ourselves. Finally, one day, we hear it in another language, and that’s it. In any case, translation, the way I practice it, is perfectly suited to those who are lazy; that is, to those who do not clearly see the glorious aspect of hard work. The luthiers, the copyists, the hakawatis: Belacqua, Bouvard and Pecuchet, Bukhari–that is my guild.
What texts have you translated to date?
Other than Beckett’s latest works, then a bit of his theater work, as well as certain pieces that I secretly made for my own pleasure (I am particularly happy with my Michaux and with a small Mallarme), I started a translation workshop, of which I am, at the moment, the sole resident. We have under way a Lebanese translation of Plato’s “Republic” and later all Plato. We also have the latest “Tractatus” of Spinoza, the “Gospel of Jean” and the “Sayings of Light and Love” of Saint Jean de la Croix (John of the Cross). Each time, we try to create a pattern. So, from Beckett’s existing work we could, if we wanted to, make a Lebanese version of his first trilogy. For us, it is like a done deal. We plan on proceeding the same way with Plato and passim.
What book are you dreaming of translating?
“Shams el-Haqq”, from Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi.
How did you make the choice of the texts for the performance “Oh to End”?
They are touching, small scripts which, for reasons I am unable to explain, always reminded me of people close to me–my grandmother, my mother, myself. Translating them allowed me to no longer commiserate–a painful activity, especially, when you are (as I previously told you), lazy.
According to some linguists, Beckett’s translation requires a knowledge of both his texts in English and French. Do you agree? Why? And how can one make one translation out of two texts?
I do not know these linguists, but I fully agree with them. A masterpiece is a part of God’s spirit that a writer was able to capture with superhuman effort almost. When this writer gives us two copies of this plot, he is then choosing to tell us more about its origin. So, the task of the translator is nothing more than going back to the origin in order to check that there wasn’t also another version left behind (by chance) that could have been written in his native tongue. For us, the slightest indication about the source is precious. It facilitates access; it reduces effort. Between you and I, Beckett had no intention of making it easy on us. On the contrary, with rare exceptions that made him famous, he was hermetic, but very cautious. He hated bad interpretations. So, he used to do unreadable things in two copies.
Benjamin writes that translation is the only plausible reason for repeating the same thing many times. Beckett, whose poetic is based on repetition, finds in rewriting a way of saying, of repeating the same thing, while enriching it. Is this the purpose of translation? Of your approach to translation?
That’s it. I owe Benjamin everything I know about the translator’s task.
What are the biggest challenges of a translation, generally speaking?
I don’t know much about the field of translation other than the one related to literary works.
And that of Beckett particularly?
Beckett did for the soul what the Marquis de Sade did for the bodies: first, we put them in a certain position, very precisely described, and really horrific. Second, we contemplate the result with the same combination of learned attention and exhilaration that the ancient priests offered to their victims during their final hours. And finally, we document. You have to know these things very well in order to translate Beckett.
By translating to Lebanese, you have included some adaptations relevant to the culture of the country, such as the accent or the names of Lebanese villages. And some infiltrations of literary Arabic…. Clarifications?
I translated into my language: Lebanese. I take into consideration all the facets of this language (including what you call literary Arabic, including the Beiruti accents, those of the mountains, of the South, even Yafa and Aleppo, even including the French that you and I are currently speaking), like they were war trophies of the Lebanese language. They belong to us. Anyhow, I consider them mine.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 5th of May 2019)