Translation's Pandemonium

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Why do some words translated English behave differently compared to their usage by native English authors. I take a word invented by Milton in Paradise Lost, and see what happens.

Why do some words translated English behave differently compared to their usage by native English authors. I take a word invented by Milton in Paradise Lost, and see what happens.

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  • 1. ABSTRACTEzra Pound, such a respected figure in translation studies, held John Milton invery low esteem and slighted his efforts at translation which he saw as alwaystrying to ‘make English into Latin’. Milton, I argue, does in fact have an intrinsicunderstanding of the needs and operations of translation and in Paradise Lostcreates a system in which he can test out a whole series of attitudes towards theoperation of translation. Having lost so much by one translation act already, thedevils now out of desperation ‘cling obstinately to the idea that something can begained’. Though Satan proves himself to be an exceptional translator, even he isundone by the process once he assumes it complete and consequently returns to aPandæmonium sunk into pandemonium. Translation, I argue, gains most whenin constant dialogue between “source” and “target” languages; illustrated by thediffering use of “pandemonium” in two different corpora.
  • 2. Ezra Pound’s general dislike of Milton is well documented but in 1916 heattempted to make his ‘yearlong diatribes more coherent’ by listing hismisgivings: ‘[Milton] tried to turn English into Latin; to use an uninflectedlanguage as if it were an inflected one, neglecting the genius of English,distorting its fibrous manner, making schoolboy translations of Latin phrases:“Him who disobeys me disobeys”’.1 Neglecting the genius of one’s mother tongueis assumed by Pound to be an optional pathway, an undesirable and escapablefactor in the generation of “bad” or “schoolboy” translation, and bad schoolboytranslation alone. But doesn’t every translation start with some act of neglect?Irrespective of the merits or capabilities of the individual translator—good orbad, “schoolboy” or learned—surely any reading of a “source” text in its “source”language necessarily demands an initial turning away from the target language,a radical forgetting of one’s origins... “The Locomotion” blasts out of the vast sound system. Pandemonium breaks out as, flanked by a giant blue cut-out wooden train, Kylie steams on stage. ADR 1540 Uranium, plutonium, pandemonium. CR8 2779 . . . holidays. Aha. How is it? Cos it’s pandemonium. Aha. It’s er full of, full of youngsters . . . H56 17 But actually in between, I’d forgotten the in between bit of course is while all this pandemonium’s going on, the neighbourhood didn’t realize she was moving, or perhaps one or two did. KNC 834 . . . from the penthouse bar this evening, while musak thrashed its pandemonium by my ear. Symplegadean ice-cubes clashed in a Scotch sea. HNT 439The word “pandemonium” in current English usage almost always meansroughly the same thing—’utter confusion, uproar; wild and noisy disorder; a1 Ezra Pound, Pavannes and Divisions (New York, 1918), p. 202.
  • 3. tumult; chaos’.2 Operating within this broader sense there’s still some room formanoeuvre, of course, and hopefully the examples given above (all taken from theBritish National Corpus3) will have demonstrated just that range: a disquietingheadline in the Economist about nuclear disarmament (CR8); banal real-lifeconversations dealing with confusing situations at home (KNC) and abroad(H56); the offensively nondescript musak of the penthouse bar in Pea Soup(HNT); an audience whipped up into a frenzy by Kylie Minogue: the superstarnext door (ADR). All hell breaking loose in a variety of ways. The original Pandæmonium was far different. Conceived of by John Milton inBook I of Paradise Lost to be Satan’s residence and the seat of Hell’s own ‘solemnCouncel’ (I. 756), Pandæmonium is a neo-classical construction botharchitecturally4 and linguistically; Pan-dæmon-ium after the fashion of a noblePan-theon. Not “all hell”, then, but a place of representation for all the fallenangels in hell, and not a state of anarchy but a beating heart of government.When Pandæmonium “breaks out” into the English language, it ‘rises in baroquesplendour, with a backward allusion to Ovid’s Palace of the Sun . . . and with anear-contemporary allusion to St. Peter’s at Rome’.5 Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet, Built like a Temple (I. 710-13)2 (2b.) “pandemonium, n.” OED Online, March 2005, Oxford University Press, 9 Jan. 2007<>. The identification of this sense as the ‘usual sense’ inthe OED is only a couple of years old; the second edition makes no such distinction.3 BNC Online <>. Fuller details of the individual works are given in thebibliography.4 Milton’s ‘careful balancing of tradition and individual invention’ is the subject of an article by JamesA. Freeman, ‘“The Roof Was Fretted Gold’”, Comparative Literature, 27 (1975), 254-266 (p. 266).5 Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading, 2nd edn (New York, 2003), p. 140.
  • 4. Such opulence and surface beauty, however, comes at the expense of greatviolence, all be that violence subterranean. Supervised by the demon Mammon,the ‘least erected Spirit that fell’ (679), Soon had his crew Op’nd into the Hill a spacious wound And dig’d out ribs of Gold. Let none admire That riches grow in Hell; that soyle may best Deserve the precious bane. And here let those Who boast in mortal things, and wond’ring tell Of Babel, and the works of Memphian Kings Learn how thir greatest Monuments of Fame, And Strength and Art are easily out-done By Spirits reprobate, and in an hour What in an age they with incessant toyle And hands innumerable scarce perform. (I. 688-99)A reader with one eye on the problems and complexities of translation might beintrigued at the mention of Babel (694), especially given the litany of allusions toearlier foreign-language classical texts that surround and follow this moment—the description of the bustle in Hell (768-77), for example, that apes Virgil’s beesimile from the Aeneid.6 Another careful reader of this passage, lingering overthe phrase ‘ribs of Gold’, might hazard some connexion between the erection ofHell’s temple and the creation of Eve; this passage, after all, follows a graphicallysexualised imagining of Man’s future corruption at the hands of Mammon. by him first Men also, and by his suggestion taught, Ransack’d the Center, and with impious hands Rifl’d the bowles of thir mother Earth For Treasures better hid. (I. 684-88 )In conflating two such readings (the one feminist, the other more typical of astudent of translation) we might have expected to arrive at that well-establishedtrope of Renaissance England; of translation functioning as a predominately6 The construction of Carthage (Aen. I. 430-36), ‘qualis apes . . .’.
  • 5. reproductive exercise and hence perceived of as feminine in nature.7 But Miltonseems to have subverted this commonplace or at any rate thrown it into disarray(pandemonium?); the feminine becomes masculine and it is the mother’s ribs, notfather Adam’s, that are extracted in the creation of the phallic Babel-like edifice.Tropes and commonplaces can in their own way be ‘Monuments of Fame’ (696)—’that which people say or tell; public report, common talk’8—as can the greatworks of literature that equally seem to burrow their way into the heart ofculture by virtue of ‘Strength and Art’. Arma virumque cano. The cannon. Yet nomatter how exalted, these works it seems are always liable to be extracted again,mined and reclaimed; put to some new, possibly nefarious, purpose. The earliestrendering of Virgil in English occurs in Chaucer’s House of Fame (c. 1380), but nosooner has the tale been paraphrased by Chaucer’s narrator ‘Geffrey’ than hebegins ‘to forget that his poem has a source in Virgil (‘Non other auctour alegge I’[314]), and to present himself as the author of the poem.’9 In doing this, Geffreybecomes a “reprobate Spirit” as per Milton’s description. He seeks to acquire forhimself the fame and canonical status that Virgil’s Aeneid—through ‘age’,through the ‘incessant toyle’ of schoolboys and scholars and through the ‘handsinnumerable’ of admiring readers—had been bestowed. In a poem about Fame this is a significant thing to do: Chaucer introduces the idea that Virgil is the poet to be imitated by those who are eager to press their own claims for a place in the House of Fame, but who fear they might belong on its threshold.107 Cf. John Florio in the Dedication of his Essays of Montaigne (1603), ‘So to this defective edition(since all translations are reputed females, delivered at second hand; and I in this serve but as Vulcan,to hatchet this Minerva from that Jupiter’s big brain) I yet at least a fondling foster-father, havingtransported it from France to England, . . .’. Quoted in Douglas Robinson, Western Translation Theoryfrom Herodotus to Nietzsche (Manchester, 1997), pp. 131-32.8 (1a). “fame, n.1”, The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1989).9 Colin Burrow, ‘Virgil in English translation’, in The Cambridge Companion to Virgil ed. CharlesMartindale (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 21-37 (p. 22).10 Ibid.
  • 6. Designated great works, works such as the Aeneid that acquire an embeddedsignificance within their own culture, moreover are seen, whether by thoseinhabiting or existing outside the particular culture, to have occupied an almostperfectly-justified practically organic position in the evolution of their ownlanguage: this allows us to say, for example, that Chaucer ushers in a new age ofwriting English, Shakespeare another, Milton, Joyce... A text in this position islikely to attract the attention of disinterested spectators from other languagesand cultures, yet it is this quality precisely that a text is most likely to lose oncethe disinterested spectator turns translator. The ‘always lost’, then, intranslation is the semelfactive relation between the individual (spoken) work andthe presupposed (unspoken) norms of the source context. Rushdie writes that it isnormally supposed that something in lost in translation. The ‘normally supposed’loss is in fact just that, a loss normally determined. Glosses andanthropologically determined translation may attempt to bridge this divide,teach as much of the source language or culture as deemed necessary to thetarget audience (via footnotes and squared-off brackets) in an attempt tominimise the loss of interconnections. The trade-off with this is a severe loss invitality, essential at least so long as an ideology of spontaneity prevails. Minedgold is not the same as the gold in the mine, nor ever could be; ‘treasures betterhid’. Whatever may be gained from the translation, it cannot be true equivalence.Chaucer may seek to put his name up next to Virgil’s or perhaps even one daysupplant Virgil but surely it is never to be indistinguishable from him. Whatwould be distinguished about that? Chaucer’s “Geffrey” wanted a place in theHouse of Fame and translating the work of a great author from venerable Latininto English (a far more youthful language) seemed to offer a quick smart way in;this is what he gained from translation.
  • 7. Long before the House of Fame now, though, and far removed—in freshly-builtPandæmonium, a house of infamy—Satan meets with his minions to discusswhat strategy to adopt if they are to regain Heaven. All the while as they do so,Milton has operating in the background his own appropriate(d) Virgilianmetatext. facilis descensus Averno; noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis; sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras, hoc opus, hic labor est. 11 (Aen, VI. 126-29)The fallen angels crave respectability, a good name, and so the smear of havingbeen cast down out into Hell is almost as great as the torments they have toendure there, the fire, the darkness, and so on. Their losses are thus heavy, butas Satan is at pains to point out, not everything is lost. Even though they havebeen translated almost out of all significance, and are separated from Heaven bya practically unnavigable and uncommunicating void, Satan, like the author ofthe Satanic Verses, clings obstinately to the notion that something can also begained. For since no deep within her gulf can hold Immortal vigor, though opprest and fall’n, I give not Heav’n for lost. From this descent Celestial vertues rising, will appear More glorious and more dread then from no fall, (PL, II. 12-16)I propose a rereading of the second book of Paradise Lost that sees Heaven as asymbol for the concept of “source language” and that has Hell standing in for theyounger “target language”. The debate on how to reclaim Heaven therefore can11 ‘The descent to Hell is easy, night and day the door to blackened Dis lies open. But to retrace yoursteps and pass on out to the upper airs—there’s the task, there the toil resides.’ (my translation)
  • 8. be read at the same time as Milton’s musings on the merits of differingtranslation methodologies and approaches, and the various possible positionsthat translated literature may assume within the newly-created literarypolysystem.So Satan’s pep talk continues. According to Satan, Hell is not only moredemocratic than Heaven since Hell by definition acknowledges those with adissenting voice and was itself created as a by-product of Free Will; it is also inHell that a king paradoxically finds himself more securely installed, ‘a safeunenvied Throne’ (23) by comparison with the King in Heaven whose seat by fargreater number is far more envied. But such comments are window-dressing forthe main event. we now return To claim our just inheritance of old, Surer to prosper then prosperity Could have assur’d us; and by what best way, Whether of open Warr or covert guile, We now debate (II. 37-42)In favour of outright war is Moloc. His trust was with th’ Eternal to be deem’d Equal in strength, and rather then be less Care’d not to be at all; with that care lost Went all his fear: of God, or Hell, or worse He reck’d not, (II. 46-50)Moloc, who by his own admission is not that good with wiles (51), represents thekind of translator who would never neglect the genius of his own mother tongue(for which read “target language” or Hell). Such is the blind faith he has in hisown prowess that the impossibility of translational equivalence is discounted outof hand; hence all the tools or weapons Moloc imagines to hand are sourced from
  • 9. the environment in Hell, ‘Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms / Against theTorturer’ (63-64). It is an impassioned rallying cry, do-or-die stuff, but the self-deception really knows few bounds. In all but totally ignoring the terms of sourcelanguage, unsurprisingly this approach is somewhat flawed when it comes totranslation; to prove this point Milton has Moloc mistranslate from Virgil.‘Th’ascent is easy then’ (81) Moloch says, because it is what he’d want to hear.The reader would have known however that the original stands ‘facilis discensus’.Belial, whose tongue drips Manna, is the next to speak. He sees the flaws inMoloc’s arguing but himself proposes no course of action more active than thetentative hope that eventually, by developing independently on its own, Hell mayevolve into a ‘purer essence’ (215), as its demons accustomed to the limitationswill grow used to the darkness and the ‘void of pain’ (219). There is no way tochange the content of God’s mind so brother, what’s the point in trying? By thisthinking translation can never gain more than loss, so why do it? Translation isconsidered by Belial as an unnecessary exercise, but Milton descries thisapproach as ‘peaceful sloath, / Not peace’ (227-28). Mammon also counsels peacebut couched in more optimistic terms than Belial which better catches thepublic’s mood, its desire To found this nether Empire, which might rise By pollicy, and long process of time, In emulation opposite to Heav’n. (II. 295-98)This is not resignation, Mammon’s tone is optimistic—and while not so forwardas to propose any actual translation certainly there’s a willingness to asset-stripdevices from the source language in a way that is more sophisticated than merereproduction of them (viz. the masculation of the feminine trope of reproduction
  • 10. discussed earlier). Of all the interlinguistic strategies laid out in Hell, Mammon’swould seem the most likely to yield the Latinate English that Pound and manysince have thought so characteristic of Milton, the uninflected language treatedlike an inflected one. The eventual aim is the full identification with thestructure of the source language, even if this comes with no culturalunderstanding of the source “culture”. Hell, by its very nature, could neverbecome Heaven but it might start to resemble it; Mammon had been chiefarchitect of Pandæmonium whose appearance resembles a pantheon. Mammon isprepared to build up in the language features that may help it grow just as,according to Pound, Milton developed certain linguistic features that assisted thedevelopment of English. Honour where it is due! Milton undoubtedly built up the sonority of the blank verse paragraph in our language. But he did this at the cost of his idiom. He tried to turn English into Latin; to use an uninflected language . . . [etc.] 12 Perhaps Milton was in some a Mammon: certainly both have similar tools attheir disposal; it is as a result of the Fall of Man that the term ‘precious bane’ canstand for any of the classical texts that Milton uses and weaves so deftly andcraftily into his work. Milton’s writing still clearly indicates a need fortranslation proper, and Mammon like Belial in proposing peace shies away fromconfronting a source text head on. What might a source text be in our scheme ofthings? Moloc wanted to translate the entirety of the source language even if thatwas to be at the cost of his own linguistic existence. Futile. A translator needs asource text and only Satan is able to identify what that text might be. TheArgument to Book II puts it most succinctly, The Consultation begun, Satan debates whether another Battel be to be hazarded for the recovery of Heaven: some advise it, others dissuade: A third proposal is12 Pavannes and Divisions, p. 202.
  • 11. prefer’d, mention’d before by Satan, to search the truth of that Prophesie or Tradition in Heaven concerning another world, and another kind of creature equal or not much inferiour to themselves, about this time to be created: Thir doubt who shall be sent on this difficult search: Satan thir chief undertakes alone the voyage, is honourd and applauded.The need for translation is systematic—‘Warr hath determin’d us, and foild withloss / Irreparable’ (330-31)—yet a translation engaging with something moremanageable than the impregnable walls of Heaven. The source text, then, will beMan, created in the image of the source language. ‘Search the truth’—awonderfully deceptive phrase—feigns disinterestedness while at the same timeplotting, To waste his whole Creation, or possess All as our own, and drive as we were driven, The punie habitants, or if not drive, Seduce them to our Party, that thir God May prove thir foe, and with repenting hand Abolish his own works. This would surpass Common revenge, and interrupt his joy In our Confusion, and our Joy upraise In his disturbance; when his darling Sons Hurld headlong to partake with us, shall curse Thir frail Original, and faded bliss, Faded so soon. Advise if this be worth Attempting, or to sit in darkness here Hatching vain Empires. (II. 364-378)Satan sees the genius of his own Empire as being perpetually frustrated unlessthere can be translated literature of some kind; even in its absence translatedliterature occupies a central position in the literary polysystem of Hell, itself“young” and “weak” and on the verge of a literary vacuum (all the three majorcases in which Itamar Even-Zohar imagines translation acquiring this sort ofimportance13). Satan desperately seeks to rescue gain from out loss and, forpoetic justice, by the same mechanism (though reversed) as that which had13 Itamar Even-Zohar, ‘The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem’ in TheTranslation Studies Reader ed. Lawrence Venuti, 2nd edn (New York, 2004), pp. 199-204 (pp. 200-201).
  • 12. generated loss—Satan and his minions were translated out of Heaven so Satanhopes to translate Adam and Eve out of Paradise. In his attempt to translateSatan ventures to go out alone, neglecting his kingdom for a while andabandoning his idiom while on his mission in order to navigate the void whichseparates the two linguistic realms. Despite this, even because of it, Satan’spower never seems greater, nor his kingship more secure, than at the moment hevolunteers to depart from his own language, raised by ‘transcendent glory’ (428). With reason hath deep silence and demurr Seis’d us, though undismaid: long is the way And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light; (II. 431-33)As befits Satan’s status as arch translator, he (unlike Moloc) achieves a perfecttranslation of the Virgilian metatext in these lines. It is at this moment,according to Paul Stevens, that Satan assimilates the reader to his enterprise.14He earns a place in the literary House of Fame. Milton’s Satan is charismatic,appears spontaneous, and is exceptionally gifted in powers of persuasion. He isthe perfect translator, one might almost say, created by Milton to represent allthat sometimes he may have wished yet could not be. As Satan leaves Pandæmonium it is joyously concordant. When he returns,with the proud boast that he has fully corrupted God’s creation, fully translated,the palace he returns to is a sea of hissing serpents and he himself dissolving intoone. It is from this second pandemonium, that of discontent and disorder, thatthe current English word begins its derivation. For what Satan seems to haveunderestimated is translation’s ability to throw up new forms that influence notonly the source text but also the target language; having adopted the body of a14 Paul Stevens, Imagination and the Presence of Shakespeare in Paradise Lost (Madison, 1985), p.117.
  • 13. serpent in order to converse with Man—the form stuck and found itselfreplicated throughout the language system. The gain was Satan expected wasonly the joy in seeing a fellow creation owned, not in any substantial change tohimself. Pound may have dismissed Milton’s skill as a translator but Miltonknew all too well how to change the language in which he was writing, how todistort its fibrous manner, and in distorting both take something away from theoriginal idiom and add to it as well (the sonorous blank verse). It takes atranslation act (which Satan is all very good at) in order to bankrupt his abilityin speech. All translation’s power comes in the dialogue between translated andtranslating, and only in the dialogue can gain and loss be simultaneouslyentertained.The word pandemonium has developed in a certain way in English. It stands outlike a sore thumb because of its length—five syllables—and its unusual –iumending that lends it an either scientific ring (remember the headline in theEconomist, ‘Uranium, plutonium, pandemonium’), or that of slightly comichyperbole. Some range evident in the British National Corpus entries for“pandemonium” but there we find there also an unexpected shortfall of sense. Ofthe 76 entries, only 5 or so use the word “pandemonium” in any situation wherethe stakes are genuinely high, a matter of life and death. In the 90% majority ofcases the word has been domesticated or else feels slightly trivialised. One senseof pandemonium—the original genuinely terrifying warning againstcomplacency—is in danger of being lost forever; the word of being translatedwithin its own language out of all recognition. And yet contrast this with the
  • 14. results that show up in the T.E.C.15 There, 10 of the 15 entries for“pandemonium” accord the word real gravitas and true sense of dread—pandemonium breaks out and there are skirmishes and attacks and wars. Thedecision by these translators (all translating into their mother tongues) to usethe word “pandemonium” had not been wholly governed by the source texts sincethe word “pandemonium”, an artificial construct in English in the 17th century,does not exist in any other language. However five syllable words are rarely lessinfrequent than they are in English and it may be that translators may havebecome desensitized to the foreign-sounding-ness of the word that makes it sopotentially, and erroneously ridiculous sounding. It seems a distinct possibility tome that the translator’s ear and pen can thus be invaluable in helping to keep atarget language “true” to itself. Translation’s greatest gain may be that ofpreventing further loss; of keeping pandemonium from sinking intopandemonium.15 The Translational English Corpus project.<>
  • 15. BIBLIOGRAPHYPRIMARY SOURCESBritish National Corpus, <> ADR : Stone, Sasha, Kylie Minogue: the superstar next door (London, 1989) CR8 : The Economist newspaper (London, 1993) H56 : [Unspecified] Medical Consultations (recorded speech) HNT: Reid, Christopher, Pea Soup (Oxford, 1983) KNC : Guppys Enterprise Club – (invited speaker): lecture/seminarMilton, John, Paradise Lost (London, 1674)Translational English Corpus, < Centres/CentreforTranslationandInterculturalStudies/ ResearchProgrammesPhDMPhil/TranslationEnglishCorpus/>Virgil, The AeneidSECONDARY SOURCESBloom, Harold, A Map of Misreading, 2nd edn (New York, 2003).Burrow, Colin, ‘Virgil in English translation’, in The Cambridge Companion to Virgil ed. Charles Martindale (Cambridge, 1997)Even-Zohar, Itamar, ‘The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem’ in The Translation Studies Reader ed. Lawrence Venuti, 2nd edn (New York, 2004), pp. 199-204.Freeman, James A., ‘“The Roof Was Fretted Gold’”, Comparative Literature, 27 (1975), 254-266/Gentzler, Edwin, Contemporary Translation Theories, 2nd edn (Clevedon, 2001)Hermans, Theo, Translation in Systems (Manchester, 1999).Pound, Ezra, Pavannes and Divisions (New York, 1918).
  • 16. Robinson, Douglas, Translation Theory from Herodotus to Nietzsche (Manchester, 1997).Stevens, Paul, Imagination and the Presence of Shakespeare in Paradise Lost (Madison, 1985).The Translation Studies Reader ed. Lawrence Venuti, 2nd edn (New York, 2004)REFERENCE WORKSOED Online, <>