by Filip Łobodziński
Well, none of them. At least the way I see it; the greatest attention to the various levels of any text is paid by its translator. And why, you may ask. Because to translate a piece of prose or poetry and to do it properly and adequately you need to fully understand (and enjoy) the original.
As far as I could judge so far, none of the regular Untold Dylan contributors are currently translators (although one was in the past I believe). If I’m wrong, just correct me and tell me to go somewhere else where I rather belong.
But if I’m right, I assume this is partly why nobody here has written anything about Tarantula. The possible authors either read it and didn’t like it at all or the they didn’t read it (I mean, really READ it) so they don’t have much to say about it.
I translated Tarantula into Polish three years ago. I was even nominated in 2019 for the most important Polish award in translation (I lost but so did three other nominees, still, it was one of the five best translated books in 2018). But I write this not to boast but rather to explain I really had to dig deep into the matter and found some revelatory material there.
Of course, I’m a foreigner to the English-speaking world, to the American culture and spirituality of the Sixties. Therefore I can’t understand each and every possible level of meanings and senses hidden within Tarantula. What I could – and had to – do was to project myself on the text and at the same time to imagine a Polish world of Tarantula, its Polish sensibility, its Polish resonance, its first reason for being translated. To put it shortly, I had to READ it core-deep.
When the publishing house I collaborate frequently with asked me if I could face the task I said, “no”. Not because I didn’t like it. But because I didn’t know it. All I knew was the pusillanimous gossip, ironic hearsay, disdainful remarks by people very proud of their own mediocrity who just “knew better”. I said no because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get through and succeed. And afraid all my effort and hard work would be in vain because nobody would read it. Who needs Tarantula?
Eventually, I agreed because they told me no one else would. I thought it might cost me, maybe, a whole year to do it. I finished my translating job in three months. As I explained later, I’d been in a trance, and that trance was arguably the only reasonable way to say the same thing in Polish. A shot of Tarantula language proved enough. Those who read the original and then my Polish version said later on, I succeeded. Polish Tarantula is adequate, is Dylan-resonating, is in harmony with the original.
Asked to write an intro spur on the back cover, I wrote a pastiche of what waited for the readers inside (here’s my rough translation into English): “reader / at home in a bus on a beach & wherever you may be holding this book / stop wondering if it’s a novel & how t call what you try t read / reader you’re much wiser & bolder than yr habits / tarantula is a spider / tarantula is a trance”.
What struck me when I started a hard job to promote the book all over Poland was that the book really worked when read aloud. The things that seemed enigmatic, confusing or horrible at first sight proved entertaining and funny when they were put into sounds. My friend, an avant-jazz clarinettist even planned to record his improvs around my Tarantula readings. Perhaps one day we’ll do it. All in all, people looked incredulously into the book but they immediately queued for it when they heard it read. (It’s the best way to absorb poetry, by the way – to read it all by oneself, aloud).
But what was really revelatory was its content, as I saw while translating. Maybe Tarantula is a bit outdated nowadays in America but it really sounds very up-to-date in Poland. In 1966 when it was mainly written, in 1969 when it was “booklegged,” or in 1971 when it finally came out officially, we were still deep in the gloomy reign of so-called communism where life was stable, dull (or tragic at times) and very quiet, with a quietude of a concentration camp. People loved and hated, were born and died, worked and bought food but had just three newspapers, three radio and two TV channels to choose from (and each and every one sold the same bullshit). We didn’t know all that media hullabaloo and political racket you Westerners ate each morning for breakfast.
What I’m trying to say is Tarantula is so rich, vibrant and cacophonous that it resembles the modern world. It arguably IS the modern world. The way the words climb on each other, their hasty running hot on each other’s heels, their chaotic hubbub – ain’t it just like the day you go into a shopping mall? With so many different musics coming from each shop, meddling and mixing into an end-of-the-world soundtrack? Ain’t it just like the night you surf the Internet among hyperlinks, headlines, pop-up ads and news, each one pretending to be the most important?
The abundance of people, creatures, objects of desire and of repugnance, factitious fictions and fictitious facts, figures, proverbs and off-the-cuff quotes within Tarantula is overwhelming. It may not be the book you like or want to return to. It certainly is not something we would talk about had Bob Dylan not written outstanding songs before publishing it. But it is not gibberish. There’s much more to it than meets the common sense. (Neither our world nor Tarantula observe the rules of common sense).
For me, Tarantula is a photograph of our world. And if somebody translated it into Polish back in 1972 it would not have been understood at all, nobody could have grasped its warning. I was lucky and happy to be able to do it in the last weeks of 2017 because then I knew what I was dealing with.
You can read about Filip’s work on the “Untold Writers” page.
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