Anne Carson: An Oresteia

March 6, 2009

Speaking of flexibility in translations of drama, probably the only genre with which we find even greater liberties taken with the originals is ancient literatures, especially Greek and Roman. Anne Carson’s translation of three of the great Greek tragedies, then, is a perfect storm of translational infidelity. Win Clevenger’s review in The Brooklyn Rail even refers to “Carson’s language” instead of to the tragedians’:

Carson’s language is simple and direct, in text with elegant line breaks reminiscent of modernist poetry, the emotional rhythms of the speech laid out for the eye. She preserves the rhyme scheme of the chorus’s speech in places, so much so that at times the resulting singsong seems almost silly. Her innovative creation of compound words (“manminded”, “strifeplanting”) is more effective. “A dread devising everrecurring everrembering anger” sums up the three plays in one phrase.

Carson’s stature as a poet, too, probably has something to do with the re-visioning of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides permitted her in these translations. Clevenger calls her “a revolutionizer” and writes,

In freeing the language from the lofty to flowery range in tone of so many earlier translations, she taps into the live-wire shock the plays contain: hatred a force as strong as gravity, memory an anchor that can drag you under. The ponderous pace other translations have laid over the plays is stripped away; you feel the action straining to leap to its conclusion, or, in Euripides’s case, rushing to its inconclusion.

New York’s Classic Stage Company will be staging these translations from March 22 to April 19. They will produce the three plays split between two nights twice during the week, with “marathon performances” of all three on the weekends. Sounds like it should be a fascinating production.


Update: More of our discussions of Carson’s Oresteia here, here, and here.


2 Responses to “Anne Carson: An Oresteia”

  1. […] R. refers in the previous post to Anne Carson’s translations of the Oresteia as a perfect storm of “translational […]

  2. […] the article focuses quite a bit on Anne Carson’s Oresteia, which we talked about below (1, 2). I’ve read a little more of it since then (in the current Tin House – I’m not sure […]

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