Read at John Carroll University last night. It was a pretty good reading if I do say so myself. We had a full house – extra credit for English class right before finals is quite the incentive. Even so there was a good showing of folks from the “scene”.
Buddy Ray McNiece grabbed mic time when I asked him to read a piece of mine that had been translated for an Italian literary magazine. I read the original poem, he read it in Italian then I read the poem again – this time a translation I produced by dumping the Italian version into the online translator Babel Fish which rendered it back into English. It was an interesting and humorous exercise in interpretation. The piece still bore more than a passing resemblance to the original but there were quite a few differences – the filter of translation did not leave the piece or its meaning unscathed.
Ultimately all poetry, all writing, all communication passes through some sort of Babel Fish filter. What we hear or read is colored by our own experiences, our own definitions of the words we are interpreting - our brains do the rendering, giving meaning to the conglomeration of images offered up. This transmission model of communication recognizes the interpretation of the receiver to be just as important as the original message. One need also take “noise” into account – any extraneous input being received along with the primary message. Noise could literally be background noise, or it could be worrying about what your kid is up to at home by themselves, seeing someone walk past the window, or remembering that you are allergic to lemons anything that interferes with the transmission of a meaning.
It’s a wonder we communicate at all – and there are those who would posture that when all is said and done, we don’t. I believe that some level of miscommunication happens every single time we try to impart an idea into the world. How often have you used the phrase – “That’s not what I meant” or “You took what I said the wrong way?” Have you ever had to explain the same concept over and over to someone and how frustrating is it when that someone just never seems to understand you?
I like to tell my students to try and reproduce instances the best they can – to put all the clues there and then let it go – ‘cause once you’ve put it out there you no longer have control. Don’t come whining to me that your audience doesn’t “get you”. There is an easy explanation for this – once you’ve put your ideas into some public arena your audience is not YOU.
Know what I mean?