Rethinking Memory and Personal Experience
Translation as ‘Witnessing’ and ‘Reflective Pausing’
As Hans-Thies Lehmann states, live performance has the capacity to ‘uncover depth underneath the terror of the surface’ and to provide ‘[a] moment of hesitation, of faltering, reflective pausing’ (2016). Indeed, Transylvanian-Hungarian playwright and theatre maker András Visky is fascinated by locations, encounters and stories that connote a degree of incompleteness and fragmentation, and this paper argues that Visky’s plays invite a critical re-examination of history whilst offering a framework for repositioning personal experience and memory in performance. In the wake of Adorno’s claim that representing historical trauma by aesthetic means is one of the most complex moral and aesthetic questions of our time, Visky proposes the concept of ‘barrack dramaturgy’ to address captivity as a state of being in which we are ‘dislocated from our bodies’, and through which we are invited to explore the potential for participatory understanding (2014). Endorsing Freddie Rokem’s view that ‘theatre can seduce us to believe that it is possible for the actor to become a witness’ (2000), Visky speaks with utmost authority on the topic of history as political volatility, and braids the past with the present through processes of theatrical imagination. In a juxtaposition of Visky’s Hungarian texts and my English translations of his key plays, this paper also reflects on the creative space available to translators, and makes a case for translations needing to be developed with and for their originals, in full knowledge of the source and receiving cultures, but also with a view to their stage potential. Arguing for stage translations that incorporate hypothetical concepts for a future mise-en-scène (cf. Bassnett, 1998), the paper charts further opportunities for ‘witnessing’ and ‘reflective pausing’ as encoded in the translation journey, and situates the translator as a key collaborator in the performance making process.