Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grimm, Haiti, and the Art of Influence

I recently read about a new translation of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, selected and translated by Peter Wortsman and worked from the 1857 edition of the German tales. What makes Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm worthy of acknowledgement--aside from Wortsman's return to "a tincture of concentrated man-eating ogre and ground hag tooth, diluted in blood, sweat and tears, as a potent vaccine against the crippling effects of fear and fury"--is the artwork included, all done by contemporary Haitian artists. This mixing of two cultures may prove to launch a fascinating and unexplored conversation between the text and the world around it, and I am reminded of Jill's previous post about subversion. What does it take to subvert a text (if we even know what subversion means)? In this case, the words hover closely to the original tales (despite the wall that erupts by the very nature of translating) but by coupling them with the artwork of a vastly different culture, does the result offer an altered mode of viewing, understanding, and applying the text? Maybe, maybe not. will the art nurture or twist the text? We'll have to wait until this book is published to see its particular outcome, but the idea lingers.

This consideration also offshoots into the realm of influence. We never tire of the Grimm Brothers' Tales; new translations, imaginings, and adaptations occur left and right and in every medium (movies, television, art, etc.); their presence in Western Culture cannot be ignored. I'm not very familiar, however, with the nature of their infuence in other regions: Asian, African, South American... So to combine the Grimm tales with Haitian artistry not only makes me curious about new readings, but also about the broader issue of who will bear a greater influence on the interpretation of the other?

A few weeks ago I was caught by the headline of the following article: The Most Influential Publisher You've Never Heard of. Influential? So curious to see who! and how! One click revealed a spotlight on Room to Read, an NGO I have followed for some time and have much respect for. I admit I was slightly concerned about what kind of influence they were imparting, but the article describes their work in creating native language children's books. Rather than translating English stories into other languages, they enlist the work and cooperation of local people to write and publish their own stories. "If the books were to work — to make kids read and want to keep on reading — they had to be culturally relevant."  So in what capacity is Room to Read influential then? Certainly not in terms of Western culture through text (like a translation of the Grimms Tales in Nepal might be received... or not) but within the terrain of literacy and education, yes. And in trying to instill a love of (local) language, probably. Influence as a tool ends up taking many different shapes; are some more acceptable, more appetizing, more ethical than others? How do we know?

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