Senadin Musabegović: The Maturing of Homeland

Senadin Musabegović
COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

This Is Not a Translator’s Note, This Is Worse
than a Confession

Having already invoked René Magritte and Miroslav Antić in the title, allow me to go even further and borrow a device from Italo Calvino: You may think you are reading a translator’s note, but you are, in fact, not.

I am a translator by dint of the fact that I have translated these poems by Senadin Misabegović. Yet in doing so, I have broken almost every written and unwritten rule of translation. I did not translate into my native language, but rather out of it. I did not do so because I assessed them as valuable contributions to a broader body of work illuminating war and post-war literature in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allows a glimpse into a world just beyond the iron curtain and into the depths of the most horrifying conflict in Europe since World War II. I have no doubt the poems achieve all these things, but I never had the slightest intention of being objective when it came to Senadin Musabegović’s writings. And I broke the cardinal rule of translation: I did not translate these poems so that they may be understood by anyone other than myself. There was nothing altruistic about my endeavour. It was entirely personal.

If you would look closer at our respective biographies, you would see that Senadin Musabegović and I were born ten years apart, but it may well have been ten light-years. Like others from my generation, I only felt the vague aftershocks of what Senadin Musabegović’s generation fully experienced. These aftershocks left me feeling disoriented, so I embarked on a quest to find out where they were coming from. I started with technical reports on the destruction, witness accounts, political and philosophical treatises, as well as sociological and anthropological analyses. All these were useful, but despite often delving into the deeply intimate, they could never communicate the intangible aspects of experience as poetry can, and as I found Senadin Musabegović’s poetry does. I needed to know what it felt like to be a member of Senadin Musabegović’s generation. To be raised in the spirit of “brotherhood and unity” only to see it disintegrate into a bloodbath. To serve in an army only to have it turn against you or your comrades. To narrowly escape totalitarianism only to be crushed by nationalism. But most of all, I needed to know what it felt like to live all those indistinguishable everyday moments in-between and find beauty in them. To stare death in the face while making love at the same time until you can no longer tell which is which. And to come out of it all in an explosion of creativity that characterises this generation.

Something is always lost in translation, and in this case it was the translator’s oversight. So you are really not reading a translator’s note. I cannot be your guide through the poetry of Senadin Musabegović. I cannot tell you what it felt like. You will just have to experience it for yourself.

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