Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Call for submissions: Portuguese Interpreting/Translation Conference

The Translation Center and the Masters Program in Translation Studies at UMass Amherst will be hosting a conference on Portuguese translation in Amherst, MA on April 18-19, 2009.

The organizers are looking for presentations on a wide range of topics within the field of interpreting, translation and the Portuguese language. Their especial interest is the connection between professionals and academics in the field.

The conference will have a special student panel for graduate students to present their work.

Proposals may be sent to Elena Langdon, treasurer of the Portuguese Language Division of the American Translators Association:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

eXchanges, Icelandish, Freeman on -eth

eXchanges, the University of Iowa’s online journal of literary translation, will be accepting variations on the theme MIRRORS & MASKS for their spring 2009 issue until March 20, 2009. Short stories, novel excerpts, literary nonfiction, and poetry are all welcome, as well as critical essays on translation.

To be considered, submissions must include the original source text as well as the translation; biographies and photos of both author and translator; a short note on the process of translation; and permission for online publication for both languages. Submissions should total no more than ten pages in length. Electronic submissions -- which are strongly preferred -- should be send as .doc attachments to Direct paper submissions to eXchanges, Bowman House, 230 N. Clinton St., Iowa City, IA, 52242, U.S.A. The editors do accept simultaneous submissions; however, they ask that submitters inform them if work is under consideration elsewhere.

The Fall 2008 issue, ROOTS & BRANCHES, is online at the journal's website. Browsing through, I saw work from Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and Hindi, but, having recently fallen in with the writing of Halldór Laxness, decided to check out the Icelandic poem "morðsaga" by Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir, given in German as "moritat" by Kristof Magnusson and as "murder story" by Þrastardóttir's English translator Bernard Scudder.

The title phrase "morð-saga" can be easily seen to mean "murder story," without having to clean off much of that phonetic and orthographic grime that accumulates over time on cognates, in much the same way that that sea corrosion builds up on cannons sunk with a ship-wreck. Oh, but let us be cautious of cognates -- I have in mind the admonition of translator Cola Franzen: that when rely on cognate meaning, we run the risk of ruining the tone of our version. Good advice indeed; but as readers of parallel texts we should be able to relax our vigilance against seeming sameness and faux amis, and have a little fun picking out the connections. As we can with the triplet wafer-thin / hauchdünn / næfurþunnt . Apparently "næfur" corresponds to "wafer" -- that's neat!.

It is thrilling to see clean kinship between English, German, and Icelandic, to feel part (as a native speaker of English) of an extended family of lexical relations. English: Don’t you think? German: Findest du nicht? Icelandic: Finnst þér ekki?

In today's Globe, Jan Freeman picks up the theme of linguistic cousins in a related (!) way: "Same for run the gantlet instead of gauntlet: The word was gattlopp in Swedish, but it was mangled the moment we borrowed it, almost 400 years ago. Does it really matter which spelling of the French word for "glove" we use to represent it today?" Ha, I laughed aloud; a point for Freeman again literary pedantry. Precision can be pretentious as well as useful. (Finnst þér ekki?) Elsewhere in the same column, Freeman expresses admirable irritation, admirably restrained, toward the use of verbs incorrectly conjugated in the Elizabethan way. She uses the occasion to preacheth tolerance of linguistic change, a cause we would all do well to support with our various energies. While not forgetting that there is a difference between change and degeneration, and that tolerance of the former should not admit comfort with the latter. Ah, but, like, who shall judgeth?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Abusive tendencies of translation

'Translation is something akin to vivisecting a ghost,' James Stotts tells us in the new issue of the literary journal Reconfigurations. "An analysis of translation, then, would be like the shadow cast by a ghost—pale indeed." Not in this case; Stotts is erudite and informative in this account of reading a clutch of dense lyrics (on the theme of goldfinches) by Osip Mandelstam. Stotts writes:
The problem with translation is that both decent and opportunist professors, both earnest poets and career hackwriters conventionally approach the translation of a body of work as some conquerable task, as if the poetic achievement of Mandelstam could be taken on and achieved again by proxy. Even good writers usually seem to be at their worst as translators. Mandelstam’s own appraisal of translation seems fairer: translations should be tools for approaching the original poem in its original language. The other half of the equation is the use of translations as an alternative mode of poetic production: simply a plagiaristic method for writing poetry. That would allow for the abusive tendencies of all translation, in a way that exposes and counters the apologetics of bad translators. It would also demand the same kind of struggle toward linguistic mastery in English that Mandelstam concerned himself with in Russian. A poem not only draws on its language, but creates new possibilities for it as well, and so a translation must also have that creative, dynamic feature to be worthwhile.
Stotts, a writer and photographer, is translating for a selected poems of Marina Tsvetaeva forthcoming from Whale and Star Press. His "invisible shotgun anthology" of Russian writing" includes such masters as Afanasy Fet, Sergei Esenin, Joseph Brodsky, and, yes, Mandelstam.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Love of Translation

I'd like to follow-up on Nora's post last month about the NPR featurette on translation, by directing readers to a more extended commentary on the conclusion of that show over at the blog of translator Erica Mena. Over at her Beneath Sense blog, Mena elevates the discussion of translation out of taxonomy and into urgent necessity:
[Translation] is both a science, in the sense of languages being a science, and an art in the sense of creative writing. This bridge that literary translation creates between the critical and the creative, the objective and the subjective, is what perhaps initially drew me into its practice. But it is more than a science and an art, it is and has to be a love.
Emphasis mine. In the same port, Mena recalls her burgeoning devotion to this lovely artful science:
I was told in one of my first translation workshops with renowned poet and translator Martha Collins that there aren't very many young literary translators. It seemed odd to me at the time that any craft would have much to do with the age of its practitioners. But it occurs to me that perhaps it has something to do with that requirement of love. As a creative writer, the love I hold for my own work is somewhat selfish - it's hard to get real distance from it, to separate it from my intentions and emotions. As a translator, the love I bear for the work I'm translating is significantly different. It's not that I don't feel intimately attached to the work - I certainly do - possessive sometimes, proprietary over the original. But that to devote yourself, your creative energies, entirely to someone else's work requires a kind of selfless love that comes with perspective and time.
Too often, in seminars and in discussion with publishers, is lost the vital urges, the devotion and passion, which brings us to literature and which we in turn take from it. My appreciation to Erica for reinforcing the heated feeling beneath the cool surfaces of les belles-lettres.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pat Holt, with a wail: Where's all the translation?

Pat Holt, long-time book critic for The San Francisco Chronicle and publisher since 1998 of the estimable book industry column Holt Uncensored, is gobsmacked that more works in translation aren’t published in America. Among the results we suffer, she observes, are a culture a-wither in the confines of literary imprisonment (my paraphrase – but you can see that she’d agree), and a publishing industry suffering by cutting themselves off from an obvious source of new talent:
Wouldn’t any publisher consider it a plus if a prospective assistant editor came to the job interview with a reading fluency in at least one foreign language? During college the candidate could have studied the classics in that language, traveled in that country and read all the promising modern authors. If hired, the new editorial assistant could comb through the foreign country’s publishing lists, acquire advance copies, investigate the U.S. market for prospective works in translation and write up Readers Reports that would be reviewed by a senior editor. This would be good training for the editorial assistant and it would sure breathe new life into an industry struggling to match the literary demands of the world.
Incisive criticism and insightful advice. An example of how this advice can succeed in application is the good idea David Godine had when he picked up Chercheur D’or at a foreign book fair, commissioned a translation, released it on the English-language market at The Prospector, and enjoyed a healthy kick in sales when Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize this year.

To acknowledge the other obvious example at the moment: Farrar, Straus and Giroux can't have any complaints as it keeps on publishing best-selling translations of what seems like Roberto Bolaño's entire ouevre, one after the other, in a feverish single-file congo line of doorstop opus epics of Latin American literary imagination. In Spain, in Germany, in Brazil, in Russia, lurk all kinds of authors, some as accomplished as any of the laurelled Anglo-American set, others as talented as Bolaño and as unknown as he was ten years ago. The oil's there, publishers, so why ain't ya drillin'? As we have learned is important in such endeavors, you better get there before someone drinks your milkshake. Not everyone's asleep: Dalkey, Godine, Open Letter, and Tameme have all got their bendy straws in place.

Holt goes on in some detail highlighting the benefits to be gained if American publishers were to engage a larger portion of international literature; her post is well worth reading in its entirety, as the first of three things she’d love to see (that is, that she’d love to see occur in American publishing). We wait, breath bated, for the third.

Among the many noteworthy points Holt relates in the making of her case:
-a Nobel Prize judge observes that American writers and publishers are too insular
-the NEA literature director describes the decline of published books in translation “a national crisis”
-the chair of PEN’s translation committee concludes that such monoglot practices “prevent authors from reaching readers anywhere outside their own country”

Many thanks to C.M. Mayo for pointing out Holt’s return to commentary on the ALTA mailing list. Mayo is the founder of Tameme, Inc., a California-based nonprofit devoted to the promotion of Spanish-English and English-Spanish translation. You can learn more about that outfit and about Mayo herself at her blog, or by checking out this recent interview in Saint Ann’s Review.

Monday, November 24, 2008

NPR Feature on Translation

This weekend on NPR's All Things Considered, Rick Kleffel briefly discussed the difficulties and pleasures of translation. Kleffel focuses particularly on the difficulties of translating cultural elements from one time and place to another. For example, on translating 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni into English for the first time, Italian translator Bea Basso realized: "All of a sudden I was a translator of gestures, traditions, customs, ways of behaving even — how many kisses do you give to people when you enter a room." In translating Gargantua and Pantagruel, Burton Raffel met the same difficulties: "Rabelais, the author of this very strange book, ends the chapter with a sputtering iteration. I believe it's something like 43 different words in French for s- - -," says Raffel. "My problem was finding 43 different words because English is not so plentiful in these things."

Listen to a clip of the radio piece or compare different translations of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Translating Procedural Poetry

When K. Silem Mohammad came to read with Christian Bök at the De Young Museum, we discussed at length how one could possibly translate his sonnegrams. If you recall, KSM's sonnegrams are more or less line by line anagrammatic poems written from Shakespeare's sonnets. I had been somewhat dismayed by some Italian translations of Google-sculpted poems by Gary Sullivan, which were just reproducing the meaning of the poems in question (mind you, I can read Italian, but I don't really know the language). The translator had basically worked from an artifact, rather than try to recreate a certain moment of writing. Of course, had the translator written the translation by simply entering the translation of the search terms into the Italian version of Google, he would have gotten a wildly different poem. But is it that bad?

My problem with such translation is that it treats more or less the poem as a communicative object. The poem as artifact has something to say. As Walter Benjamin wrote in "The Task of the Translator," translations will always be read under the shadow of their originals, but it does not entail that shadows have to be dull. And so, what is interesting about procedural poetry (Oulipo, flarf, some Language poetry) is not so much what they have to say but rather their gestures and their mechanics. The semantic acrobatics are icing on the cake.

What I proposed to KSM was to take a translation of Shakespeare (in French) and apply to it similar permutations to the one KSM operated on the English text. As KSM put it, it's writing a new poem out of a constraint/procedure. Which in itself is what poetic translation tends to be anyway, writing a new poem within the constraints of a foreign-language text. (Note that I am not planning right now to translate Kasey's sonnegrams)

KSM thought this was somewhat of a novel way of translating, but it's not really. In The Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry (ed. Mary Ann Caws), we find the following poem by Michelle Grangaud, "Isidore Ducasse comte de Lautréamont" (at least the first stanza):
méduse l'auditoire mets sac à côté nord
et mise du crocodile dans ta mare ouest
démode du croissant au court à demi est
toast à taire consomme le décideur sud
sors ta mince camelote du désert oui-da
monte maturité à la corde cuisse de dos
If we had just translated the poem word for word, sentence by sentence (the way Georges Hugnet translated The Making of Americans), this is what we would have gotten:
mystify the audience place bag on the north side
and stake of the crocodile in your western puddle
old-fashioned croissant on the eastern court and a half
toast to shut drink the southern decider
show your narrow crap from the oui-da desert
increase maturity to the rope thigh of back
Like the French, it's still funny and nonsensical, but Grangaud is an Oulipian and the poem is a repeated anagram of its title coupled with the structure of sestina. Here is the translation that Paul and Rosemary Lloyd did:
I am more cursed at close a dent outside
a sluice meet roused a distracted moon
some toadies direct moat clause under
o I must care seamed a rose tinted cloud
lo our coast master educated me inside
so tailed mouse can't deem dour ice star
The translation here in term of gesture is more faithful to the original. Nevermind meaning, there wasn't any to begin with. However, I am not saying this should necessarily be the way to translate procedural poems. This translation is still problematic, in that it is syntactically more correct than its original, for example (there is almost no syntax in the original).

Another interesting translation of procedural poetry is Cole Swensen's work on Pierre Alferi's Kub Or. The original text:
au lieu de moquer marquise
me font vos yeux beaux mourir
penser images secondes
arrangement d'étourneaux
qui vont à la ligne haute
tension battre le flip-book
et revoir le mouvement

And as translated in OXO:
rather than mocking marquise
of your eyes so beautiful
die i think frames per second
the arrangement of starlings
aligned on the high tension
wire shuffles the flip-book
and revises the motion

Alféri's original is 7 syllables in 7 lines in conversation with 7 photographs by Suzanne Doppelt. What is so admirable about Swensen's translation is that she manages to keep both the structural constraints of the original, but also the dialogue it establishes with the photographs.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The fundamental problem of truth.

Once, during rehearsals, Stanislavsky told an actor: "You can act well. You can act badly. Act, as you please. I am not interested. It is important to me that you act veraciously."

The problem of truth is primary in the perilous business of translation. There are ever-present battles between those, who argue that a translator should be as close as possible to the original, and those, who say that literary translation is not all that literary if it does not alter the original. Frequently, both fall into pits of their own creation – the former produce unreadable transmissions and the latter create something that resembles the original only in name. Literary translation, as acting, should be veracious, and thus cannot be either/or, it has to be both, literary and honest to the original.

Sarah Glazer in her 2001 essay "Lost in Translation" implicitly makes a strong case for such translation by evaluating the current English version of "The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir. The “founding text of modern feminism” has been inaccurately translated, to the point of distortion, by a person who was least qualified for such an exercise - a biologist with no background in either feminism or philosophy. Albeit a result of a misunderstanding, this work gave English readers a wrong impression of the author, whom they now see as an “incoherent” and “sloppy” thinker, and destroyed the philosophical merit of the treatise. More disheartening is the fact that the publisher refused a request by Beauvoir's literary heir, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, to re-translate the work. Thus, the book will remain in its current version and those who wish to read the actual written word of the founding feminist will need to learn French. Perhaps, the argument for verity in “The Second Sex” has more merit – it is crucial to be precise in a work that operates with philosophical concepts, which don’t appreciate misinterpretation. However, Sarah Glazer, addresses a very prominent problem in translation as a whole - frequently, translators are either not part of the world of writing, or confuse the exercise of translating with that of creative writing, or both.

Recently, I have been trying to find “Master and Margarita” for a friend of mine. As you know, there are currently 3 versions of the novel available. I have done my research, and have to admit that Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation is the best. I know, they are accused of monopolizing the market of Russian translation, but the other two versions took liberties with the text that I cannot forgive. I think this team has the fundamentals for "veracious translating" – a native speaker of Russian, a native speaker of English (both literary gifted) and a degree of honesty to the original that is rare.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged that... Americans don't read international authors.

As Jane Austen famously--wryly--wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Mimicking Austen's syntax--and perhaps her dry irony--Motoko Rich of the New York Times writes "It is a commonly held assumption that Americans don’t like to read authors who write in languages they don’t understand."

Fortunately, as Rich notes, some Americans do read authors who write in languages they don't understand. Or, at least, some small American publishers like Boston's David R. Godine--who published Nobel Prize winner Le Clézio--put the work out there for us to read.

In her article "Translation is Foreign to U.S. Publishers," Rich cites Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who observes, quite rightly, that the "U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

Similarly, Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director at Gallimard-- Le Clézio's French publisher--is at turns baffled and aggravated by American literary isolationism. She explains that “American publishers are depriving the American readership of the cultural diversity through translation to which they are entitled. It is what I call the poverty of the rich.”

Three cheers then for the small publishers like Godine, Dalkey Archive, Archipelago, Graywolf, Zephyr Press and Open Letter, who heroically publish works in translation, despite small budgets, poor promotion, and little attention from the American media and reading public.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

2008 Nobel to French Author

Today's New York Times reports that the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is French author J.M.G. Le Clézio. His 1985 novel Le Chercheur d'or was translated into English by Carol Marks, and published this year under the title The Prospector by Boston's own David R. Godine publishers. Boston translation FTW.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Americana in Arabic

Juan Cole, at the Dept. of History at the University of Michigan, is developing a non-profit project to translate classic works of American thought and history into Arabic. Such editions rarely appear; when they do, they are often abridged or not long available before going out of print. A poor distribution system for Arabic books and the scarcity of public libraries compounds the problem, the project website reports. The project authors write:
We have therefore begun a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively. We are also subventing their distribution. We seek funding from the general public as well as from foundations. [...] Among our main goals, which we think are distinctive, is the formation of a large corpus of Americana in Middle Eastern languages, maintaining them in print and available inexpensively, and ensuring continued distribution and availability.
Interested persons may join an e-mail announcement list.

نحن الشعبThe image shown is the cover of a bilingual edition of The Declaration of Independent and the Constitution of the United States, published by the Cato Institute. Many nations have certification standards for translators and intepreters whose work involves legal documents. Who is responsible for translating the foundational texts of government? When we consider the vasty oceans of legal ink spilled by pols, pundits, and attorneys as various interests dispute the compacted meaning of, say, the privacy clause, we have to wonder what standards are in place to ensure that the vagaries of translation don't proliferate constitutional confusions.

Bord na Gaidhlig

The Herald reported a few months back on the resignation of Scotland's Bord na Gaidhlig chief of development, Kenneth Murray. The Bord na Gaidhlig is the Scottish cultural organ charged with the continued life of Gaelic, the native language of the area and on of a family of languages that includes Irish, Welsh, and several more minor – oh, how could they possibly be more minor? – continental tongues. It would be a taxing position for those deeply and fully committed to the language, never mind an outsider in the field as Murray apparently was.

Commissions such as these work to avoid the complete death of a given naturally learned language (learned from being spoken in the home) and to stop it from becoming an inactive language (meaning that it would be known, but only in the way that Latin is now known). According to UNESCO, ten languages die out every year, a recently-arrived-at and alarmingly high rate: 'Europe’s colonial conquests caused a sharp decline in linguistic diversity, eliminating at least 15 per cent of all languages spoken at the time. Over the last 300 years, Europe has lost a dozen, and Australia has only 20 left of the 250 spoken at the end of the 18th century. In Brazil, about 540 (three-quarters of the total) have died out since Portuguese colonization began in 1530.'

Is it a (write it!) disaster that these languages go extinct? Or maybe it is better to ask, what is the implication of their demise for the rest of humanity? There are those who would argue – I might be among them – that greater pluralities of languages allow for a greater variety of conceptions, that implicit in a language is the structure of a culture's conceptual thinking. More practically, we lose what there was of humanity contained in the texts of these languages: historical texts, myths, verse, and what might be called theosophy. This is why translation is so important.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Comp Lit Roundtable and Lecture at Boston University

Dr. Haun Saussy, Bird White Housum Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University, will be presenting a lecture entitled "Of Course It’s Not Strictly 'Comparing,' But Does It Matter What We 'Compare'?", on
Thursday September 25, 2008, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm in room 326 of the College of Arts and Sciences classroom building at 685 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.

The next day, Friday September 26th, the Boston University Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature will be hosting a roundtable discussion on comparative literature, featuring Bonnie Costello; Laurence Breiner; Margaret Litvin; Jeffrey Mehlman; Stephen Scully; J. Keith Vincent; and Haun Saussy. The discussion will be held from 2 – 4 pm, in room 106 of the Kenmore Classroom Building at 565 Commonwealth Avenue.

Both events are co-sponsored by the Humanities Foundation at Boston University.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

E.g., "Dimplings Warmed in Water Gas "

Dan Pritchard, of The Wooden Spoon and The Hub, directs our attention to what is either a moment of richly reflexive ironic commentary on our pig-idiot monoglossia or a simple error in machine translation. Dan's nota bene itself begs for translation: "Flarf is like motorcycles, they're everywhere!"

The scenario. A restaurant in China, anticipating a large potential dinership with the arrival of the Olympics in Beijing, seems to have used a software program to translate its name into English. The result: a lime-green banner above their entrances, with their Chinese name on the left, and on the right, the words "Translate server error."

Perhaps they mean "server" here to mean "waitperson," and are simply highlighting the ability of their staff to transform mistakes in table service into amazing dining experiences. Perhaps not. The photo shown here comes from the collection of Flickr user tenz1225.

Similar gaffes can be found at the Flickr group Bad translations -- mauvaises traductions -- traduzioi brutte. Through BT-MT-TB, I came across a link to an altruistic outfit operating under the name Signs In China. According to their About Us page, this group of volunteers comprises "some professors, students, and friends of the Beijing Foreign Studies University." They "invite every English-speaking visitor, expatriate, and Chinese-English bilingual to join us in correcting mangled English signs and improving the use of English in China."

Theirs is a laudable linguistic mission, but it brings them into direct conflict with clubby groups like Chinglish that curate a Flickr gallery of confused signage. Who shall prevail? The pure-hearted pedants with their pails of white-out and sense of purpose? Or the snickering connoisseurs of corrupt marquees and menus? The ancient battle continues.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Rub: To Sub or to Dub?

Professor Abe Mark Nornes of the University of Michigan has recently published a book that examines the confounding dynamics of film translation, called "Cinema Babel: Translating Foreign Cinema". Donald Richie's review of the book opens the door for some productive questions. For example, are audiences best served by translations that follow the rules of the original language (and all of its cultural implications) or should a translator's aim be to make a film accessible to his target audience by employing the rules of their language? 

My question is, how much is lost when one chooses one method of translation over another? I frequently encounter translations that do not do the original film justice. Many times the problems of translating are closely tied to the culture associated with the target language. I have a very specific example in mind from the "Shrek" movie.  I have watched this film in the original English and in two versions of Spanish: Spain-Spanish and Mexican-Spanish.  In the original there is a scene where Donkey is excitedly rambling on to Shrek about having a sleep-over, he says, "...and in the morning, we'll make waffles!" In the Mexican-Spanish version there is a bizzare translation, that makes any native speaker laugh: "...y por la mañana, haremos tamales!" For those of you that do not know, tamales are corn cakes that are usually filled with meat and cooked while wrapped in either corn or plantain leaves. I assure you that they have nothing to do with waffles. I don't think that they are usually a breakfast item either. Why that particular translator chose "tamales" I will never know, but it does add a significant layer of comedy in Spanish, that previously did not exist. The Spain-Spanish version is much more faithful to the original idea: "y por la mañana, haremos gofres". Gofres are definitely waffles, but I assure you that they are never a breakfast item in Spain, as they are usually sold in the street covered in chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Had I to translate for Spain, I would have said churros, which are basically crunchy fried donut sticks that you dip in coffee, and are universally loved by all in the early hours of the morning. 

I am an avid watcher of foreign cinema, and I must say that, personally, I prefer subtitles to dubbing. I feel that subtitles are less intrusive, and afford you the singular opportunity of experiencing a film in the richness of its original language. It's not everyday that I can hear a sustained conversation in Farsi, or Finnish, and I relish those opportunities (especially if I can get an inkling of what is being said through some well-placed subtitles). I recently had a conversation with a Spanish friend about dubbing. For a very long time, dubbing has been the order of the day with foreign films and TV programs in Spain, though, happily, that is now changing. She felt really cheated of the opportunity to learn English through TV, like so many of her friends had in other European nations that do not commonly dub. 

Really, so much is lost when things are dubbed, from the opportunity to know a specific actor's voice and intonation, to the experience of hearing the cadences of a language that is not your own. 

Friday, July 04, 2008

eXchanges, the University of Iowa's translation e-journal, is seeking submissions

Tradition and innovation, introversion and extraversion, osmosis and photosynthesis, phylogeny and divination, family and friendship...

eXchanges will be accepting variations on the theme ROOTS & BRANCHES for our fall 2008 issue until October 24, 2008. Short stories, novel excerpts, literary nonfiction, and poetry are all welcome, as well as critical essays on translation.


To be considered, submissions must include:
Both the original and the translation
Biographies and photos of both author and translator
A short note on the process of translation
Permission for online publication for both languages
Submissions should total no more than ten pages in length.

Electronic submissions are preferred.

Please send both original and translation as .doc attachments to

Direct paper submissions to eXchanges, Bowman House, 230 N. Clinton St., Iowa City, IA, 52242, U.S.A.

We do accept simultaneous submissions; however, please inform us if your work is under consideration elsewhere.

For more information please visit eXchanges at or email

Friday, June 06, 2008

Adam Zagajewski wins the 2008 Milosz Prize

Polskie Radio news reports that Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet, novelist and essayist who teaches at the University of Chicago has won the 2008 Milosz Prize. The prize, established by the United States Embassy in Poland is "given to persons who have made outstanding contributions to the development of the Polish-US cultural dialogue and contacts".

Below: Zagajewski's poem "Autumn"


Autumn is always too early.
The peonies are still blooming, bees
are still working out ideal states,
and the cold bayonets of autumn
suddenly glint in the fields and the wind

What is its origin? Why should it destroy
dreams, arbors, memories?
The alien enters the hushed woods,
anger advancing, insinuating plague;
woodsmoke, the raucous howls
of Tatars.

Autumn rips away leaves, names,
fruit, it covers the borders and paths,
extinguishes lamps and tapers; young
autumn, lips purpled, embraces
mortal creatures, stealing
their existence.

Sap flows, sacrificed blood,
wine, oil, wild rivers,
yellow rivers swollen with corpses,
the curse flowing on: mud, lava, avalanche,

Breathless autumn, racing, blue
knives glinting in her glance.
She scythes names like herbs with her keen
sickle, merciless in her blaze
and her breath. Anonymous letter, terror,
Red Army.

In other Polish poetry news, Valparaiso Poetry Review features an essay on Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Chinese Literature reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

My last blog post concerned the cult figure Li Yang, advocate of "Crazy English". To rectify somewhat that focus on the idiosyncratic and bizarre, I'd like to mention a few new works by Chinese authors mentioned in this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Jonathan Spence reviews Mo Yan's Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, published by Arcade and translated by Howard Goldblatt. Spence writes:

"At one level [...] “Life and Death” is a kind of documentary,
carrying the reader across time from the land reform at the end of the Chinese Civil War, through the establishment of mutual-aid teams and lower-level cooperatives in the early and mid-1950s, into the extreme years of the Great Leap Forward and the famine of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and on to the steady erosion of the collective economy in the new era of largely unregulated “capitalism with socialist characteristics.” At the novel’s close, some of the characters are driving BMWs, while others are dyeing their hair blond and wearing gold rings in their noses.

Yet although one can say that the political dramas narrated by Mo Yan are historically faithful to the currently known record, “Life and Death” remains a wildly visionary and creative novel, constantly mocking and rearranging itself and jolting the reader with its own internal commentary. This is politics as pathology. From the start, the reader must be willing to share with Mo Yan the novel’s central conceit: that the five main narrators are not
humans but animals, albeit ones who speak with sharply modulated human voices. Each of the successive narrators — a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey — are the sequential reincarnations of a man named Ximen Nao, as determined by Yama, lord of the underworld."

Meanwhile, Aventurina King writes on loved / reviled Chinese pop novelist Guo Jingming. King writes:

Thousands of teenagers — his readers are rarely over 20 — flock to Guo’s signing sessions. Some post frenzied declarations of love on his blog: “Little Four, I will always be with you!” (Guo’s nickname comes from “fourth dimension war,” a random quotation he found in a magazine.) Alongside adoring letters
addressed to “Big Brother Guo,” the author posts pictures of himself half-naked in the shower, in his underwear or swathed in Dolce & Gabbana accessories and Louis XIV-style shirts.

Guo is hardly universally beloved. Last fall, he was voted China’s most hated male celebrity for the third year in a row on Tianya, one of the country’s biggest online forums. Yet three of his four novels have sold over a million copies each, and last year he had the highest income of any Chinese author: $1.4

The most critically acclaimed Chinese novels of recent years — “Wolf Totem” (a parable about the death of Mongolian culture and a veiled critique of the Cultural Revolution), Yu Hua’s “To Live,” Mo Yan’s “Republic of Wine” — generally use their characters as vessels for broad social and political commentary. But Guo’s novels focus on the tortured psyches of his adolescent characters, who either nurse their melancholy by sitting alone for long hours under trees and on rooftops, or try to blunt it with drinking, fighting and karaoke.

In addition, Liesl Schillinger writes on Yan Lianke's Serve the People! translated by Julia Lovel, which she describes as a "bluntly drawn, mildly erotic fable" banned in China. Francine Prose reviews Wang Anyi's The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Pankaj Mishra discusses Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

China's Elvis of English

In a recent article, the New Yorker reports on cult figure Li Yang whose "Crazy English" -- a bizarre blend of ideology and slick marketing scheme -- has set itself loose upon China in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

Evan Osnos writes: "China intends to teach itself as much English as possible by the time the guests arrive, and Li has been brought in by the Beijing Organizing Committee to make that happen. He is China’s Elvis of English, perhaps the world’s only language teacher known to bring students to tears of excitement. He has built an empire out of his country’s deepening devotion to a language it once derided as the tongue of barbarians and capitalists. His philosophy, captured by one of his many slogans, is flamboyantly patriotic: “Conquer English to Make China Stronger!”"

Li's idea of English is a strange one, to say the least, inextricably linked to ideology; the implication is that with the power of English you can gain prowess in the workplace, attract a trophy mate, and excel in all kinds of ways. These tantalizing promises have their appeal, of course. Osnos writes that "Li’s cosmology ties the ability to speak English to personal strength, and personal strength to national power. It’s a combination that produces intense, sometimes desperate adoration." Thousands flock to his sessions and, according to publisher's statistics, millions of his books and audio products have sold.

Unsurprisingly, Li's pedagogical methods are unconventional at best and bolster this myth of English as a uniquely powerful tool. His 'Crazy English' involved yelling. (Osnos provides the example of doctors brushing up on their English for the Olympic Games shouting after Li: "I! Would! Like! To! Take! Your! Tem! Per! Ture!" to what Osnos images would be the consternation of their patients.)

The fees Li charges for arena-filled sessions and private group meetings are extortionate and all his commercial efforts reveal the work of a savvy marketeer and demagogue. As Osnos writes, "Li’s name adorns more than a hundred books, videos, audio boxed sets, and software packages, such as the “Li Yang Crazy English Blurt Out MP3 Collection,” which sells for sixty-six yuan—a little more than nine dollars—and his motivational memoir, which costs twenty yuan." Osnos playfully adds that the original title of Li's memoir, I Am Crazy, I Succeed "used a word that implied “I Am Psychotic, I Succeed,” but the publishing house rejected it."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Polish author Magdalena Tulli reading at BU

The Polish novelist and translator Magdalena Tulli will be reading at Boston University's School of Management on May 1st at 7 PM. Her novels include Dreams and Stones and Moving Parts. The American novelist Lawrence Weschler will also read, and the two writers will discuss their work. Following the reading and discussion, there will be a release party for the new issue of Agni literary magazine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eshleman wins Academy of American Poets award

From the AAP website, "CLAYTON ESHLEMAN RECEIVES THE 2008 HAROLD MORTON LANDON TRANSLATION AWARD": The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce that Clayton Eshleman has been chosen by the poet and translator Jerome Rothenberg as the recipient of the 2008 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Mr. Eshleman is being recognized for his translation of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007). This is the second time Mr. Eshleman, who as been translating Vallejo's work for over 45 years, has won the award; the first time was in 2001 for Vallejo's Trilce. The Harold Morton Landon Translation Award is given to the best book of poetry translated from any language into English published in the previous year, and carries a prize of $1,000.

Fast, good, or cheap: pick any two.

Writing for The Smart Set, Jessa Crispin uncovers the shocking rationale for the relative dearth of literature in translation (emphasis mine):
I decide to skip the translation panel I had planned to attend after lunch. The London Book Fair had declared this year’s market focus the Arab World. This meant two things that I could tell. One, instead of just hideously overpriced stale pizzas and soggy sandwiches, you could also now find hideously overpriced Middle Eastern food. Two, at every panel, some publisher had to himself on the back about the increased sales of works in translation. In reality, however, translated works now make up approximately four percent of books published in the English-speaking world, instead of the previous three percent. Whenever a representative from an Arabic publisher stood up during the Q&A section to ask why, if there’s so much interest in translated literature, more literature is not translated, he is answered with awkward silence. “Translation is expensive,” is a general answer given, once someone on a panel realizes no one is going to volunteer to speak first.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gander's translations in NYC

On Saturday, May 3rd, PEN America is sponsoring a panel titled "The Art of ranslation" at the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th St., at 4 p.m., a reading and discussion with Forrest Gander on the Mexican poet Coral Bracho, Fanny Howe on the Polish poets Henia and Ilona Karmel, and Stephanie Sandler and Genya Turovskaya on the Russian poet Elena Fanailova. Eliot Weinberger will introduce the event. Tickets are free to PEN and PSA members and NYU students or $5 at the door. This event is being cosponsored by Poetry Society of America, Zoland Poetry, and the Creative Writing Program at NYU.

From the PEN America site: "[Gander’s] translations include No Shelter: Selected Poems of Pura Lopez Colome (Graywolf), and (with Kent Johnson) two books by Jaime Saenz, The Night and Immanent Visitor, which was a finalist for the 2003 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Gander’s translations of Coral Bracho’s poems, Firefly Under the Tongue, will be published in spring 2008."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poetry's Translation Issue Podcast

Hear some of the poems from Poetry's April translation issue at the Poetry Foundations podcast. First, reads "Our sweet companions -- sharing your bunk and your bed" by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Sasha Dugdale, who notes that, perhaps Tsvetaeva had been reading Pushkin's narrative poem "The Gypsies" or had otherwise been momentarily yearning for a nomadic life.

Hear a poem by Swedish "retrogardist" (akin to Neo-Formalist) poet, Håkan Sandell. The Translator, Bill Coyle, claims that Sandell does not enslave himself to the past, but gives himself the resources to plunder from tradition at will. Sandell's "Poetry rejoices..." reflects on the universality of poetry that transmits itself across geographic space--"on the Faroe Islands, over rendezvous on the Champs-Elysée [...] over Japan, over Korea"--and also across time, "over arts refined over a thousand years." Poetry, here, even transcends form, and is found in the arts of swordmanship and drinking tea.

Borges on writing (Norton Lectures from 1967 and 1967)

Excerpts from the 1967 and 1968 Norton Lectures given by Jorge Luis Borges can be heard here.

Amongst other things, Borges discusses how French literature, although great, is too self-conscious. Preconceiving one's characters, Borges argues can lead one to "labor under illusory problems."

Borges' advice to writers: tamper as little with your own work as possible.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Amsterdam World Book Capital 2008

Oh how I'd love to be in Amsterdam at the end of May when the city holds the UNESCO World Book Market. There will be over 1000 book stalls set up and a program of events, including publishing and author sessions. In connection with the event, the Amsterdam Public Library will hold an exhibition called Amsterdam in Words, which will feature authors who have written about Amsterdam. In June, Amsterdam will hold the Congress of European Booksellers, organized by the European Booksellers Federation and the International Booksellers Federation.

In Memoriam: Robert Fagles

The great translator, poet, and teacher Robert Fagles died at age 74 on March 26, 2008. His translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey were published in the '90s, and his Aeneid followed in 2006.

In an interesting video interview 2003, Fagles discusses how he originally "fell into" the classics and translation while he was an undergraduate at Amherst. He recalls his early love for Lattimore's translations and how learning Russian head him towards translation. Fagles affectionately quotes Auden's description of translation as "Braille for the blind".

Each new translation of a classic work, he claims, is a different performance, with its own nuances and foregrounded elements. In his own translation of The Odyssey, he attempts to bring across Homer's "single ruling imagination". Homer, he claims, is "the great conceiver."

Friday, April 04, 2008

Translations from Asia

This month's feature on Words Without Borders: China:

"As the world looks to Beijing and the 2008 Olympics, we present a national women’s team of writers to guide us through the richly sedimented and often contradictory layers of the current Chinese psyche. Against the background of contemporary China—where modern business harks back to historical trade, economic growth introduces the painful reality of layoffs, the Cantonese dialect asserts itself against Mandarin, and an argument for the one-child policy takes a peculiarly feminist twist—characters run from social and cultural pressure, fight to support extended families, and dive into unrequited love. Huang Yongmei, Liu Sola, Sheng Keyi, Wang Anyi, Wang Ping, Ye Mi, and Zhao Ying introduce us to the humor, pathos, and great complexity that is China today. Our great thanks to guest editor Hu Ying for allowing us this glimpse below the new China’s gleaming surfaces."

On the Words Without Borders blog, Anne Ishii also briefly notes the curious absence of Asia in a report of recent translations read at the Columbia Grad Student Translation Conference, and published at Context. Ishii writes that, "the real kicker of the survey was the curious absence of statistics on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Thai and Vietnamese translations." As a side note, I would like to announce that Boston's Pen & Anvil Press intends to publish an anthology of Japanese poems in translation in the next year or so.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Translation Panel at Boston University

Come meet professionals from fields including textual translation and legal, educational, and social services interpreting, at a panel discussion entitled FOUND IN TRANSLATION: INSIGHTS ON TRANSLATION AND INTERPRETING FOR A GLOBAL AUDIENCE on APRIL 14, 2008 at 7 PM in Kenmore Classroom Building (KCB) 101.

Representing a variety of languages, signed and spoken, panelists will present students with a taste of the work they do and the important role it plays in a diverse society.Sign language interpreters will be present, and refreshments will be served. More information, including list of participants, is available at the website of the sponsoring organization, the BU undergraduate Linguistics Association.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Three Percent's 2008 Translation Database

Chad Post at Three Percent has been doing an excellent job putting together a database of books of fiction and poetry translated in 2008. He updates the list regularly and writes capsule reviews for many of the titles. I strongly recommend taking a look if you are interested in picking up some new translations. Chad also has an interesting analysis of 2008 translations so far in terms of language and publishing house. The list of titles is by no means complete, so the data will not be 100% accurate, but here are Chad's findings for 2008 so far:

French: 26 titles (14.7% of total)
Spanish: 19 (10.7%)
Arabic: 17 (9.6%)
German: 16 (9.0%)
Russian: 12 (6.8%)
Italian: 8 (4.5%)
Hebrew: 7 (4.0%)
Chinese: 6 (3.4%)
Japanese: 6 (3.4%)
Portuguese: 6 (3.4%)
Swedish: 6 (3.4%)

Unsurprisingly, Europa Editions and Dalkey Archive have been responsible for the greatest number of publications in translation this year, followed by Melville House, FSG, Harcourt, Penguin, and Archipelago.

These results will undoubtedly change a lot as the year progresses.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Announcement: Translation conference at Rutgers University

Conference on Translation at Rutgers University

April 3-4, 2008, Teleconference Room, 4th floor, Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue.

With a lean and varied format—1-1/2 days, all sessions plenary—the conference will explore translation as a real-world activity in political, legal and commercial arenas, as well as a vital discipline in the academy.

Translators from New Jersey State law courts and the field of dubbing, and renowned theorists and scholars will come together in public dialogues, roundtables and panels to consider translation in the dimension of culture, institution, and theory. This conference is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

Fore more information, see:

Announcement: PAUL CELAN FELLOWSHIPS for TRANSLATORS 2008/2009 at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna


The program supports East-West, West-East and East-East translations of classical texts and contemporary key works in the HUMANITIES and SOCIAL SCIENCES as well as in the field of CULTURAL STUDIES.

Paul Celan Visiting Fellows will be invited to spend 3 to 6 months at the IWM in 2008/2009 to pursue their translation project while working in residence at the Institute.

The fellows will receive a stipend to cover living expenses, travel, health insurance and incidentals.

They will be provided with a guest apartment, an office with access to e-mail and internet, in-house research facilities and other relevant sources in Vienna.

DEADLINE for applications is April 11, 2008 Please refer to the website, "Fellowships", to learn the details of the application procedure and materials/documents required.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sixty-Six: The Journal of Sonnet Studies is now available

I am very excited to announce that the inaugural issue of Sixty-Six: the Journal of Sonnet Studies is now available for purchase.

Of particular interest to Pusteblume readers are the sonnets in translation and accompanying essays on translating. Stephen Tapscott, a fine scholar, poet, and teacher at MIT, has submitted original translations of Frederico Garcia Lorca's sonetos del amor oscuro and a short, intriguing essay on these darkly delicious Spanish sonnets. There are also several sonnets by Francesco Petrarca, translated skilfully from the Italian, with an accompanying essay, by Christina Mengert. The Spring 2008 issue of Sixty-Six also features translations of poems by the German poet, Herbert Eulenburg, and--delightfully--a translation in English of a Polish translation of a poem originally in Hungarian. I would recommend you get your hands on a copy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stephen Marche on Alain Robbe-Grillet's death and the repercussions for Eng Lit

On February 18th, 2008, the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet died. Grillet spearheaded the "nouveau roman" movement in France in the 1950s with his essays on reinventing the novel. Robbe Grillet saw conventional novelistic techniques (read: plot, character, narrative, ideas) as horribly out-dated and focused, instead, on the individuality of objects. The resulting work was highly stylized, "art" literature. The novels rarely interest contemporary readers; Robbe-Grillet is primarily read for his ideas on novel-writing. And his ideas, as such, have become rather unpalatable as writing moves back (if it had ever truly moved away) towards the structural architecture of the 19th Century novel.

Stephen Marche at Salon sees the backlash from Robbe-Grillet-style avant-garde writing towards realism and traditional novelistic structure as a source of stagnation in English writing (why he doesn't consider consider French writing more thoroughly, though, is puzzling). While Marche admits that Robbe-Grillet was "a great champion for the innovative novel," he believes the inaccessibility of Robbe-Grillet's work led to a literary backlash. "After him," Marche write, "literary innovation, experiment with form or anything mildly unconventional came to be seen as pretentious and dry, the proper domain of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys and nobody else."

Marche continues:

English fiction in the wake of Robbe-Grillet has become a deliberately
old-fashioned activity, like archery or churning your own butter. He
represented, through his status as cultural icon of the avant-garde, an entire
generation that turned literary experimentation into self-involved blandness. In
the '50s, writers like Nabokov could produce "Pale Fire" or "Lolita" and feel
themselves part of the mainstream of literary culture. After the '60s, after
Robbe-Grillet, anyone who experimented in fiction was being consciously
marginal, or at least countercultural. Thomas Pynchon(Nabokov's student) removed
himself in the most dramatic way; Nicholson Baker is another, quieter example.

Robbe-Grillet not only convinced a generation of talented novelists
that there was something vulgar about attracting a popular readership but also
lost the war he undertook to fight; the reaction against him was so much
stronger than the revolution. It is entirely appropriate that six months before
Robbe-Grillet died, James Wood became the principal literary critic at the New
Yorker. He is the master and commander of the forces of archaism. Whenever I
read a James Wood essay, I feel like I'm entering an oak-paneled club where I'm
forced to put on a tie and turn off my cellphone.

At the core of Wood's appeal as a critic is not an idea or a program
but a prejudice, a leaning, that the novel is essentially a nineteenth century
form. This prejudice came out most clearly in his review of Monica Ali's "Brick
Lane," where he argued -- and I don't think he's wrong -- that the book's
strength and appeal derive from inhabiting a pre-modern perspective. We live in
a world where divorce does not necessarily result in ultimate personal disaster.
Ali's characters do live in such a world and therefore they, and not we, make
better characters: "Adultery has withered as a fictional theme because it drags
such little consequence behind it nowadays." "Nowadays" is the quintessential
Wood word. There is more than a faint tinge of moralism in his nostalgia: You
should not want to recognize yourself in novels because characters like you are
not fit for them. Wood has made himself the opposite of Robbe-Grillet. He
instructs us in the maxim "make it old."

Now it seems that Marche's argument has slid, quietly, from Robbe-Grillet to Wood. Marche is as discontent with what he terms the "ultraradical" (embodied in Robbe-Grillet) as he is with the "willfully archaic." What he wants, of course, is good writing that is not trend-driven. Good writing, ideally, is driven by both stylistic beauty and the quality of ideas. If one of the two is lacking, the work is rarely memorable.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reviews and news

Just a quick round-up of news and reviews of translations that have appeared this month:

-- Thomas Mallon at the New York Times Sunday Book Review reviews a new collection of three short works of fiction by Irène Némirovsky.

-- Benjamin Lytal at The Sun discusses new translations of Kafka, focusing on Metamorphosis and Other Stories translated by Michael Hofmann. Lytal remarks on how Hofman brings out the humor in Kafka's writing. As Lytal observes, the "new Kafka is funny — as David Foster Wallace pointed out in his essay "Laughing with Kafka" (1998), he is often much funnier than American students give him credit for."

-- Words Without Borders is examining contemporary Lebanese writing this month.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Nooteboom's Lost Paradise

I'm all set to read Cees Nooteboom's Lost Paradise, which has just come out in English translation. Nooteboom shares with Harry Mulisch the somewhat back-handed accolade of being one of the few heavy-weight Dutch writers known outside of the Netherlands. One reason his prose works well in translation is that it is a prose of ideas, rather than style alone. The esteemed J.M. Coetzee reviews Susan Massotty's translation of Lost Paradise in a recent New York Review of Books and places Nooteboom in the international realm of letters:

Nooteboom has a reputation as a postmodernist, not only in respect of his
fictional procedures, where he has plainly been to school with Vladimir Nabokov,
Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, but in his sensibility too, cool,
intellectually sophisticated, ironic. He may come from the dark, heavy north and
speak a northern tongue but his heart, he implies, lies in a brighter, lighter
south (he is a devoted Hispanophile). He is a son not of Germany, whose high
peaks and dark forests breed in the soul dangerous metaphysical yearnings, but
of the commonsensical Low Countries. Even from the Dutch he keeps a critical
distance: for example, his 1984 novel translated under the paradoxical title In
the Dutch Mountains criticizes the complacency, greed, and hypocrisy of his

Perhaps that is what most appeals in Nooteboom--his resistance to provincialism; he is concerned more with manipulating ideas than with the dreary, fixed details of time and place.

The novel's story is (perhaps undesirably) fanciful, influenced by Rainier Maria Rilke's poetry as Coetzee sees it and, more directly, as I see it, by Wim Wender's film Wings of Desire. I won't go into plot summary here since Coetzee does a thorough job.

Coetzee also has this to say about Massotty's translation:

Massotty's translation of Lost Paradise reads fluently. Some of that fluency comes, however, at the cost of precision. Nooteboom is a careful
prose stylist of a notably philosophical bent. In a book concerned so centrally
with questions of dying and living beyond death, it is remiss to write of
someone who is burning with curiosity that he is "dying of curiosity," of
someone who is crying out to be seen that she is "dying to be seen," and of
someone who has one question above all to ask that he is "dying to ask"

I would imagine his judgment is likely to be valid since Coetzee is, himself, a fine translator from Dutch and appears to know a thing or two about Noteboom. His slim translation of the work of Dutch poets, Landscape with Rowers, includes a poem by Nooteboom. In his collection of criticism, Stranger Shores, Coetzee has also written on Nooteboom.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sabotage et Clavicule, a new bilingual journal

Claire Trevien, the editor of the journal Sabotage et Clavicule, is working to launch une nouvelle revue poetique. She seeks submissions from French to English or from Anglais to Francais, as well as essays and reviews concerning literature and translation. Work from visual artists will also be considered for this online magazine. Fully half of the publication will be dedicated to new poems by French poets under the age of 30. Submissions may be sent to her attention at SabotageEtClavicule[at]

Autumn Hill Books

Dan at The Wooden Spoon lets us know about Autumn Hill Books, which is briefly featured at 3%. AHB is a small non-profit press in Iowa, loosely connected to the international writing program there, 'whose emphasis is on making fine translations of primarily contemporary literature from around the world more widely available in English.' Chad writes, 'Overall, this is one of those presses that more people should know about, and their forthcoming title Laundry by Suzane Adam sounds intriguing.'

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reading in Kolkata

The lauded annual Calcutta / Kolkata book fair is cancelled this year. This would have been the 33rd year of the festival, which features throngs of people and hundreds of stalls of books in Bengali and English. With no book fair to go to, a disappointed attendee decides to take a literary tour of Kolkata instead. He then realizes that the Publishers Guild have put together a semi-clandestine makeshift book fair (nowhere near on the same scale as the official one):

"A few hundred book lovers are seated in plastic chairs in a
recently-restored hall decorated with chandeliers, columns and bunting. Before them sits an unlikely gang: the Bengali poet Sunil Gangopadhyay; the US consul general, who's fluent in Bengali; and Paul Theroux, who shares a few clumsy words on Hinduism and American transcendentalism. The crowd, he remarks, looks like "people meeting secretly for some furtive faith - like early Christians in a cave".

The Publishers Guild views the fair's cancellation as a blow to
Bengal's tradition of egalitarianism. "The rich can afford to go to the malls and buy books," says Mahesh Golani, joint secretary of the Kolkata Book Fair, whom I meet at the Guild's office. "It is the middle class people who cannot go to such malls in big swanky cars. Our visitors are also from the [rural] districts. They will feel very sad that they have lost the opportunity to come to the book fair."

So the Guild seem to be in the right, keeping the tradition going despite the High Court decree. But then our attendee finds himself talking to some publishers of small presses who claim that the fair "isn't about books anymore; it's about business. The Guild is guilty for this" and that "[a]ll the Guild wants is prestige[.]"

Most agree that the fair has been tainted by commercialism; the books are more expensive than they need be. Still, Kalkota's literary community is a vibrant one--Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri and Amitav Ghosh are all associated with the city--and there is a large audience for literary periodicals. It would certainly be a shame for all this interest in literature to stagnate under commercial pressure.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Herbert (again)

I feel that I have been posting conspicuously often about the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, in part because a new Collected Poems appeared in 2007. (Words Without Borders recently featured Herbert in their Forum in connection with the 2007 publication of The Collected Poems, edited and translated by Alissa Valles.) The collection did receive quite a bit of attention; some reviewers, though, staunchly prefer the Carpenters' translations. Michael Hofman at Poetry writes that the text is "an uncorrected bound proof—rather unnavigable without an index of titles and first lines, and no doubt subject to all sorts of further alterations and corrections." About the translator, Hofman scoffs: "Herbert has a new translator, someone I have never heard of. Even that drafty, echoey thing the Internet (our very own updated version of Ovid's cave of rumor) has barely heard of Alissa Valles. This, by the way, is to register my surprise, not some snobbish impulse." Hofman, it seems, doth protest too much.

Valles' volume, I think, is, on the contrary, thoughtfully composed and her understanding of Herbert is, to my mind, astute. In the Jan./Feb. Boston Review she notes how English speakers still have relatively limited access to (or perhaps understanding of) Herbert despite his status as a literary juggernaut. She writes:

For most Americans, Herbert’s poetry still exists in a kind of historical void, sometimes called World Literature, in which he floats, stripped of his native matrix, alongside Anna Akhmatova, Bertolt Brecht, and Constantine Cavafy. It is, of course, no one’s fault that American readers do not have wide access to the extensive and diverse Polish criticism on Herbert. But the manner in which he was introduced to American readers has almost certainly encouraged a narrow reading of his work. It is at least in part a generational issue. Among those who started reading Herbert in the ’70s, there is angry resistance to any approach that complicates or challenges the standard vision, that of an idiosyncratic poet of historical irony.

Her new volume, incidentally, contains all the early translations of Herbert by Miłosz and Dale Scott. You may recall, Dear Reader, that I mentioned in an earlier post the minor quibbles the two had in translating Herbert's "Pebble".

Friday, February 22, 2008

Arabic Poet Idol

The number one primetime show in the Arab world -- an audience of 70 million -- features poets.

An initiative of Abu Dhabi's Authority for Culture and Heritage intended to increase interest among the region's youth in their cultural roots, "Million's Poet" is an Arabic-language, American Idol-style competition. Over the course of the 15 week competition, an initial batch of 48 bards is voted down to a final winner who will be crowned as ‘Million's Poet' and awarded 1 million AED.

Are the poems being translated for performance or publication in Europe, the States?

More about the show, and the progress of the contestants can be found at CNN,, and Zawya.


Do you know what a "wo-mba" is? Try the How wide ranging is your vocabularly" quiz at the Guardian to test your multi-lingual mettle.

You can also test your knowledge of Italian literature.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation

Today in The Times Online, Jenny Harris, whose translation of Horace won the Stephen Spender Prize in the 18-and-under category, writes about her experience. Her prose shows a mature grasp of the difficulties of translation:

"All translators try to get as close as possible to the experience of reading the original. At one extreme, this involves finding words that mimic the sound of the foreign poem, often with surreal effects, or giving the original words in the original order with scant regard for English syntax. At the other, it produces a poem that feels like it was written in the English tradition, using English verse forms and idioms that the translator feels are equivalent to those the foreign poet used."

Information on How to enter the 2008 Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation:

Entrants must submit a translation of a poem from any language, modern or Classical, into English, with a commentary of no more than 300 words covering the reason for choosing the poem and the difficulties that they encountered.

There will be three prizes in the Open and 18-and-under categories and one in the 14-and-under category, ranging from £50 to £500. All winning entries will be published in a booklet and selected poems will be printed in The Times.

A charge of £3 will be made for each entry (entrants aged 18 or under are exempted), to arrive no later than May 23, 2008. Results will be published by October 25. Further details and an entry form can be found at the Stephen Spender memorial trust website, or can be obtained from 3, Old Wish Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4JX.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Aesop's fables

Willis G. Regier at The Chronicle Review writes about the trials and tribulations of finding the best translation of Aesop's fables. No straight-forward task, apparently.

Regier writes that "[n]ine translators dominated Aesop in English over the past 500 years, and new ones are vying for attention. What do the translations show? Most obviously, some Aesops have more Aesop, much more, than others. Some have been much more reprinted, and more popular. And some change the fables: In some editions a lion outwits three bulls, in others four. Animals are altered: A weasel in one translation is a cat in another, toads become frogs, crows become ravens, a bear becomes a tiger, a lion becomes a leopard, and so on."

He goes through the different translations and their various political/social/religious slants and mentions which new translations are available. His vote, however, goes to Laura Gibbs's 2002 translation.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Unprintable Ozark Folklore, René Depestre the erotic voodoo novelist, and the Candlewick Monk

Robert Irwin at TLS reviews the new Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature, with entries spanning the literatures of the globe. Apparently the volume is not as titillating as it sounds. Still Irwin is baffled by (and slightly incredulous of) some of the entries:

"The Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature takes one into some relatively unfamiliar sexual territories – Japanese, Chinese, Arab, Zulu, Thai and Catalan. Some of the biographical entries are so strange that I wondered if some of these writers had not been made up. (It is common practice in reference books to insert a bogus entry or two in order to establish copyright in any future plagiarism case in court.) Was Pierre Albert-Birot a real person? Did he really write Les Six Livres de Grabinlour (1991)? In its first book, Grabinlour is “an indulgent observer of the sexual activities, from passing moments including a queen and a cowherd, a marchioness and ‘a luxury hotel negro’ to a king and shepherdess . . . . In the second book, Grabinlour is a courteous host when the Angel Gabriel spends twelve hours in Paris, largely comprised of eating, drinking and sex”. And so on.

Gershon Legman, the scholar tramp and author of Unprintable Ozark Folklore, sounds pretty fishy, too: “Over his long career he championed origami, attacked the initiation rites of the medieval order of the Knights Templar, critiqued the typography of the fifteenth-century printer William Caxton, translated Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, and compiled a bibliography on the economist David Ricardo, but he devoted himself chiefly to the study of sexual humor and folklore”. Then there are René Depestre, the erotic voodoo novelist, and Felipe Guaman Pomo de Ayala, the Incan essayist. The Chinese Dengcao Heshang Zhuan (“The Candlewick Monk”), a long novel about a little fellow who leaps out of candles and expands to fill the desires of the women he falls on, has one of the strangest plots I have ever come across."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

upcoming events in France and Britain

If you are in Paris tomorrow, you can stop by the American University of Paris to hear Professor Alan Jenkins read his own poems and his translations of Rimbaud from his cahier Drunken Boats. Jenkins is a poet and was a long-time editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

And if you are in Britain later this month, you can stop attend a postgraduate symposium on translation theory and practice at the University of East Anglia.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

graphic novels in translation

A light piece in The Times Literary Supplement on the pitfalls of Translation: David Baddiel expresses his disappointment in (and suspicions about) translations of Musil and Flaubert, amongst others. He raises the valid--if obvious--point that novels are not only about ideas and narrative, but language itself, "the resonance of the words, the rhythm and flow of sentence structure, wordplay." A good translator, however, should treat the difficulties of translation as an exquisite puzzle and determine how to pick and choose resonant words and a rhythm that captures the spirit of the original, even if this entails a slight loss of factual accuracy. (Ezra Pound's versions and Robert Lowell's imitations do this successfully, I think.)

This month, Words Without Borders has a feature on graphic novels in translation. The Duck is charming, if bizarre, and A Happy Childhood and Life of Pahé are somewhat interesting as accounts of childhood in Beirut and Gabon, respectively.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Ktonk! Adgno!

The New York Times Review of Books has had its first incarnation in another language! Any guesses which one? Romanian. No matter that its spoken by only about 25 million people. Don't be fooled by the scanty numbers or stereotypes of Eastern European exoticism. Critic A.O. Scott writes: "Romania is one of those countries where it seems that every literate person has written a novel, a book of essays, or at least a play." The NYT's Paper Cuts blog has more.

Also, Dan at The Wooden Spoon found a nice little piece on contemporary Russian poetry by Stephen Burt at The Poetry Foundation. Burt starts the piece by professing bemusement:

"The classroom next to my office has been booming all morning in Russian, a language I don't speak at all: I recognize it when the students respond to the teacher, in unison, by shouting "Spasibo!" though the other frequent shoutouts wouldn't be phonologically possible in any of the (too few) languages I read: one of them sounds like "Ktonk!" and the other like "Adgno!""

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bolaño, Berlin, and Bits from Herodotus

Following up on the last Bolaño post, another excerpt from Nazi Literature in the Americas appears in this month's Bookforum. This time, we get a portrait of the Schiaffino brothers--aficionados of literature and Argentinian football. The characters in Bolaño's faux reference book come off as credible, if just barely: Argentino Schiaffino is a criminal mastermind who, between stints running from the law, shows up at various World Cup games. Bookforum also has a little piece on the Spanish translator Edith Grossman.

Ian Buruma at the New York Review of Books talks about Alfred Döblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz and Fassbinder's fifteen hour long movie based on the book. Buruma is suitably impressed with the film, but thinks that the book still needs an inventive, new translation in English. Nice in theory, but the (almost) insurmountable problem is that the book, written in heavy, Berlin workers' slang, is "pretty much untranslatable," according to Buruma.

Over at More Intelligent Life I came across a series of articles on reading Herodotus. In the first, A.P. David introduces Herodotus--the "only travel writer in print for 2,500 years"--in its English translation by the late big-name classicist David Grene. The second talks about women in Herodotus and observes that they "all too often as a sideshow to the perceived motives of powerful men," in reductionist readings, at least.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blips on Beckett and on Turkish poetry

The February issue of Poetry features translations of a few of Samuel Beckett's French poems by Philip Nokolayev, editor of Fulcrum. Shockingly, Beckett's poetry has been largely disregarded by critics, who have traditionally seen it as less interesting and competent than his dramatic works. In fact, this is the first time any of it has appeared in Poetry. Nikolayev is currently translating all of Beckett's French poems for a new critical edition he is putting together. Fulcrum 6 will also feature essays on, and translations of, Beckett's poetry.

The current issue of Jacket Magazine features a selection of poems in translation from Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, as well as essays related to the poetry in the collection by Murat Nemet-Nejat (who is also editor of the collection.)

Also, check out Mary Jane White's translation of Eugenio Montale's "Cafe at Rapallo" online at Agni. The language is surprising and, somehow, endearing: the "raconteur of cupidity and sweet delay," for instance, the "tepidarium," and the "gnomish world."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dutch Poetry Day & Second Life

For people whose "first life" isn't enough, Poetry International Web is "launching a Second Life pilot project to coincide with Poetry Day in the Netherlands and Flanders. Two short films of the poets Mark Boog and Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer reading original work in Second Life will be premiered at the Red Sky Club, Cookie Island in Second Life on 30th January. The films will also be shown in Rotterdam during the Gedichtendag opening.
If you are not already a Second life regular, in order to attend the screening you will need to sign up to, download the application and create yourself an avatar."

Those of you in the Netherlands should definitely try to get over to Rotterdam for Gedichtendag--"Poetry Day." Readings and talks will be held on January 30th from 8 to 12pm at Arminius, Museumpark 3, Rotterdam.

For the occasion of Poetry Day, a new collection of ten poems by Mark Boog, Alle dagen zijn van liefde (All days are of love) will be made available, along with an essay on reading poetry by the Flemish poet Paul Bogaert.

In even more Dutch literary news, UNESCO has named Amsterdam the World Book Capital City 2008. Hooray! Get over there and get some books!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bolaño's Nazis

Words Without Borders provides an excerpt from Roberto Bolaño's new novel Nazi Literature in the Americas, forthcoming in February from New Directions. Bolaño's concept is intriguing; the novel is a collection of biographies of fictional writers who, in some way or another, sympathized with Nazism. Max Mirebalais--the fictional writer presented at WWB--is just one of the shadowy men from the collection.

Natasha Wimmer's English translation of Bolaño's The Savage Detectives was one of the most praised translations to have come out last year, and you can bet there is plenty of anticipation for Nazi Literature in the Americas.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Quibbles in translation

Today I came across an interesting little piece by Peter Dale Scott in the Words Without Borders forum. Scott, who, along with Czesław Miłosz, translated Zbigniew Herbert's "Pebble". Scott discusses the elegant simplicity of the poem--its suitability for translation--but also how two translators--both good poets in their own right--can vehemently disagree on an aspect of a given translation. Scott writes:

"Straightforward though the poem may be, it was one of the very few Herbert poems which, precisely because of its tight austerity, gave rise to two irresoluble disagreements between Miłosz and myself as to how to translate it. I failed forty years ago to persuade Miłosz to accept these two changes. At the time I was filled with awe and gratitude for the exciting and educational experience of translating with him, so I deferred. Nevertheless my two suggested alternatives have since continued to haunt me. How important these nuanced differences are, the reader can judge."

Scott provides both his version and that of Miłosz with accompanying explanations of what choices each translator made and why. Still, Scott does not capitulate to the great Polish writer, declaring: "To this day my admiration of Miłosz is one which still generates in me the desire to dispute with him. As to which is the better version of “Pebble,” I will let the reader decide." So, reader, decide. I encourage you to leave a comment stating which version you prefer and why.

In other translation news, The Center for the Art of Translation announces its Spring 2008 reading series. The Center has reeled in some big names, including Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o and poet W.S. Merwin.