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.

1 comment:

guitar said...

Speak truth and always be patience.
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