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.