Monday, May 09, 2011

Mena on Grossman on ideocentrism

Translation leaves a mark on the new language, introducing new words, rhythms, images, metaphors, etc. But "it doesn’t sound like English” is one of the most common criticisms of translation to be bandied about by critics and readers.

In fact, there’s a story (possibly apocryphal, but still) that someone in the process of publishing Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being objected to the title because it ‘didn’t sound like English’ and would drive potential readers away. The translator had to fight for the title, and in doing so created a phrase that not only loosely echoes Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to my ear, but altered the rhythms of language and has been imitated over and over again since. So I’m wary of this demand, that it must “sound like English.” Because what does that really mean, and who decides?
-- Erica Mena, exploring the theme of sounding-like-Englishness on her blog Alluringly Short, on the occasion of hearing Edith Grossman speak at Boston University last month (emphasis mine). 

The Better Bibles Blog takes up the same topic, albeit to understand the more narrow issue of whether any given translation of the Bible should be presented in the idiom of its composition, or of its audience.

Mena, beyond her blogging, is an active member of ALTA and of the editorial team behind Anomalous Press.

1 comment:

A.Z. Foreman said...

A good translator doesn't just translate "into" something already existing in the target tradition, but brings something new to the target language from the original. That often requires using one's target tradition in a foreign way at some level. The original must, after all, usually be something new if it justifies the reader's attention or the translator's effort.

At best one can say that people often get huffy if they feel the newness, the foreignness is *too* foreign or *too* overt for them to get past it.

At worst, one can say that many times that's just a cover for cultural narcissism