Monday, December 02, 2013

from "Reading Across the Gutter"

Several weeks ago, I was at a roundtable discussion on editing poetry translations for literary magazines at which the question of presenting translations along with their originals resulted in such a range of responses I’ve been unable to let the question go. Unsurprisingly, it was harder for the editors of print journals to accommodate two texts, even if they wanted to: both space and funds are at stake. On the other hand, Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, argued that publishing just the translation honors the translator’s work and grants the translation its independence. Erica Mena of Anomalous Press had a different—and to me, fascinating—approach to managing a translation’s independence: not wanting to encourage “reading across the gutter,” the online journal she edits (which you should absolutely visit) publishes the source text in a pop-up window, not en face. “Reading across the gutter,” as I understand it, refers to the sort of reading in which a person compares original and translation word-for-word and line-by-line, checking for “mistakes”—in other words, the sort of reading an en face presentation could unintentionally promote. [continues...]
Read the rest of Aditi Machado's thoughts on publishing en face, at Asymptote Journal online.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eugen Ruge at Goethe-Institut Boston

Tuesday, October 15, at 7:00 pm
Goethe-Institut Boston
170 Beacon Street, Boston

Reading in German (English translation on-screen)
Discussion in English

Moderator: Barton Byg, UMass Amherst
Admission free

Eugen Ruge is the author of In Times of Fading Light (Graywolf Press; translated from the German by Anthea Bell), the portrait of a family set against the backdrop of the collapse of East German communism. It traces the stories of both this particular family and the GDR, while exploring the tragic intertwining of politics, love, and family under the East German regime. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

From an interview of Heather Cleary

From an interview of Heather Cleary by Stephen Sparks, published in Issue 30 of The Quarterly Conversation (2012):
SS: Does how a work affect you as a reader play into your work as a translator? In other words, how much distance, if any, exists between reader and translator? 
HC: I tend to think there’s very little distance between reading and translation. Gaytri Spivak has called translation “the most intimate act of reading.” It’s the closest reading you can do, and there’s almost an affective, if not sensual, quality to the practice of lingering over individual words in a way that the average reader typically does not. Of course, getting too entrenched at the level of the word can skew the perception of the work as a whole, something along the lines of missing the forest for the trees. As Natasha Wimmer, quoting the Mexican writer Gabriel Zaid, has said, reading a book too slowly is like getting a slug’s-eye-view of a mural. So, while translation is a detail-oriented kind of reading, it seems to be in constant negotiation with a broader, more story-oriented kind. 
SS: What Latin or South American writers are English-language readers missing out on?  
HC: Well, there’s Antonio di Benedetto, whose Zama (1956) and El silenciero (1964) are incredible. But there are so many great things already out in English translation, which means there’s NO excuse not to read them. On the dystopian end of the Argentine literary spectrum, there’s Roberto Arlt’s classic The Seven Madmen (though I don’t think its sequel, The Flamethrower, has been translated yet). And, seriously: Saer Saer Saer (of what’s out in English, I’d suggest Scars and The Witness). I also really like Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, a young Chilean writer whose background in poetry comes through in the crisp beauty of his prose (in Carolina De Robertis’ translation, too). And these are from the Portuguese, but Chico Buarque wrote a smart, charming novel called Budapest, and Fernando Verissimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutans totally lives up to the outrageousness of its title.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A. K. Ramanujan: "Thoughts on Translation"

The following commentary comes from Chapter 2 ("Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation") of Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, ed. by Paula Richman. The section immediately preceding the text excerpted below ends as follows: "Some shadow of a relational structure claims the name of Ramayana for all these tellings, but on closer look one is not necessarily all that like another. Like a collection of people with the same proper name, they make a class in name alone." The texts Ramanujan refers to as "tellings" are a set of alternate versions of segments of the Ramayana.
That may be too extreme a way of putting it. Let me back up and say it differently, in a way that covers more adequately the differences between the texts and their relations to each other, for they are related. One might think of them as a series of translations clustering around one or another in a family of texts: a number of them cluster around Valmiki, another set around the Jaina Vimalasuri, and so on. 
Or these translation-relations between texts could be thought of in Peircean terms, at least in three ways. 
Where Text I and Text 2 have a geometrical resemblance to each other, as one triangle to another (whatever the angles, sizes, or colors of the lines), we call such a relation iconic . In the West, we generally expect translations to be "faithful," i.e. iconic. Thus, when Chapman translates Homer, he not only preserves basic textual features such as characters, imagery, and order of incidents , but tries to reproduce a hexameter and retain the same number of lines as in the original Greek—only the language is English and the idiom Elizabethan. When Kampan retells Valmiki's Ramayana in Tamil, he is largely faithful in keeping to the order and sequence of episodes, the structural relations between the characters of father, son, brothers, wives, friends, and enemies. But the iconicity is limited to such structural relations. His work is much longer than Valmiki's, for example, and it is composed in more than twenty different kinds of Tamil meters, while Valmiki's is mostly in the sloka meter. 
Very often, although Text 2 stands in an iconic relationship to Text ! in terms of basic elements such as plot, it is filled with local detail, folklore, poetic traditions, imagery, and so forth—as in Kampan's telling or that of the Bengali Krttivasa. In the Bengali Ramayana , Rama's wedding is very much a Bengali wedding, with Bengali customs and Bengali cuisine. We may call such a text indexical : the text is embedded in a locale, a context, refers to it, even signifies it, and would not make much sense without it. Here, one may say, the Ramayana is not merely a set of individual texts, but a genre with a variety of instances. 
Now and then, as we have seen, Text 2 uses the plot and characters and names of Text 1 minimally and uses them to say entirely new things, often in an effort to subvert the predecessor by producing a countertext. We may call such a translation symbolic . The word translation itself here acquires a somewhat mathematical sense, of mapping a structure of relations onto another plane or another symbolic system. When this happens, the Rama story has become almost a second language of the whole culture area, a shared core of names, characters, incidents, and motifs, with a narrative language in which Text 1 can say one thing and Text 2 something else, even the exact opposite. Valmiki's Hindu and Vimalasuri's Jaina texts in India—or the Thai Ramakirti in Southeast Asia—are such symbolic translations of each other. 
One must not forget that to some extent all translations, even the so-called faithful iconic ones, inevitably have all three kinds of elements. When Goldman and his group of scholars produce a modern translation of Valmiki's Ramayana , they are iconic in the transliteration of Sanskrit names, the number and sequence of verses, the order of the episodes, and so forth. But they are also indexical, in that the translation is in English idiom and comes equipped with introductions and explanatory footnotes, which inevitably contain twentieth-century attitudes and misprisions; and symbolic, in that they cannot avoid conveying through this translation modern understandings proper to their reading of the text. But the proportions between the three kinds of relations differ vastly between Kampan and Goldman. And we accordingly read them for different reasons and with different aesthetic expectations. We read the scholarly modern English translation largely to gain a sense of the original Valmiki, and we consider it successful to the extent that it resembles the original. We read Kampan to read Kampan, and we judge him on his own terms—not by his resemblance to Valmiki but, if anything, by the extent that he differs from Valmiki. In the one, we rejoice in the similarity; in the other, we cherish and savor the differences. 
One may go further and say that the cultural area in which Ramayanas are endemic has a pool of signifiers (like a gene pool), signifiers that include plots, characters, names, geography, incidents, and relationships. Oral, written, and performance traditions, phrases, proverbs, and even sneers carry allusions to the Rama story. When someone is carrying on, you say, "What's this Ramayana now? Enough." In Tamil, a narrow room is called a kiskindha ; a proverb about a dim-witted person says, "After hearing theRamayana all night, he asks how Rama is related to Sita"; in a Bengali arithmetic textbook, children are asked to figure the dimensions of what is left of a wall that Hanuman built, after he has broken down part of it in mischief. And to these must be added marriage songs, narrative poems, place legends, temple myths, paintings, sculpture, and the many performing arts. 
These various texts not only relate to prior texts directly, to borrow or refute, but they relate to each other through this common code or common pool. Every author, if one may hazard a metaphor, dips into it and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and a fresh context. The great texts rework the small ones, for "lions are made of sheep," as Valery said. And sheep are made of lions, too: a folk legend says that Hanuman wrote the original Ramayana on a mountaintop, after the great war, and scattered the manuscript; it was many times larger than what we have now. Valmiki is said to have captured only a fragment of it. In this sense, no text is original, yet no telling is a mere retelling—and the story has no closure, although it may be enclosed in a text. In India and in Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, "always already."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

MadHat: Special Issue of German lit in translation

Like the new issue of Litro, the new issue of MadHat is dedicated to literature springing from Germany (albeit in translation; the Litro content all seems to have been written originally in English). In the issue:

Erika Burkart ~ Martin Clausen ~ Isabel Fargo Cole ~ Franz Josef Czernin ~ Robin Detje ~ Karen Duve ~ Carl-Christian Elze ~ Michael Farrell ~ Annett Gröschner ~ Anna Katharina Hahn ~ Ernst Halter ~ Franz Hohler ~ Henry Holland ~ Lucy Renner Jones ~ Milorad Krstic ~ Helmut Kuhn ~Karl Kunz ~ Sabine Lange ~ Pedro Lenz ~ Tess Lewis ~ Ruth Martin ~ Donal McLaughlin ~ Rachel McNicholl ~ Klaus Merz ~ Klaus Modick ~ Andreas Neeser ~ Francis Nenik ~ Jenny Piening ~ Steffen Popp ~ Julya Rabinowich ~ Steven Rendall ~ Katie Ritson ~ Kathrin Röggla ~Peter Rühmkorf ~ Bradley Schmidt ~ Jochen Schmidt ~ Philipp Schönthaler ~ Angela Schubot ~ Joel Scott ~ Sissi Tax ~ Jürgen Theobaldy ~ Gráinne Toomey ~ Marc Vincenz ~ Harald Weinrich ~ Jenny Williams ~ Karen Witthuhn

Litro: The Germany Issue

From the editors' mailing about this entirely enticing issue: "The stories in this month's Litro paint a picture of a Germany haunted by its past. In Schwellenangst by Jeremy Tiang, the central character is faced with a desolate past on a visit to the Nazi resort of Prora, built as a "Strength Through Joy" project. E. E. Mason's Blühende Landschaften is also an encounter with history, in the grounds of an abandoned house. Florence Grende's Heidelberg, A Beautiful Life: 1946-1951 is an extract from her memoir, telling the story of her family's post-war success, built on the black market cigarette trade. In The Fall Of Berlin (Oil On Canvas) by Jim Ruland, we follow a Nazi art collector as he watches the chaos of the invasion of a city, and then in Love by the Wall by Robin Wyatt Dunn, we move backwards to see the foundation of Medieval Berlin. Lastly, in Pippa Anais Gaubert's Berlin Ghost Story, we move forward again in time to a woman who is becoming a ghost in more ways than one in a modern city."

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Yiddish novel to be crowdsourced

Reposted from BoingBoing:

"Best-selling author and native Yiddish speaker Michael Wex has launched an indiegogo campaign to translate what he is calling the most important work of world literature that you've probably never heard of. The book, written by Joseph Opatoshu in 1921 when he was a young Polish immigrant living in New York City is an historical novel about 19th century Jewish Eastern Europe:
 A vast panorama of Jewish life in Poland during the 1850s, Opatoshu's novel concentrates on backwoods Jews who live among gentile peasants rather than in Jewish communities in cities or shtetlekh. Touching as it does on hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland. 
"When he completes the work in about a year the translated novel will be released under a Creative Commons license. Wex hopes that a new translation will bring Opatoshu's 1921 novel to a broader audience. 'It'll change everybody's views of Jewish life in Poland,' Wex writes. 'If this campaign works, it'll also help other translators find a way to fund their own projects and establish a whole library of world literature that hasn't been translated into English before or has never been translated properly. Raising the money in advance means that the translators can work full time; since the finished product doesn't cost anything, they don't have to worry about a book's commercial potential. It's like a grassroots Guggenheim.'"

NB: the editors of Pusteblume just donated $20 to support the project's goal of $75,000!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Updike dings Goldblatt's Chinese-to-English

From a long profile in Chicago Reader, "Howard Goldblatt's life in translation" by Aimee Levitt:
One of Goldblatt's most discouraging experiences as a translator came when John Updike reviewed two of his translations in The New Yorker: Mo Yan's Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Su Tong's My Life as Emperor. While Updike acknowledged Goldblatt's dominance in the field of Chinese-to-English translation, he didn't particularly like the books, complaining that "the English cliches seem just plain tired." As an example, he cited a line from My Life as Emperor where a character "licks his wounds." It wasn't the worst example he could have cited, Goldblatt admits, but when he went back to the original, he discovered that Su actually had used the phrase "licks his wounds" in Chinese.
"He must have read it in Chinese and thought it sounded neat," Goldblatt says. "These are the things we deal with. We know we'll get slammed, but sometimes it's our call. We feel it worse than the writer. The writer's reputation isn't on the line with every book. But a translator's reputation can be destroyed by one book. It can call into question his ability to deal with the text."

Monday, April 08, 2013

Clive James on his new Dante

My translation of the Divine Comedy is here today because my wife, when we were together in Florence in the mid-1960s, a few years before we were married, taught me that the great secret of Dante’s masterpiece lay in the handling of the verse, which always moved forward even in the most intensely compressed of episodes. She proved this by answering my appeal to have the famous Paolo and Francesca episode in Inferno 5 explained to me from the original text. From various translators including Byron we can see what that passage says. But how did Dante say it? My wife said that the terza rima was only the outward sign of how the thing carried itself along, and that if you dug down into Dante’s expressiveness at the level of phonetic construction you would find an infinitely variable rhythmic pulse adaptable to anything he wanted to convey.
-- James, writing for Slate

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New publication: Scottish Poetry in Translation

Scottish Poetry in Translation (SPIT) is a new postgraduate publication produced with the support of the University of Glasgow's Department of Scottish Literature. The first issue will be published this April and will contain new critical and creative work by some of Scotland's finest established writers, alongside several exciting emerging figures. The journal hopes to be a forum for the presentation of poetry in translation, as well as lively and informed criticism in the fields of translation theory, Scottish culture and contemporary poetics. Contributors to Issue One include Vahni Capildeo, Tom Hubbard, David Kinloch, Aonghas MacNeacail, J. Derrick McClure, Richard Price, Alan Riach, James W. Underhill, Nuala Watt and Rab Wilson.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Minter on becoming a translator

By the time I left Japan in January 1987 I had become “naturally conscious” in the Japanese language. You might say I’d forgotten English. I transacted most of my daily life in Japanese, and at night I dreamt in it as well. I’d lived with four wonderful families and had attended the senior year of what I later understood to be a prestigious boys school, Asano Gakuen. Here I was taken under the wing of the humanities staff, a group of slightly dishevelled, chain smoking men who let me hang-out in their office rather than attend classes. We drank tea and talked about anything and everything, and in our spirited conversations about life and culture and history and literature I really began to learn and understand Japanese. I took their classes in calligraphy, music, ikebana and art. And it was in that office, three storeys up looking north over a rather desolate playing field, that I began to translate Japanese poetry.
-- from a lovely essay by Australian poet Peter Minter, in the journal Southerly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hofstadter on elevators in French and American English

The last thing in the world that translators of novels wish to do, unless they are playing special kinds of intellectual games, is to carry a work of literature across the seas and re-set it in another land and culture; nonetheless, because vast numbers of words and phrases give off subtle aromas of which one is not always aware, this can happen, at least to some extent, despite their best intentions. The most insidious problem is that every single tiny act of translation, no matter how innocent-seeming, involves some degree of transculturation. This happens even with highly universal, vanilla-flavored words, such as "house", "door", "dog", "walk", "happy", "thanks", and so forth. 
To take a concrete example, how does one say "elevator" in French? If one uses the dictionary equivalent ascenseur (and there really is no alternative, so it's a forced move), that word will tend to conjure up in the mind of a native French speaker an image formed over the course of thousands of experiences with French elevators (strictly speaking, to be self-consistent, I should have written, "with French ascenseurs"). To be sure, the images of ascenseurs that jump to a French mind have much in common with the images of elevators that jump to an American mind, but there are also many differences, as anyone who has spent any time in the two countries knows very well. 
For instance, American elevators are usually quite large and frustratingly slow. They tend to have very thick walls and very thick, multi-layered doors that, on opening, slide out of view and, often after quite a long wait, slide back shut. They are rather silent (except for beeps at every floor), they have lots of lights, and they "intelligently" or "politely" stop at intermediate floors, if someone has pushed a button there. By contrast, European elevators (especially those of a few years ago) are often small (sometimes just a couple of people can squeeze in), their manual doors swing open outwards (and often there are two sets -- one inner and one outer). They move fast and are often "dumb" or "impolite", blithely ignoring people on intermediate floors, who simply have to wait till all current passengers have disembarked. And then there are those wonderful antique elevators with cages instead of actual walls, where, as you ascend or descend, you can see the spiral staircase winding around you, and woe to anyone who sticks their finger through the iron grillwork of the cage.
The contrast between these kinds of images is enormous. Although both the American elevator and the French ascenseur serve the function of vertically transporting people, animals, suitcases, and other items in some tallish building, the "vibes" that they emanate are radically different. Therefore, if a French translation of an American novel taking place in Richland, Washington replaces the word "elevator" by the word ascenseur all three times it occurs, there will result a tiny, microscopic, almost undetectable effect of transculturation in the minds of French readers.
-- from "Translator, Trader" (pp.15-17), an essay (bound in the same volume as the author's translation from French version of Françoise Sagan's novel La Chamade) which in its hundred-some chatty pages visits, considers, and retreads many of the challenges and pleasures of translation, including that familiar problem, discussed above, of transcultural references. As appears in That Mad Ache: A Novel/Translator, Trader: An Essay by Douglas Hofstadter. (See a review of the book at Three Percent.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Plunkett on Merwin's translations

The world of Merwin’s translations is flat. In his English, the Spanish sounds just like the Eskimo (although the latter features a seal and the former just a dog). You cannot distinguish poems of different languages from the originals—there are none—nor by notes that explain regional symbols and literary traditions—there are hardly any notes at all. What is odd and distinctive about Merwin is that I doubt that he’d take these observations as criticisms.
-- from Adam Plunkett's review of Merwin's Selected Translations for New Republic

Monday, January 21, 2013

Job posting: Urbana-Champaign

The Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign invites applications for 1) a Visiting Lecturer (Ph.D. in hand required) and 2) a Visiting Instructor (MA required) in Translation Studies, for 2013-4, with a target start date of August 16, 2013.

Full consideration will be given to complete applications received by February 15, 2013. For complete details, visit