The French documentary filmmaker, photographer, and traveler, Chris Marker, was a poet first. Marker’s twenty eight minute ‘La Jetée’, written and photographed during the early 1960s, imagines a third world war. A man, marked by an image from his childhood, travels through some intertranslational fragmented mirror memory to the original line of fracture no translation will pacify. Many pilots, men and women, survived, though they didn’t survive, collective military service during World War II. ‘La Jetée’ (1962) and ‘Sans Soleil’ (1982) are haunted by indwelling flames of spirit. In the beginning of each Marker film jet planes escape the eye of the camera. One is overhead roaring murder. We see the other being concealed under the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. ‘La Jetée’ is called a ciné-roman; ‘Sans Soleil’ a documentary.
At the 3% blog Chad Post writes his take on some of the issues discussed in Creative Constraints: Translation and Authorship, the collection of academic essays on the topic edited by Rita Wilson and Leah Gerber. Like most translators, I find this topic endlessly fascinating (I may end up writing a book on it at some point), and related to what I wrote in my introduction to Xi Chuan’s Notes on the Mosquito: “I am motivated by a belief that the reader not only wants to know but can know both what Xi Chuan says and how he says it.”
Chad focuses on the issue of translations being edited for style. He writes:
At some level, this isn’t just about eliminating terms that American readers aren’t familiar with, but working from the assumption that readers are stupid and have to have everything explained to them. For example, there’s a lot of offensive stuff in the edits of Mima Simic’s story but the thing that bothers me is the sort of flattening out of the prose to make sure that everyone understands. For example, this:
She can tell the time by the smell of the stuff in the pan.
She can tell how long something’s been frying by the way it smells.
As far as that goes I agree, and I don’t endorse dumbing-down challenging writing for the sake of an underestimated American audience. Still, I’m less compelled by the following example, from volume contributor Peter Bush:
libradas de sus mazmorras y grillos, las palabras al fin, las traidoras, esquivas palabras, vibren, dancen, copulen, se encueren y cobren cuerpo (Juan Goytisolo original)
released from their chains and dungeons, words, treacherous elusive words, at last quiver dance copulate strip off and flesh out (Peter Bush)
released from their chains, their dungeons, those words, those treacherous elusive words, quiver at last and dance and copulate, removing their rags and clothing themselves in flesh (edited version)
I don’t know Spanish, but I’m not convinced that either Bush’s version or the edit is better at reproducing and representing Goytisolo’s style: to me, the repeated commas in the Spanish convey something neither version quite captures in English. That said, I don’t see anything so wrong with Bush’s first version that the edit definitely fixes.
Chad’s piece–one of the longer 3% blog posts I’ve read in a while–is well worth reading, and I look forward to seeing Creative Constraints. I should mention, though, that I was very happy with my editing process with New Directions: they made very helpful suggestions, and I had the freedom to accept or make counter-edits as I saw fit.
The Arabic Literature (in English) blog has posted an interview with Antibookclub founding editor Gabriel Levinson about their new plan for re-vivifying the publishing industry in the 21st century. Consciously modeling Antibookclub off Grove, Black Sparrow, and New Directions, here’s how Levinson explains responding to the challenges of publishing translations in English:
GL: The biggest challenge, unfortunately, is the risk factor: Before I took on the role of publisher, I was confused as to why only 3% of our books are translated literature, but getting into it was a big wake up call: It costs quite a bit for a book to be translated and even then you don’t know if it’s a book you want to publish until you read it. To put up the money for a manuscript that may or may not be publishable is a daunting task, and when you are as small as us with only two books a year…such a risk is not negligible. But we are determined to find the most exciting literature in the world and even if we cannot release as many translated works as we would like to in these early days, it is our long term goal to remain committed to the global scene.
Congrats to Andrea Lingenfelter for winning the Northern California Book Awards for her translation of The Changing Room (Zephyr Press), a collection of poems by Zhai Yongming 翟永明. Click here for my my review of The Changing Room, and here for the full list of NCBA nominees and winners (Michael Palmer won in the category of poetry for his New Directions book Thread).
The May 2012 newsletter is out from New Directions, with links and news about events, readings, and new publications, including celebrations of Kenneth Rexroth in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Nathaniel Tarn reading in Chicago and Ann Arbor, and a new book by by Robert Walser translated by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky, and of course Xi Chuan.