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.