19 April 2005

On translation

Here are a few good posts that fit nicely with Bud Parr's excellent coverage of PEN America's recent panel of Cervantes translators...

1) The perspective of the reader

So Many Books (third item) quotes from Stephen Greenblatt's article on translation:

I have never struggled through "Don Quixote" in my faltering Spanish, but I am convinced that I have read and admired not a novel by Edith Grossman but one by Cervantes. I cannot read a word of Russian, but I believe I have heard in "Anna Karenina" the voice of Tolstoy and not of the most recent translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Though I would surely be a better (or at least a better-educated) person if I could read ancient Greek, I console myself with the thought that blind Homer still sings for me in the English of Robert Fitzgerald, Stanley Lombardo or Robert Fagles.

2) The perspective of the translator

The Rake excerpts a review of (the *wonderful*) Gregory Rabassa's memoir If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents:

Traduttore traditore? Rabassa long ago transcended that cliched Italian notion of "translator as traitor," even if he accepts its truth in regard to many aspects of his art. The words that more commonly come to literary sorts who have read Rabassa's work are "magician" and "artist."

Hopscotch started Rabassa on the road to those accolades by winning him the first National Book Award for Translation (now, alas, a defunct prize). García Márquez, on Cortázar's advice, waited for Rabassa to finish other projects so the busy translator could turn to what became One Hundred Years of Solitude. Later, Gabo, as García Márquez is known to friends [as well as to pretty much all of Colombia--Ed.], famously remarked that he preferred Rabassa's translation to his own Spanish version. Mr. Translator, typically, responds with charm:

"I can only humbly assume that the credit lies with the English language, that the book should have been written in English and I was only trying to correct that mistake. My mystical feeling, however, is that Gabo already had the English words hiding behind the Spanish and all I had to do was tease them out."

3) The problem of language

Collected Miscellany offers an interesting contrast in quoting an article on biblical translation:

The problem isn't with Scripture, it's with language itself. In a recent essay in Harper's, Kitty Burns Florey remarks that trying to get English to conform to the rules of Latin grammar is "something like forcing a struggling cat into the carrier for a trip to the vet." Trying to get Hebrew (which is lusciously poetic) and Greek (which relies heavily on context for the meaning of words) to fit nicely into the parameters of English is similarly problematic.

From what I understand, arguments regarding translation basically boil down to questions of the "literal" or "loose," which lead to issues of the "purpose" of a text: to serve the author or the reader? And is the reader really better served if the author's view is simplified? (Funny how, in general, most literary translations are concerned with fidelity to the original, whereas in modern biblical translation the preoccupation is with the reader.)

Anyone remember that Lingua Franca article on Kundera's battles with his translators ("Infidelity" by Caleb Crain)? I seem to remember that he was more in favor of the literal slant...

Of course, the first two items are felicitous on both counts.


Bud Parr said...

You may be interested in my post from last August "Op Vertaling" (an incorrect translation in Dutch of On Translation).

Also see the comments section of that post to a link to a Harry Matthews' essay on the subject.


amcorrea said...

Heh. I was about to make a crack along the lines of how even "parashitical" posts like mine can do some good in attracting such interesting original material as what you just sited... Then I read your glowing reference. I think I actually blushed!

Anyhow, many thanks for those very meaty links--what a reading list!