18 October 2008

Constraint, creativity, and Nabokov

Reading notes on The Practices of Literary Translation: Constraints and Creativity, ed. by Jean Boase-Beier and Michael Holman

~ p. 3: MH & JBB: "If the original is seen as something whose authority is in doubt, then equivalence to the original needs to be examined from the point of view of multiple potential equivalences."

~ p. 3: "Both Chaucer and Shakespeare, as Hughes remarks, borrowed freely from Ovid, often translating, transforming or adapting what Ovid had earlier adapted. Hughes himself produced a translation of the Metamophorses so compellingly Hughes-like that it won the Whitbread Award, not normally given for translations. Nevertheless, we tend to view Hughes' version of Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe as a translation, but not Shakespeare's in A Midsummer Night's Dream. We might well ask who were the translators here and what is the distinction between translation and writing?"

~ p. 10: "There will always be compromise between faithfulness and freedom, between the need to be true to one's own and the author's voice."

~ p. 13: "In a purely additive sense, therefore, it is quite clear that the burden of constraint is bound to be greater in translation than in original writing. Yet just as constraint moulded and gave rise to the creative impulse in the original, so in translation this added burden of constraint can force a translator into new ways of overcoming it and thus into new creativity."

~ p. 14: "A translator, therefore, is a rewriter who determines the implied meanings of the TL text, and who also, in the act of rewriting, redetermines the meaning of the original (Álvarez and Vidal 1996:4). Translation as radical rewriting can thus be seen as a way of rescuing the original from unwanted constraint."

~ pp. 16-17: "Translation, then, can act as an agent for change, altering and stretching perceptions, knowledge and language in the target culture, and threatening the status quo (see Hewson 1997:49), as it presents a challenge to the indigenous culture. What the papers in this book show is that it is the very fact that translation is so highly constrained which gives it the power to effect such change."

~ p. 24: Emily Salines examines how Baudelaire combined lines from Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life" and Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" to create a completely new poem ("Le Guignon") that altered the initial meanings of the originals.

~ p. 96: Jenefer Coates on Nabokov's translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin:
Behind this approach lay his belief in the specificity of experience and its transmutation into art. His withdrawal from advocating conventionally domesticated translation was prompted by realization that the specificity of the original would thus be represented by an alien imitation, and that the smooth and elegant Anglo-American versions encouraged by publishers and critics preferred the false voice of an "impersonator" to the original artist's, whose authenticity had got lost. Translation thus became a form of resistance to cultural appropriation.
~ p. 97: "Nabokov showed, he did not tell. Constructing complex narratives that only make sense at the deepest level, for example, he urges the careless or confused reader, through ludic and adversarial asides (such as addressing "the re-reader of this passage" in Ada), to follow the convolutions of text, mis-trust appearances, be wary of deception or observe the minutiae of details--all borrowings from the detective genre so frequently parodied, and all ideal prescriptions for the reading of a difficult translation."

~ p. 98: Coates again referring to Nabokov's Onegin:
It was also continuous with his own style, which similarly eschewed smoothness in favour of defamiliarization, inviting the reader to participate by decoding an intricately wrought text. Many of his stylistic effects compare with strategies that translators regularly deploy: paraphrasing particulars, reinventing proper nouns, prising open cliches, rendering the familiar strange, and the strange familiar, employing archaic and non-standard terms that strain towards their source, or leaving traces of source languages visible. Not only was Nabokov a resistant translator, he was probably the most resistant English prose stylist of this century.
(I realize again all of the reasons I love him.)

~ p. 105: "As his trust in conventional translation waned, belief in another kind of cultural proliferation gained strength: the idea of spirality and synthesis, which Nabokov began to embody in his novels by means of intertextual references and verbal mirroring and patterning."

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