01 October 2008

Nuts and bolts

Reading notes on Clifford Landers' Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. (He currently has a Machado de Assis story up at Words Without Borders and his translation of Rubem Fonseca's The Taker and Other Stories will be released by Open Letter next month.)

~ p. 30: He quotes Terrance--"the literary translator believes that 'nothing human is foreign to me.' In its good and its evil, its most elevated flights of beauty and its basest profanities, humanity is both subject and object, and the translator's role is to capture its often contradictory impulses as first given voice in another language."

~ p. 31: Embarrassing to admit, but this was a huge lightbulb moment:
Beginners often ask me, 'Do I have to get permission to translate X?' The surprising answer is that anyone can translate anything. If you decide to do a retranslation of the complete short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, mazel tov.
Of course, "the problem comes in trying to publish it."

~ p. 38: This entire book is supremely helpful and I loved reading his section on "A day in the life of a literary translator." He goes through a typical day and the issues he encounters in translating a work of Rubem Fonseca's.

~ p. 45: The "eight stages" of his translation process are also incredibly useful.

~ p. 50: His "author-translator-reader" triangle (with the author at the top) reminds me of Walker Percy's "Delta factor."

~ p. 53: He tangles with Venuti's concept of "resistance" in practical terms:
Did Pushkin, Baudelaire, or Ibsen sound strange in the original? Lofty, certainly; inspired, absolutely; but not odd. A literal rendering of any world-class writer invariably makes that individual sound tongue-tied, as if he or she were speaking a foreign language, and poorly at that. 'Resistance' of this kind, I contend, often places cultural and academic considerations so far ahead of literary and aesthetic concerns as to distort the TL reader's perception of the author. Why bother with a masterpiece from another language if it reads like a trot?
~ p. 82: After recounting a particularly chilling story of Mordecai Richler's pointed disdain for one of his translators, he shares something a bit more heartwarming:
There are authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who display a commendable awareness of the formidable tasks inherent in literary translation and have only good things to say about those who labor to reproduce their works in other languages. (In fact, he argues, 'Translators should be paid the same royalties as authors.') In Vonnegut's words, 'All I require of a translator is that he or she be a more gifted writer than I am, and in at least two languages, one of them mine.'
~ p. 83: "Writing is a profession tailor-made for engendering self-doubt."

~ p. 100: "Any translation should--make that must--be read aloud for sonority. Sound is paramount to poets, and more than one translator has been told by the SL poet, 'When it's impossible to preserve both meaning and sound, go with the sound.' Although not all poems (both translations and originals) that sound good are good, it's a pretty safe bet that a translation that sounds bad is, well, bad."

~ p. 194: "For those treading the unfamiliar terrain of contracts, I strongly recommend visiting the web site of PEN American Center (www.pen.org) and downloading the translator's Model Contract found there. It addresses many of the doubts facing translators at all levels of experience."

~ p. 196: I'm photocopying this page and pinning it to the wall above my desk: Peter Theroux's flowchart on "One Way of Translating a Book," which points out how the translator can approach the author and publisher of a book worthy of translation.

~ p. 201: The bibliography is also very helpfully broken down by subject matter. There are three titles listed under "Getting Started":
ALTA Guides to Literary Translation. Breaking into Print. American Literary Translators Association, 2000.

Gertrud Graubart Champe, 'Letter to a Young Translator.' ATA Chronicle, August 1996.

Keith Goldsmith, 'How Badly Do You Want to Be a Literary Translator?' ATA Chronicle, January 1994.
Landers has done a fantastic job providing the right balance of practical advice and measured enthusiasm. Now I just need to buy my own copy...

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