30 August 2009

Ah, the memories

Thanks to the English PEN World Atlas, I discovered James Smith's article at Booktrust on the BCLT Summer School, which I attended during a week in July:
I went up to Norwich for a day and a night to get more of an idea of how the summer school operates, and was struck first and foremost by the dedication of those attending: the students (for want of a better word), the workshop leaders, the visiting authors and the organisers.

The workshops are the core of the summer school’s activity. This year, BCLT offered Chinese, French, German and Spanish into English; and English into Italian. The groups, ranging from five to twelve in number, work with an experienced translator to translate passages of a book in the source language, the author of which takes part in the sessions. Flitting from workshop to workshop, I was interested to discover that each group worked in similar and yet different ways.
It would be hard for me to describe exactly how incredible the whole experience was. Led by our fearless leader, Nick Caistor, we embarked upon translating the entirety of Eduardo Berti's short story, "Hugh Williams" (from his first collection, Los pájaros). As the end result was to be read aloud on the last day of the course, the overwhelming task of getting ten translators to agree on each sentence and turn of phrase was eventually focused into the task of creating an oral adaptation. It was a brilliant success. Many of the story's darkly comic elements were somehow highlighted amid the process, provoking laughter in our audience when we finally read it aloud. Thanks to Nick Caistor's unflagging patience and Eduardo Berti's unceasing good humor, we all improved as translators and had an unforgettable week.


I just discovered this great little interview with Anne McLean (a.k.a. who I want to be when I grow up):
Can you explain what you do?

Probably not, but I guess what I do is rewrite Spanish and Latin American prose in English. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. I like a description George Szirtes gave recently: "Translation is hearing and replying: it is trying to get your ear, mouth and mind round that which potentially fascinates you in another work in a different language."

Describe a typical working day. What did you do today?

I wish I had such a thing as a typical working day. I’m very disorganized and easily distracted and tend to go off on tangents and forget what I was doing, saying, reading, writing or where I was supposed to be going about 17 times a day.

It’s not quite noon but so far I’ve proofread a few chapters of the proofs of Ignacio Martínez de Pisón’s forthcoming To Bury the Dead, I’ve read a chunk of Javier Cercas’ new book, Anatomía de un instante, which has just been published in Spain and I hope I’ll eventually get to translate it, and this afternoon I’ll translate some pages of The Secret History of Costaguana, which is Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s most recent novel (and that will probably involve all sorts of looking things up and getting lost in other books and on websites).

29 August 2009

Going silent

Anne Carson's "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent"--and what keeps us hooked as translators:
There is something maddeningly attractive about the untranslatable, about a word that goes silent in transit. I want to explore some examples of this attraction, at its most maddened, from the trial and condemnation of Joan of Arc. [...]

During the trial Joan’s judges returned again and again to this crux: they insisted on knowing the story of the voices. They wanted her to name, embody and describe them in ways they could understand, with recognizable religious imagery and emotions, in a conventional narrative that would be susceptible to conventional disproof. They framed this desire in dozens of ways, question after question. They prodded and poked and hemmed her in. Joan despised the line of inquiry and blocked it as long as she could. It seems that for her, the voices had no story. They were an experienced fact so large and real it had solidifed in her as a sort of sensed abstraction—what Virginia Woolf once called "that very jar on the nerves before it has been made anything."** Joan wanted to convey the jar on the nerves without translating it into theological cliché. It is her rage against cliché that draws me to her. A genius is in her rage. We all feel this rage at some level, at some time. The genius answer to it is catastrophe.

I say catastrophe is an answer because I believe cliché is a question. We resort to cliché because it’s easier than trying to make up something new. Implicit in it is the question, Don’t we already know what we think about this? Don’t we have a formula we use for this? Can’t I just send a standard greeting card or paste in a snapshot of what it was like rather than trying to come up with an original drawing? During the five months of her trial Joan persistently chose the term voice or a few times counsel or once comfort to describe how God guided her. She did not spontaneously claim that the voices had bodies, faces, names, smell, warmth or mood, nor that they entered the room by the door, nor that when they left she felt bad. Under the inexorable urging of her inquisitors she gradually added all these details. But the storytelling effort was clearly hateful to her and she threw white paint on it wherever she could, giving them responses like:

… You asked that before. Go look at the record.

… Pass on to the next question, spare me.

… I knew that well enough once but I forget.

… That does not touch your process.

… Ask me next Saturday.

And one day when the judges were pressing her to define the voices as singular or plural, she most wonderfully said: “The light comes in the name of the voice.”

The light comes in the name of the voice is a sentence that stops itself. Its components are simple yet it stays foreign, we cannot own it.
(via Maud)

Odds and ends

Over at fade theory, they're currently reading Living to Tell the Tale (Edith Grossman's translation of Vivir para contarla): García Márquez's memoirs. Originally, it was to be the first installment of a trilogy, but this may be it for now. Maybe I should finally crack open my own copy...


Matthew Cheney interviews Samuel R. Delany on the release of a new edition of The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction.

(via Light Reading)


This makes NO sense. Reading Rainbow Reaches Its Final Chapter:
Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that's not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

"Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read," Grant says. "You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read."
But apparently, "research has shown that teaching the mechanics of reading should be the network's priority" (forget about giving them any reason to do so in the first place).

(via Enter the Octopus)

UPDATE (31 Aug.): Bookninja directs us to Mediabistro's efforts to think of ways to keep it going in another form.

28 August 2009

"Passive censorship"

As if we needed it...more worrying news out of Venezuela:
Once listed as “essential goods”, all imported books would now require government certification, either demonstrating they were not produced domestically, or else not produced domestically in sufficient numbers. In practice, this means that for all titles they want to import, publishers or distributors have to submit an application describing the books in question and request that a share of foreign currency be allocated for their import. (In Venezuela, the government regulates the use of foreign currency for imports.) These applications are then reviewed by a government bureaucrat, who has the power to decide how many copies will be imported.
(via Bookninja)

27 August 2009

Saramago's better half

José Saramago's wife and Spanish translator, Pilar del Río, had a lively interview last weekend with El Espectador. Aside from translating Saramago's books into Spanish, she also translates each blog post he writes for O Caderno de Saramago (El Cuaderno de Saramago), which has recently been published in book form. She is also president of A Fundação José Saramago (La Fundación José Saramago). They met and married over twenty years ago, and after having suffered a life-threatening condition not long ago, he says she is the reason he is still alive.

When asked about her translation work, she said:
Traducir es casi una imposibilidad, porque ¿cómo pasar a otro idioma la respiración del autor, la duda previa, la intención con que se teclea? Eso es imposible, pero se hace lo que se puede. En cualquier caso, el trabajo de traducir es importante, tanto que, como Saramago dice, los autores hacen las literaturas nacionales, pero los traductores son los que hacen la literatura universal... De no ser por los traductores, García Márquez no sería García Márquez en Japón, en Finlandia o en Rusia. Es decir, él sería quien es, pero los japoneses, finlandeses o rusos que lo aman no habrían tenido la posibilidad del encuentro.
("Translation is almost an impossibility because how can you carry into another language the breath of the author, his previous doubts, his intention when he types? It's impossible, but you do what you can. In any case, the work of translation is important, so much so, Saramago says authors make national literatures, but it is the translators who make literature universal... If not for translators, García Márquez would not be García Márquez in Japan, in Finland, or in Russia. That is, he would be who he is, but the Japanese, the Finns, or the Russians who love him would not have had the opportunity of discovery.")

When asked about any unforgettable anecdotes from the process, she replied:
Tengo memoria de cada libro y de cada artículo traducido. No he perdido ni un detalle, no he olvidado nada, haber traducido, y al lado del autor, en convivencia con él, es mi tesoro, un tesoro que a nadie más importa y que guardo porque en él me recreo. ¿Una anécdota? Una frase. La pronunció Carlos Fuentes, un día, viendo donde José trabaja y dónde lo hago yo. Dijo: "Qué suerte, la traductora en casa", y lo dijo con tanta vida que me conmovió oírlo. Me sentí muy orgullosa.
("I remember every book and every article I've translated. I haven't lost even one detail, I haven't forgotten anything--having translated, and by the author's side, living with him, is my treasure, a treasure that doesn't matter to anyone else and which I protect because I enjoy myself with him. An anecdote? A phrase. Carlos Fuentes said it one day, seeing where José works and where I do too. He said: "What luck, the translator in the house" and he said it with such enthusiasm, I was moved when I heard him. I felt very proud.")

New review

Over at the Words Without Borders blog, a brief review of mine on Translation in Practice, edited by Gill Paul, went up on Monday. It's full of common sense and well-delineated specifics on the ways translators, editors, copyeditors, and publishers can work together and improve communication practices in order to produce quality literary translations.

23 August 2009

The Bogotá 39: Two Years Later

As the 22nd International Book Fair (and its blog, Las palabras de la feria) in Bogotá draws to a close, El Espectador provides a much-needed update on the Bogotá 39. In the past two years, Andrés Neuman (Argentina) won the 2009 Alfaguara Novel prize for El viajero del siglo (The Traveler of the Century), Jorge Volpi (México) won the 2009 Debate-Casa of América prize for his forthcoming (November 2009) essay El insomnio de Bolívar (Bolívar's Insomnia) and Juan Gabriel Vásquez was shortlisted for the Independent's Foreign Fiction Prize (along with Anne McLean) for the English translation of Los informantes (The Informers). Many others also published new books.

Both Volpi and Vásquez agree that a common element of the 39 is that they do not share any one theme, ideology or literary voice:
“Lo que ha pasado es que se ha producido un fenómeno de desregionalización de la producción artística, en donde no tenemos que ser aprobados en nuestros países y, en el exterior, no se nos exige que escribamos como latinoamericanos, con los tonos del realismo mágico. Finalmente se está dando un proceso en donde uno encuentra su público en pequeños grupos de personas que no tienen por qué estar supeditados a un territorio en concreto. Vamos hacia un panorama más libre”, describe Volpi.
("What's happened is that a phenomenon of non-regionalist artistic production has emerged where we don't have to be approved in our own countries and, in the exterior, they don't demand that we write like Latin Americans, with tones of magical realism. It's finally creating a process where one finds his or her public in small groups of people that don't have to be tied to a specific territory. We're moving towards a more open outlook", describes Volpi.)

20 August 2009

Venturing out

In the past few weeks I've submitted a dissertation, moved back to Colombia, and stepped in to replace a third-grade teacher. One more week will find me in a new apartment with the dust (hopefully) settling around me.

Happily, I'm back to my book-buying ways and hope to begin writing more about the Colombian literature I'm reading. I don't want to jinx myself by saying too much, but I think it's safe to say that things will resume in the next week or so.

In the meantime, I'm hugely relieved to be back home in my tierra querida.