02 October 2009

The intuitive capacity of an artist

In a new interview at Words Without Borders with María Constanza Guzmán, Suzanne Jill Levine discusses the whys and wherefores of her seminal book, The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction:
I wrote the book mainly, however, because I felt translating involved a rich thought process of which the reader of the finished translation would never be aware. What a loss to readers, and how unfair to the translator, that readers are not aware of what we experience, of how complex the process is and how it reveals the literary critic and scholar in the good translator. In other words, instead of writing an essay or a book, you are translating. You are using those other capacities plus the intuitive capacity of an artist. The gifted translator is a poet, a maker. Even in the Borgesian sense of a maker who, by rereading, is creating. So, that’s why I started writing notes on the margins of my translations early on.
Also, her take on Lawrence Venuti and the "canon of fluency" is extremely helpful:
I think that sometimes I’ve really taken control of the text and sometimes the editor might have been right. For example, in The Buenos Aires Affair, there was a certain amount of comma splicing, it was a device of stream of consciousness. Nonetheless, I could see where a reader might be turned off by that in English. Ronald Christ pointed it out. And I said, "Well, it’s Puig." Yes, he said, but you translate the punctuation. And he was right. Punctuation must be translated like everything else, every language has its rules and conventions. Larry says, yes, but why don’t you bring their conventions into my, your language. Well, this is a matter of negotiation. If you read his translations, they are very fluent. Theory is one thing and practice is another, in Larry’s case as well as others’: the practice of writing is an act of constant negotiation and no one theory has the final word. So, I would say that my translations, because the writers themselves wanted to be received in this culture, are definitely mindful of the reader. But I am not too sure that fluency would be the best or the most precise word to describe that.
To me writing can ideally be aware of its own ideological limitations, and whatever work can bring out the uniqueness of a particular translator’s voice or writer’s voice, is what is valid in literary criticism in general, and therefore in translation criticism. I don’t distinguish translation criticism from literary criticism because I think it is part of literary criticism. I get concerned when I see people imposing theories or ideologies on texts, when instead of departing from the text they depart from an ideology. I think that ideology is always present in all texts and in all readings. If you are not conscious of your own ideological limitations you are bound to make serious errors. [...] I think there has to be an awareness that each text has its own rules and (as Borges would put it) "morphology" and you have to come from inside the text as well as your ideology or beliefs. If you can’t do that well you are not doing justice to the text, to writing, to literature, to culture. I would say that the more people experience the process, the more sensitive they might be as interpreters.