Saturday, February 28, 2004

More Translating

After I posted yesterday I continued thinking about translations. I got so excited to tell you about great books I've read that my brain fuzzed out and I couldn't think any longer. Here are my questions: Would you rather read a book knowing it was translated word for word from the original and put up with clunky and strange wording, or would you rather read a book that is beautifully written knowing that it isn't word for word but told the same story and "honored" the spirit of the original? (I think I lean toward well written) And if a book is translated in the spirit of the original, does that make it a new book? (Yes, and no) And if it is a new book, can I say I have read Proust, or only that I have read a translation of Proust? (yes, and no) Does the translator need to be fluent in both the language of the book being translated and the language the book is translated into? (I lean toward they should be) For instance, having only a smattering of German and a good dictionary, can I do a new translation of Goethe's Faust? (this would be a disaster, an entertaining disaster maybe, but a disaster nonetheless) A search of the Internet in hopes of some help in answering these questions turns up, of course, a book, The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation edited by Peter France and published in 2000 (leave it to the Brits to be on top of things). Here is a bit of what France has to say:

Translation, seen by Florio, the great Montaigne translator, as a secondary and 'female' activity, has little status compared with 'original' creation. It often seems that the translator's best role is that of self-effacing servant, a transparent glass through with (sic) the original is viewed. But if the translator as traitor is uncomfortably visible, the translator as servant suffers from invisibility. His or her work is taken for granted, as if it were simply mechanical, the translator's name is often barely acknowledged in title pages, reviews and the like, translators struggle to achieve the recognition implied by royalties (or in the university world, the approval of the RAE). Translations, from the Bible to Pinocchio, are an essential part of English-language culture, but they occupy a small place in histories of literature and in anthologies of English poetry (Christopher Ricks's newOxford Book of English Verse is an honourable exception). Those reading translations often seem unconscious of the fact, as if in reading Garnett they were simply reading Dostoevsky - it is easy to overlook the fascinating work of rewriting that translation represents.
The book appears to be essays written by and about translators and the problems and joys of translation. Looks like I'm going to have to find myself a copy. Stay tuned.