Translating is to make love with the world

The newly Works that work magazine, edited by typographer Peter Biľak, offers an excellent interview of Linda Asher, former fiction editor at The New Yorker and translator of Milan Kundera’s French works : Translation is a human exchange (no full access online, though).

For a translator, all reading is of course nourishing and essential for a working lexicon of dictions, experience and information. When I am engaged in a particular book project, I often read around it widely and intensively –for the period, for the world it comes from, or perhaps to broaden my sense of the author’s own range of reference and culture. (…) When I first read a text for translation, it is to learn its nature: whether the text is gloomy or lifting, sharp-tonguered or exuberant. I look for the meaning, the sound of the text, the song, which to say the style, and my goal would be to find the English to answer in kind.

Translating is to write, thus to play music with words.

What I appreciate in a good translation is a competence in both languages; attention to the argument or plat so that a reader’s experience is not disrupted by missteps or a tin ear; a sense that the song of the original has been brought across by a translator who can sing it…. We all are pleased to read a significant work even when it has some faults, but there is a special pleasure when you can feel the matching of rhythms, of tones, between author and translator. And I think that can probably be sensed even in work from an unfamiliar tongue –a verse, a sureness.

All this is rather common. Let’s read though the next paragraph, which is more original that the mere Traduction Trahison (as in French) :

Translation is a kind of impersonation, I think. As a translator and as a self, I am keen to observe the world consciously, and to notice dialogue, notice dialect, notice personal styles of speech, notice tics. If you have  a large enough library of this kind of experience, and if you have made yourself specifically aware of it, you’ve got many pages of experience to riffle through and decide whether you have the appropriate English available for the book at hand. It is important to have a very broad English, access to all sorts of English, to get the character of a text. So reading and being out in the world are very important for any writer, but maybe especially for a translator. I think that an encased and enclosed life probably doesn’t give you the chance to do this well.

Translating is to make love with the world. We might safely bet that Svletana Geier and Lydia Davis would agree.

& :
Translating translated translation | Svletana Geier | Lydia DavisTraduction ? – (webOL).

3 réflexions sur “Translating is to make love with the world

  1. Théophile dit :

    I totally agree with you about this subject !

    How many artists did a translation about a piece of another artist, to try to make him better known ?

    Mais, je laisserais à d’autres le soin de trouver les mots qui retransmettent au mieux des idées des uns, car je n’ai pas cette aisance. Et je les remercie d’avance de leur fidélité envers les mots de l’auteur, afin que ceux qui les liront puissent ressentir ce que lui même aura ressenti.

  2. WebOL dit :

    @Théophile :

    I am grateful to you for this reading.

    Ta remarque me fait penser à ce qu’ajoute Linda Asher, pour répondre à la question de savoir s’il est des textes impossibles à traduire « because of a combination of a particular style and period« .

    I can’t imagine that would be so. If there’s a reader for it, and if the reader is somebody who relishes pulling up language to meet it, then even the abstruse stuff of the most insane or knotty writer should be susceptible of translation. I can’t imagine that a priori one would say about anything that is cannot be translated, because translation is as a human exchange. A book is not only a text, and I don’t see translation as an exclusively literary activity, but as a human exchange. It’s a social act, an act of transporting something valuable from one mind to another: I’m trying to tell one person what another person has said.

  3. Théophile dit :

    C’est exactement cela ! D’ailleurs, c’est tout à fait vérifiable : Prenons par exemple les Souffrances du jeunes Werther. Ce roman fut traduit maintes et maintes fois, par des admirateurs, ou par des littéraires. Il se trouve que dans le second cas, ayant eu vent de la vague de suicides qui a été facilitée par cette histoire, se sont permis de transformer quelque peu le texte, et de rajouter d’importantes notes tentant de déjouer la puissance du romantisme.

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