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Archive for the ‘Literary translation’ Category

Speech is silver, writing is golden

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VRT journalist and writer Annelies Beck is behind many of the interviews conducted at the Brussels international house of literature Passa Porta over the past decade and featured in Les présents de l’écriture / Het is altijd nu, the collection(s) published to celebrate Passa Porta’s tenth birthday. Beck herself has contributed an essay to the collection on the art of the literary interview entitled “Speech is silver, writing is golden”. I translated the essay from Dutch. My translation is available online on the Passa Porta website.

PP Festival

Written by Patrick Lennon

March 27, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Boris Vian’s L’écume des jours

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I read in a recent issue of the TLS (22 February) that the director Michel Gondry will soon be releasing a film version with Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’écume des jours. The novel, J.C. informs his readers, was translated by Stanley Chapman in 1967 as Froth on the Daydream and by John Sturrock in 1968 as Mood Indigo, which is the title that will be given to the English version of the film. I don’t know which translation is better. I’m not particularly fond of the former which is too literal and kind of meaningless (perhaps like the French title, for that matter?), but the latter seems too remote from the original. A third translation, by Brian Harper, was published by Tam Tam Books in 2003 and was entitled Foam of the Daze. It’s closer to the original than Mood Indigo, and catchier than Froth on the Daydream, but I’m not still not quite sure what it means. J.C. also informs his readers that the English translation to be published by Serpent’s Tail to coincide with the release of the film will be Chapman’s version, although it’ll be published under Sturrock’s title.

Vian.L'écume des jours

Written by Patrick Lennon

March 11, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Oscar le Sauvage

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A review in this week’s TLS reminds me of something I had perhaps forgotten, unless it’s something I never knew, and that is that Oscar Wilde’s tragedy-in-one-act Salome was first written en français. It was then translated into English by Wilde’s lover, Alfred Douglas, but the latter’s translation was apparently so incompetent that Wilde had to rework it himself. This, it seems, is why Douglas’s name was removed from the title page of the English text and only mentioned in Wilde’s dedication for the play. It’s uncertain then whether the English text really should in fact be considered a translation. In any case, if you want a new English translation, then you can read Joseph Donohue’s text, published by the University of Virginia Press. The review of Donohue’s translation in this week’s TLS is by Joseph Bristow. This reproduction of one of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings is from the review in this week’s TLS.

Written by Patrick Lennon

June 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Teju Cole’s “Open stad”

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Who ever said British and American reviewers were the only ones to omit the names of translators in their reviews of foreign works? This recent review by Michaël Bellon in the Dutch-language Brussels weekly Brussel Deze Week of Open stad, the Dutch translation of the young American writer Teju Cole’s novel Open City, makes no mention of the translator’s name. But perhaps the reviewer was simply distracted by the fact that the novel, about a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist in New York a few years after 9/11, is in part set in Brussels, where the protagonist arrives shortly after the murder of a young man for his iPod. Novels partly set in Brussels are indeed relatively rare in fiction, let alone contemporary American fiction. Be that as it may, I found the translator’s name on the publisher’s website: it’s Paul Van Der Lecq.

Written by Patrick Lennon

April 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Awaiting translation: David Bronsen’s Joseph Roth

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My previous post centred on Melvin Jules Bukiet’s novel After, which was published in the US in 1996 but which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been translated into French or Dutch. I chose it as an example of English-language works that fail to get translated into foreign languages, although they deserve to be.

This post centres on a counter-example, as it were, i.e., a foreign-language work that has not been translated into English although they deserve to be. There are allegedly a lot more of these, but perhaps this example is a bit out of the ordinary since it is neither a novel nor very recent. It’s the biography of Joseph Roth by David Bronsen, which I was reminded of when reading Michael Hofmann’s recently published translation of Joseph Roth’s correspondence, Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters (the edition shown here is the Norton edition; the UK edition is published by Faber). Bronsen’s biography of Roth was initially published in German in 1974 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch (cover pictured below), and in a shortened version in German in 1993. It is supposed to be a brilliant biography, but despite the renewed interest that Roth’s work received in the English-speaking world in the 1990s and 2000s (in large part thanks to Hofmann’s new translations), no English version is available. Strangely enough, however, an English translation from Chatto & Windus does seem to have been in preparation in 1999, but nothing seems to have come of it, although a ghostly reference does come up in the search results on Amazon or on BookDepository, for instance.

Lastly, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that a new biography of Roth was published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in 2009: Wilhelm von Sternburg’s Joseph Roth: Eine Biographie.

Written by Patrick Lennon

April 10, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Awaiting translation: Melvin Jules Bukiet’s After

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While it’s true that very little foreign-language literature (i.e., not English) gets translated into English, and while it’s also true that foreign-language book markets are dominated by a disproportionate percentage of English-language titles, it’s no less true that some English-language books deserve to reach an audience outside their native homeland, but for some reason or other fail to do so. One such book, I believe, is Melvin Jules Bukiet’s wickedly funny novel After, published in the US by St. Martin’s Press in 1996.

A black comedy set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War – after the liberation of the concentration camps –, it follows three former inmates as they start wheeling and dealing on the post-war German black market, before their leader becomes set on stealing a four-foot cube of gold from a military camp (you can guess where the gold came from) and making their way to Far Rockaway. It’s a darkly comic picaresque tale which, despite its setting and subject matter, thrives with life and real humanity, and that’s what’s great about it: it’s because these characters are not saints or martyrs that they are actually human, and that in turn is what gives them life as characters. Needless to say, Bukiet, who is himself the son of Holocaust survivors, adopts neither the pious nor the reverent approach to be found in most Holocaust literature. And though one need certainly not exclude the other, Bukiet’s approach is certainly refreshing, and probably more honest than many more conventional novels.

To the best of my knowledge, although a German translation by one Benjamin Schwarz has been published by Luchterhand Literaturverlag as Danach, the novel has been translated neither into French nor into Dutch, although why this is is a mystery to me given how good this book is.

Written by Patrick Lennon

March 31, 2012 at 12:05 am

Translating English into English

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No one ever said translation had to take place between two different languages, so why not between two different versions of the same language? Below (centre and right) are two examples of translations into contemporary English from Old English and Middle English, respectively: Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf (Faber & Faber, 1999) and Simon Armitage’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Faber & Faber, 2007).

I was reminded of these two volumes recently when I came across a copy of Heaney’s translation from the Middle Scots of Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables (Faber & Faber, 2009). In his introduction to this bilingual edition, Heaney mentions the three motives for translation identified by Eliot Weinberger: advocacy for the work in question, refreshment from a different speech and culture, and the pleasures of ‘writing by proxy’. Food for thought at the start of the new year.

Written by Patrick Lennon

January 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Edith Grossman on translation

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Yale University Press launched its “Why X Matters” series in 2010, each volume designed to present “a concise argument for the continuing relevance of an important person or idea”. So far the series contains volumes on the US Constitution, architecture, poetry, the Dreyfus affair, the philosopher Hannah Arendt, and the religious thinker Reinhold Niebuhr. It also contains a volume on translation published in 2010 and written by the American literary translator Edith Grossman, who has translated such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes. Strangely, this concise book left me with the impression that Grossman was not so much answering the question as to why translation matters, but also and perhaps especially the question as to why translation matters to her. This is not a bad thing, however. On the contrary. It’s precisely because it does matter to her that she makes a convincing case for translation in general.

After a brief introduction in which she explains how she got into literary translation, the first chapter sketches a picture of the relations between writers, translators and readers and establishes the central importance of translation. The second chapter concentrates on her approach to translating Cervantes’s Don Quixote: how she dealt (or not, as the case may be) with the centuries of scholarship behind the novel, or with the temporal distance separating her from Cervantes’s world, or the number of English translations that have been produced over the centuries (I was surprised to see that there were only 20 or thereabouts). The third and final chapter focuses on her translations of poetry and the particular difficulties involved in this exercise.

The book ends somewhat surprisingly with a “personal list of important translations” which covers authors from ancient Greece to today: from Sophocles and Homer to Dante and Cervantes, from Nietzsche to Dostoevsky, and from Rilke to the ubiquitous W.G. Sebald. It’s a surprising addition to the book, since it reads a bit like a list of canonical works with a lot of gaps in it. It’s surprising also because it somehow seems strange to have so many classic works of literature categorized as “translations” (instead of as “classics”, say). But then that is precisely the point of this book: to make us realize how essential translation is, how central it is in our world, even when we take it for granted and fail to see it for what it’s worth.

Written by Patrick Lennon

December 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Grand Hotel Europa, a tribute to literary translators

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A lot of people were at the Flagey arts centre in Brussels this past Friday for Grand Hotel Europa, a tribute to literary translators organized by the European Platform for Literary Translation PETRA. And although I’m not a literary translator, I was one of those attending the event.

The evening started with a panel discussion featuring the Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic, the Japanese-to-Dutch translator Luk van Haute, and the Arabic-to-English translator and researcher Alice Guthrie. They discussed various aspects of translation, from the changes made by translators to the original and the differences between “big” and “small” languages with regards to the book market. It was an interesting warm-up to the main event, which was held in the main hall.

The main event began with a brief talk entitled “Found in Translation” by the American writer Michael Cunningham, who talked of the writer, translator and reader each as translators in their own right: the writer translating his ideas into words, the translator turning one language into another, and readers each translating the words into their own mental images. Cunningham’s talk was followed by a live translation into three languages (French, Dutch, and a third one I couldn’t recognize) of a short text from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet: their translations were shown live on a big screen in real time, and it was interesting and amusing seeing the differences in their approaches, even on such a short text. Alberto Manguel then gave a talk entitled “Translation: A Miracle” in which he gave an overview of translation in South America from La Malinche (who acted as Cortes’s translator in the early 16th century) until today. Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian writer living in the Netherlands, finished off the evening with a talk entitled “Out of Nation Zone”, a witty and perceptive view of translation from the perspective of a woman writing in a “small” language. I left Flagey with some food for thought.

Written by Patrick Lennon

December 4, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Brian Friel’s Translations

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Translation is not an intrinsically political field, but like so many other things, from food to clothing, it can be. Translations, by the playwright Brian Friel, is a wonderful example of how politically and culturally charged translation can be. The play is set in the 1830s in an Irish-speaking area in County Donegal. Enter a detachment of Royal Engineers, who are making the first Ordnance Survey and have to translate the local Gaelic names into English. As the blurb rightly says, Friel “reveals the far-reaching personal and cultural effects of an action which is at first sight purely administrative”. First performed in 1980, the play was published by Faber and Faber in 1981 (paperback cover pictured below). For that matter, if you’re in Brussels and would like to see a play in English, then the English-Language Theatre in Brussels website has all the information you need about companies and performances.

Written by Patrick Lennon

November 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm