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Posts Tagged ‘translation

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

Belgian Architecture Beyond Belgium

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The Belgian architecture review A+ is bringing out a special issue in English at the end of the month devoted entirely to ‘Belgian Architecture Beyond Belgium’.

This special issue provides the first overview of the export of Belgian architecture. It opens with a historical synthesis of Belgian architecture on the international stage in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is followed by three round-table discussions on the subject of Belgian architecture outside Belgium featuring key players in the field, whether architects, town planners, engineers or academics. Twenty-five international projects by Belgian architectural firms are then given concise presentations illustrated with photographs and plans.

My fellow translator Gregory Ball provided the English translation of the introduction, and I translated all other materials from Dutch and French into English. I was also responsible for proofreading the entire issue.

Written by Patrick Lennon

February 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Daan van Golden: Apperception at WIELS

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Apperception, an exhibition of works by the Dutch artist Daan van Golden, opened today at WIELS, the contemporary art centre in Brussels. The exhibition provides an overview of van Golden’s work from the 1960s until today. It mostly consists of paintings, although it does also include a series of van Golden’s photographs of his daughter Diana. Apperception runs until 29 April 2012.

The painting pictured below on the cover of the visitor’s guide is entitled White Painting and dates from 1966. I was responsible for the English translation of the visitor’s guide.



Written by Patrick Lennon

January 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm

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

David Bellos on translation

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Published a few months ago, David Bellos’s Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything (Particular Books, 2011) has received what must be considerable attention for a book on translation, and what’s more, the attention has, to the best of my knowledge, been overwhelmingly positive.

In this book, Bellos – the translator of Georges Perec and Romain Gary among others, and a professor of literature at Princeton – sets out, neither to tell readers how to translate or how he translates nor to tell us what translation is, but to understand “what translation does“. His is a bold attempt to paint a big picture, he says, by exploring “the role of translation in cultural, social and human issues of many kinds”.

It is indeed, as the subtitle suggests somewhat vaguely, an ambitious book. Bellos discusses and occasionally quotes from a wide range of languages, so wide a range, in fact, that one wonders how many of these languages Bellos actually really knows and how in turn he can write about them and their translations if he does not: from French to Finnish, from Chinese to Hebrew, from German to Turkish, from Latin to Tok Pisin which, you’ll be happy to learn, is the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. I, for one, would not feel comfortable discussing them second-hand.

Besides the vast range of languages, Bellos also covers a wide range of topics touching on translation, but also on language and communication more generally: from comic strips to film subtitles, from computer-aided translation to the translation of legalese, from literary translation to the translation of humour, from the translation of news to that of the Bible. And the list does not stop there.

The book has 32 chapters spread out over some 340 pages, which gives little room to develop any of these topics in any detail. And that’s very much part of the problem: by choosing to cover so much, Bellos ultimately fails to cover anything satisfactorily. Hence the feeling also that the book is generally anecdotal, and that Bellos is more concerned with telling little anecdotes or stories. And this in turn is a pity since many of the topics he touches on are interesting in themselves, but dealt with too superficially. And it’s also a pity because he has translated many books by Perec and Gary as well as Fred Vargas and Ismail Kadare (yes, from French, and not Albanian, into English – he has an interesting piece on what he calls the “Englishing of Kadare” at the Complete Review), and so surely something drawing on his own experience would have been more enlightening about translation as a whole.

Lastly, about the title: I kept thinking it must be some vague attempt at humour, a deliberately poor English translation of one or other expression in another language, although it couldn’t have been French (but that in turn was bizarre since he translates from French, so why would he choose another language?…). As it turns out, it’s an inside joke for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in which a “Babel fish” is apparently an artificial device put in one’s ear to provide instantaneous translations. So there you have it – although I don’t really see the point of choosing a device that practices interpretation for the title of a book on translation… Soit, as they say.

Written by Patrick Lennon

November 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm

E-Culture Fair 2011

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The second and last day of the 2011 edition of the E-Culture Fair took place today, 17 November, in the Ethias Arena in Hasselt in Flanders. Organized by BAM (Flemish institute for visual, audiovisual and media art), the Flanders Music Centre, the VAi (Flemish Architecture Institute), and the VTi (Flemish Theatre Institute) in collaboration with the Flemish government, the event focused on highlighting the increasing interconnectedness of the fields of culture, creativity, research and technology. In doing so, it offered visitors a glimpse of what the (very near) future will look like. I took care of the translations from Dutch into English of the introductory texts in the catalogue (pictured below) as well as some proofreading of material related to the fair.

Written by Patrick Lennon

November 17, 2011 at 11:47 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

The Craft of Translation

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Edited by John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte, The Craft of Translation is a collection of essays on literary translation that covers a wide range of texts (theatre, fiction, poetry, epic) over a long period of time (from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries) and a no less vast range of countries (from South America to Japan).

The essays were all written by literary translators who have tackled major writers past and present, and although not all their names may be familiar, some at least are worth mentioning alongside some of the authors they have worked on: Gregory Rabassa – Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargos Llosa, Juan Goytisolo; Margaret Sayers Peden – Isabel Allende, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes; Donald Frame – Voltaire and Molière; William Weaver – Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Primo Levi; Christopher Middleton – Goethe, Nietzsche, Robert Walser, Paul Celan; Edward Seidensticker – Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji.

The volume is interesting because it gives a quite detailed and well-illustrated overview of the translation process in practice. And indeed, despite the differences in genre and source language, the volume is quite coherent, since all these translators face a number of similar problems, such as how to convey the sounds of a particular language, or how to translate curses and oaths, or how to render local expression and idiom in English. The risks involved in collaborative translations are also evoked by one essayist, who notes that his Americanisms did not mix well with the Britishisms of his fellow translator. The question is also raised by a translator of poetry as to whether his voice should show or, on the contrary, be mute. This issue ties in with the question as to the extent to which the translator should retain a sense of differentness in his translation. Last but not least, the very issue of translatability is raised repeatedly: while one essayist calculates the relative feasibility of a translation before starting on a job, another suggests that the translation of a poem should always be followed by a blank page for the ideal translation, which, of course, always remains out of reach.

Published in 1989 by the University of Chicago Press in their series “Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing”, this volume is labelled “Reference / Literary Criticism”, and quite rightly so. Indeed, it emerges clearly from these essays that these translators are engaged in literary interpretation that is far from superficial, and their readings of the original works can teach us much.

John Biguenet & Rainer Schulte's The Craft of Translation

Written by Patrick Lennon

October 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm

J.M. Coetzee, writer and translator

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I think it’s fair to say that the (two-time) Booker Prize-winner and (one-time) Nobel Prize-winner J.M. Coetzee is better known for his novels and essays than for his translations. In fact, I’m not even really sure I knew that Coetzee had done some translations until I discovered one of these works quite by a chance in a second-hand bookshop some time ago.

The book in question is A Posthumous Confession, a translation – “from the Netherlandic”, readers are told – of  Een nagelaten bekentenis (1896), by the Dutch novelist Marcellus Emants (1848-1923). Coetzee’s translation was released in 1975 as volume 7 in the quaintly named “Library of Netherlandic Literature” edited by the no less quaintly named Egbert Krispyn and published by Twayne: Coetzee’s name is visible in the bottom right-hand corner of the front cover (pictured below left). By a strange coincidence, I see that the novel was reissued earlier this year by New York Review Books, with an introduction by Coetzee, dating, however, from the mid eighties (pictured below right).

A Posthumous Confession is not Coetzee’s only translation. He has also translated from Afrikaans The Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström: it was first published by Jonathan Ball in Johannesburg in 1983 and by Faber in London in 1984. It was reissued by the South African publisher Human & Rousseau in March of last year. And in 2003, Coetzee brought out a volume of Dutch poetry, Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, in a bilingual edition published by Princeton University Press.

For readers who are well acquainted with Coetzee’s fiction and who have enough knowledge of Dutch (and perhaps Afrikaans) to read these works in the original, it must be interesting to go over his translations to try to discover stylistic and perhaps thematic overlappings between his own work as a novelist and the works he chose to translate. Indeed, more so than in any other type of translation, here readers really are left wondering who they are in fact reading, whose voice it is they are listening to, whether that of the original author, or that of the translator.

Written by Patrick Lennon

October 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm