Baboon is Taking Over!

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Published at the beginning of the month, Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon is making waves all over the media—from the Los Angeles Review of Books and Music & Literature to top 10 lists on Flavorwire. We’re incredibly excited by this and thought we’d share some of the kind words!!

Los Angeles Review of Books

Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon, published in 2006, is in some ways a national literary treasure, a collection all subsequent story collections have been forced to reckon with (Nors’s included). On its publication in Denmark it was met with unusual critical acclaim, and went on to win the 2006 Danish Critics Prize as well as the 2008 Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, Scandinavia’s highest literary honor whose laureates include Sjón and Per Petterson. Baboon’s belated appearance in English, beautifully and hauntingly rendered by the incomparable Denise Newman (translator of Inger Christensen’s short novels), is a major literary event.

Music & Literature

While Aidt’s work may not be well-known in English, it will hopefully be the case that Denise Newman’s beautiful translation will bring the author a wider audience. Undoubtedly one of the most intelligent writers of the contemporary literary world, Aidt is also clearly one of the most compassionate—and therefore one of the most important—voices in fiction. How she bears the weight of such empathic descriptions of her characters, who we feel for as though we had stumbled directly into their lives, is a credit to her brilliant insight into the human condition.

And featured in Jonathon Sturgeon’s Flavorwire list, “10 New Translated Books to Read Right Now“.

Aidt won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for Baboon, which comes to us from Two Lines Press. Called “desperate” and “frantic” and “painfully universal,” the stories promise something special. Honestly, I’d trust anything from Two Lines Press, which has quickly set itself at the vanguard of translated literature in America.

AUDIO: Two Voices Salon with Ottilie Mulzet Discussing Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Ottillie-MulzetOn October 9, 2014, it was our pleasure to host, via Skype, Ottilie Mulzet at the Two Lines Press offices in San Francisco. Mulzet is perhaps best-known as the translator of Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, winner of the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. In addition, Mulzet is the translator of AnimalInside, also by Krasznahorkai, as well as upcoming works by Krasznahorkai, a book-length memoir by the Hungarian poet Szilard Borbely, and other upcoming projects.

The Salon begins with a discussion of recent translation news: Patrick Modiano’s Nobel Prize in Literature (announced that very day), plus new works in translation. From there we start the conversation with Mulzet, who focuses on Seiobo There Below and her working relationship with Krasznahorkai and his Hungarian prose. The conversation also ranges among his literary influences, the reception of Seiobo in Hungary, Mulzet’s upcoming projects, and even Krasznahorkai’s collaborations with filmmaker Béla Tarr.


00:00 Introductions

00:50 Opening conversation

  • 1:10 Nobel Prize Award to Patrick Modiano
  • 5:00 A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, edited by Valerie Miles (Open Letter Books)
  • 7:15 The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation, edited by Esther Allen, Sean Cotter & Russell Scott Valentino (Open Letter Books)
  • 8:37 The Last Lover by Can Xue (translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen) (Yale University Press)
  • 9:10 I Remember by Georges Perec (translated by Philip Terry) (Godine)
     

10:10 Introductions to Ottilie Mulzet and Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

11:15 How Mulzet came to translation Seiobo and how she discovered Krasznahorkai’s writing

17:20 Mulzet’s description of Seiobo

22:00 Mulzet discussing how Krasznahorkai’s Hungarian functions, and how she rendered it in English, with examples read directly from Seiobo

39:35 Mulzet’s level of interaction with Krasznahorkai when resolving the many ambiguities inherent in the Hungarian original of Seiobo

43:20 The reception of Seiobo in Hungary

46:13 Mulzet discusses Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, her next Krasznahorkai translation, available from Seagull Books in 2015

51:30 Krasznahorkai’s ambition vis a vis Satantago

52:15: Krasznahorkai’s work with Béla Tarr

56:40 Literary influences on Krasznahorkai

59:05 The absence of gender in the Hungarian language

1:02:50 Mulzet’s upcoming translations: a book by the Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély, another book by Krasznahorkai, and others

Reactions to Nobel Prize Winner Patrick Modiano

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The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced today. It wasn’t Murakami or Ngũgĩ—names that people had eagerly bet on—but a French author by the name of Patrick Modiano. The Prize citation noted that he was picked for his masterful execution of “the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation” (his novels often take place in the WWII era, Nazi-occupied France). Here are a collection of reactions to the announcement from various news outlets—some congratulatory and some disgruntled.

The New Yorker

So it is—and Ladbrokes, the venerable British gambling establishment, is giving odds on forty-six writers. At the top of the list right this minute is Ngugi wa Thiong’o, with Haruki Murakami a tight second. (Update: In the end, the winner was Patrick Modiano, a long shot.) — Philip Gourevitch

BBC News

Patrick Modiano has been a national literary treasure in France for decades. But up until now, he has also been one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Only a handful of his 25-odd novels have been translated into English. — Henri Astier

The Literary Saloon

They’ve announced that Patrick Modiano is the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

Modiano has long been mentioned as a contender—and some betting interest did put his odds up in contender-territory at 10/1 (as I mentioned yesterday, I figured it was likely he was among the five finalists)—but this still comes as a bit of a surprise/shock/disappointment to me. — M.A.Orthofer

New York Times

In choosing Mr. Modiano, the academy seems to be shrugging off criticism that the literature prize has often been too Eurocentric and tipped toward lesser-known writers who focus on political themes. The Nobel committee has drawn criticism in the past for shunning authors whose works are widely read in favor of more obscure writers. The selection of Ms. Munro last year was celebrated by many in the literary community as a sign that the academy was embracing more mainstream and popular authors. — Alexandra Alter & Dan Bilefsky

The Atlantic

A master of fiction about memory and loss, fewer than half his works have been translated into English . . . . The British betting firm Ladbrokes had Modiano as the joint-fourth favorite for the award last night. — Noah Gordon

The Millions

In the type of surprise move many Nobel watchers have become accustomed to, the committee has awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature to French novelist Patrick Modiano, a writer with a deep body of work, but one who was not among the “favorites” discussed in the flurry of pre-announcement speculation . . .

While Modiano’s novels have been published in English translations over the years, including by major publishers like Knopf, only a handful of his 25 or so books are currently in print in the U.S. These include Honeymoon and Catherine Certitude, a children’s book, illustrated by Sempe. Yale will be releasing a new edition next year that collects three Modiano novellas under the title Suspended Sentences.

Washington Post

Missing Person [a Modiano novel] is published in the United States by a small indie press owned by David R. Godine. This morning, Godine missed the Nobel announcement because he was in Dublin, N.H., staking his dahlias in the garden. Reached by phone, he exclaimed, “This means we’ll be ahead this year!”

Modiano is the second French Nobel winner that Godine publishes. Years ago, he went to the Frankfurt Book Festival and asked, “Who are the great writers who have never been published in English?” He signed Modiano and J. M. G. Le Clézio, who won the Nobel in 2008.” — Ron Charles

11/5: Deconstructing Edouard Levé [EVENT]

leveJoin us for a night of experimentation and conversation as we celebrate the work of French writer and artist Edouard Levé.

Written with a “strange combination of formal distance and emotional immediacy” (Slate), and filled with whimsy, dark humor, relentless experimentation, and crystalline prose, Levé’s books have become celebrated for their elegance, poetic beauty, and inventive ideas. Himself inspired by great writers from the experimental French literary collective the Oulipo, Levé has gone on to energize a new generation of writers and artists around the world. His writing has been fêted in publications ranging from The Paris Review to the Los Angeles Times, and he has quickly become a fixture of innovative writing programs and underground literary scenes across the United States.

To delve into this remarkably original, diverse body of writing, we bring together two men with an intimate knowledge of Levé’s books—his two English-language translators, Jan Steyn and Lorin Stein. They’ll be in conversation with Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito, a certified Levé-ian and co-author of The End of Oulipo?

works-leveLevé’s book Autoportrait consists of a single, 100-page paragraph of observations about himself. In the words of Slate columnist Mark O’Connell “you kind of want him to stop just saying things about himself, but you also can’t stop reading these things that he just keeps saying.”

His Works consists of 533 numbered ideas for artworks imagined by the author but never realized. The Guardian called it “a delight to read, so full of surprises, so many unexpected moments of laughter, reverie and delight.”

And his final book, Suicide—handed into his publisher just 8 days before Levé took his own life—is a look at the titular phenomenon unlike any other.

In this interactive and wide-ranging evening of all things Levé we will immerse ourselves in the artistry and ideas behind his books—and we will also invite the audience to participate in creating some Levé-ian artworks and texts of our own. No prior knowledge of Levé of experimental prose necessary!

It all takes place at The Lab, one of the Bay Area’s top venues for innovative literary events. Have a drink, dive in to Levé’s remarkably addictive prose, and interact with some of the most ardent and knowledgeable Levé-ians in the United States!

  • The Lab
  • 2948 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
  • 7:00 pm
  • FREE
  • Cash bar, and copies of Levé’s books available for sale

Jan Steyn is a South African translator from French and Afrikaans to English. He is currently studying Comparative Literature at Emory University. His translations include Suicide and Works by Edouard Levé, and Alix’s Journal by Alix Cleo Roubaud.

Lorin Stein is the editor of The Paris Review. Before taking the helm at the magazine, Stein worked as an editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, where he edited Natasha Wimmer’s translations of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and 2666. He is also the translator of Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait.

The Thing That’s Missing from Comp Lit

Zuha Khan is TLP’s Fall Intern! She is a recent college graduate with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and has high hopes to join the publishing world. Zuha’s major sparked her curiosity about translated works and led her to Two Lines.

TP_Cover_largeSince I’m an interested newcomer to the field of translation in publishing, Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito recommended that I read through The Three Percent Problem. This is an e-book that Chad Post of Open Letter Books put together a couple of years ago based on his huge amounts of personal involvement with (seemingly) virtually every aspect of literary translation. It covers everything from translation statistics (with commentary on various countries) to the lives of translators and how all of it is affected by the globalization of English.

The more I read, the more I vigorously agreed with what was being discussed. As a Comp Lit undergrad, I came to a lot of unfortunate realizations about what little interest there is in translations.

In particular I had noticed the following things:

  • Hardly any English majors knew what Comparative Literature was or its importance
  • The head of the Comp Lit department pushed me toward European languages because of their similarities to English
  • The fact that many schools don’t even have a Comp Lit department, and in others (like mine) the department is miniscule (my graduating class was less than 10 students)
  • Even within my Comp Lit department, the art of translation was almost never discussed

Every realization I had made aligned with what I was reading in The Three Percent Problem. There was a twisted sense of comfort in that. After the first chapter, a few lines kept ringing in my head:

[English’s indifference to translation] is also a roadblock to global discourse that affects writers in every language and . . . imposes itself as the sole mode of globalization. . . . The real issue is not the English language—but the cultural forces within the language that are resistant to translation . . .

Post’s point about “cultural forces within the language that are resistant to translation” completely aligns with my experience, and, personally, I find it really peeving! Typically, my professors would only mention a book’s country of origin. For four years, we never delved into the specifics of language and what the translation process might have been like.

In my final Comp Lit course, that all changed. My professor had us read Amos Kenan’s The Road to Ein Harod in English, and on the day of discussion she brought a professor friend from UC Berkeley with a background in Hebrew and Israeli literature. She had the original Hebrew text of the novel, and we discussed specific words that were lost in translation and changed whole meanings of certain scenes. We examined the work as a translation of the novel and not simply as a text.

raod-ein-harodIt was unfortunate that it took so long to reach this level of discussion about translation in a field that is all about translated books. After the Kenan talk, I wondered how much had been overlooked in my other classes. In The Road to Ein Harod, the Hebrew word for “soil” is translated as “land,” and this makes a harrowing moment near the end of the novel even more meaningful and gripping. Later, I looked through all the course books I’d collected, so many of them translations, and realized how much depth there is to that field. Also, I became aware of just how deeply the “cultural forces” resist the dialogues that translation attempts to bring to English. It ignited a deep curiosity.

With that in mind, if literature is the collective consciousness of the time and place it was written, how does one have successful global discourses? Kenan’s novel about a futuristic, dystopic, Israeli military police state reflected his thoughts about the country he lived in at the time. When I read it, I felt like I received a deeper understanding of Israel that might have been impossible otherwise. As a part of the discourse we participate in when we read books like Kenan’s I think it’s important to always be aware of where these books came from, and what was required to bring them to us in English.

AUDIO: Naja Marie Aidt and Denise Newman Speak on Baboon

Baboon-294Last Thursday we had a wonderful event at The Booksmith as part of Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon book tour. The event consisted of Naja reading a story from Baboon, and then her and translator Denise Newman discussing Baboon with Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito.

The conversation occurred before an audience of approximately 30 readers at The Booksmith and delved into a number of areas: questions of translating Naja’s prose; the unique aspects of the working relationship between Naja and Denise; why this book resonated so much with Danish readers (and why it was unusual that it won such major and prestigious awards); the unified aesthetic represented in Baboon; Aidt’s influences as s short story writer; and even a few more things.

If you’re curious to know more about this book, or to hear Aidt read “The Honeymoon” go ahead and give the audio a listen. Here is a list of where you can find all the individual aspects of the conversation:

2:56: Naja Marie Aidt reads “The Honeymoon” from Baboon

27:54: The origins of Aidt’s and Denise Newman’s collaboration on translating Baboon into English, and how they worked together as a translator-and-author team

36:00: The reaction of Danish society to Baboon, and the reasons why a short story collection was given the region’s highest literary honors

44:00: Newman’s experiences trying to recreate Aidt’s aesthetic in English

46:40: The unity of Aidt’s aesthetic in Baboon and her experiences/inspirations as a short story writer

55:20: Q&A: How to get more interest in translations in the U.S.?

1:01:36: Q&A: Newman’s level of interaction with Aidt on Baboon

1:03:33: Q&A: The real-life counterpart of the Greek city in “The Honeymoon”

Michael Henry Heim — The Man Between

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I wanted to share some news about a very special book from Open Letter Books that will be publishing in October: The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation.

For those who are unfamiliar with Heim, he was a truly astonishing translator: for starters, he translated from eight different languages. And not only that, he was known for making some of the most beautiful translations possible from some of the most difficult-to-translate writers. We’re talking Thomas Mann, Hugo Claus, Milan Kundera . . .

In addition to that, Heim was a tireless advocate of translation: he educated a new generation of translators as a professor at UCLA, and he also established the PEN Translation Fund out of his own pocket. He was also a mentor to many, a friend, and inspiration . . . This is some truly legendary stuff, and translation would simply not be anywhere near where it is today if not for his efforts.

So it’s really wonderful that Open Letter has put together a tribute to Heim’s life and works. And we at Two Lines Press are extraordinarily proud to be a part of this book.

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When our parent organization, the Center for the Art of Translation, moved into its new offices back in 2011, we wanted to host an event to celebrate the occasion, and Heim was exactly the person we wanted to have at the center of this event. Even though he was at the time sick with the stage IV cancer that would eventually end his life, Heim made the journey upstate to San Francisco and gave a very inspiring speech about the “three eras of translation.”

Far from a dry academic lecture, this speech is a concise, engaging overview of the last 50 years of translation in the U.S. (Heim couches it in terms of three eras). It also ends with a call to arms to translators everywhere, with actual concrete ideas and goals that they can work on. It’s exactly the sort of thing that we should hear more of in the translation community.

When Esther Allen later got in touch with us to ask to include the speech in the book, we all immediately agreed that it would be a true honor. (And Esther has done a fantastic job annotating the speech throughout.)

In addition to that, this book is packed with all sorts of other things that will be of interest to translators and the translation-loving (all Heim-related, of course). Here are some images of the table of contents to whet your appetite.

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Two Interviews with Naja Marie Aidt

Baboon-294So you may have heard that we’ve got Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon publishing next month, October 14 to be precise. (Although, psssst, if you pre-order the title, we might just send it to you right away.)

Some of the marvelous people who have already read Baboon have seen fit to discuss this subject with Naja. And the results are proving, I think, interesting.

First up is Emily Wilson at SF Weekly. First up, Naja shares some interesting remarks about her interaction with her translator, Denise Newman:

“I’m grateful that Denise wanted to involve me in the process,” she said. “or years we’ve worked to transform the stories into English in a way that felt natural and kept the tone. For example, in Scandinavian it’s very common to have short sentences one after the other. But in English it looks weird. So we had to find a new rhythm for the stories.”

If you read the book, you can definitely see what she means. Short sentences abound, and it creates a very madcap, chaotic feel, as, for instance, in “The Car Trip.”

Naja also talks about her upbringing in Greenland, where she was in fact born:

Aidt says that spending her first eight years in Greenland, before moving to Copenhagen, influenced her writing.

“I grew up with all the fairy tales,” she said. “There’s a strong oral storytelling tradition, and it’s a rough and harsh place. Then going to Copenhagen was like home to me with my grandparents there. I think the landscape and life of a place shapes you somehow. We have these long, dark winters and light, beautiful summers.”

Our second interview with Naja is courtesy of Asymptote. There’s a whole lot to read in this interview, but I’ll just highlight this one section. I’m choosing this because the stories in Baboon are really, really strange, although also quotidian and familiar, and I liked Naja explanation of how she arrived at her own interesting approach to this aesthetic.

One of the subjects I was interested in exploring or scrutinizing when working on Baboon (and something I am always drawn to when writing) is the absurdity and survival instinct that we live our everyday life as if nothing would ever change or threaten it. And when something does happen—your lover leaves you, you get sick, you lose a close relative, you find yourself in a car accident, or someone attacks you, you realize how vulnerable you are, how weak you are and how easily everything you trusted to be forever vanishes within seconds. It fascinates me to dig into those few seconds and to write about characters’ reactions to sudden changes, whether coming from the inside or the outside world.

Baboon was written while the economic boom was at its peak in Denmark, and that exaggerated everything. It made people feel like they didn’t need anyone anymore. You could feel the change in the streets. No politeness, no kindness, no community feeling. A lot of stress and egoistical behavior was activated. A terrible blooming racism. Fear that immigrants would come and take away our privilege. And also a new focus on the body. It was now possible to spend a lot of money to gain the perfect body, to get a pair of new breasts, to work out seven days a week, to make sure not to eat or drink anything that was not “guaranteed” to be healthy and so on. The body was worshipped as a temple. And the fear for diseases and sickness drove people mad.

I wanted to combine the materialism in society with the focus on the body and I spent a long time trying to invent a new kind of writing that not only described this but that in its way was the materialism, the body, the fear, and the intolerance. That’s why you will find very little in the way of psychological portraits, as in classic psychological realism. Instead, there are a lot of bodily reactions and the stories are written in the present tense to catch some of the “now and here” stress to force the reader to experience what the characters experience at the exact same time. The stories are mostly composed as a sequence of scenes with very little information on how the characters feel. Like a clash between person and surrounding. The story “Mosquito Bite” is an example of this method. I wanted to combine a literary poetic prose with a tight Steven King-like horror/suspense feeling in order to get that clash. A clash of the unpleasant, unexpected.

Thoughts on Translation with Margaret Jull Costa

Jull Cosa

I read Margaret Jull Costa’s translations of two books forthcoming from Other Press this fall, and I was struck by the coincidence of how similar their titles are: Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall and Michel Laub’s Diary of the Fall.

Laub’s novel asks what Jewishness means in Brazil today, and how the past can shape us in times to come. His narrator meditates on his relationship to his father and grandfather, and also on the cruelty that any majority feels it can visit on a minority. On the other hand, Mainardi’s memoir weaves together history, art, science, personal reminiscences, and images to chart his relationship to his son and to his son’s disability.

Both books have a strong first-person voice leading us through their stories, as well, and I became curious about what drew Costa to these stories of fathers and sons, especially since, until recently, she has almost exclusively translated European Lusophone and Spanish books. I interviewed her about this and other subjects over email earlier this summer.

Marthine Satris, Two Lines: I noticed that Mainardi’s memoir and Laub’s novel both poke at their unsettled relationship to their origins. Laub rejects his father’s story of his grandfather’s trauma, yet the effect of The Fall is to make the narrator aware of his minority status and difference from those around him. Mainardi hilariously claims that his particular talent is leaving Brazil, yet he almost blames his adoration of Venice for his son’s disability, appreciates Ipanema Beach for providing a safe space for his son to develop mobility, and stays in Brazil for almost a decade. Was this sense of mobility (and seemingly resultant distance from a feeling of belonging in Brazil) something that was attractive to you about these texts?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMJC: Since I am not really a Brazilianist, that sense of a European past and (in Mainardi’s case) that sense of preferring Europe to Brazil, made it easier for me as a translator with strongly European roots. I would be more cautious about translating Brazilian authors such as Guimarães Rosa or Graciliano Ramos, whose work is deeply rooted in rural Brazil, a world I know nothing about. As for the sense of identity expressed by other writers I’ve translated, I would say perhaps a sense of alienation from their own country and culture was almost necessary. I’m thinking of Javier Marías, Eça de Queiroz, and José Saramago in particular, all of whom have been accused of being un-Spanish or un-Portuguese. Javier is often accused of being an anglicised Spaniard; Eça lived much of his adult life abroad and wrote biting satires about life in Portugal; Saramago moved to Lanzarote when the government vetoed his book The Gospel According to Jesus Christ as Portugal’s candidate for a European prize. And yet all three are intensely Spanish or intensely Portuguese, just as Laub and Mainardi are intensely Brazilian. Distance (whether geographical or emotional) lends not enchantment perhaps but a particular sharpness of vision so essential to a writer.

Marthine Satris: The structures of the books seemed to echo this dislocation, as the reader is abruptly moved through time and space in both of them. How do you think the stringing together of pieces drawn from history, science, and personal experience (in Mainardi’s book) or scenes from childhood, adulthood, and the grandfather’s falsified memories affect the reader’s experience of the stories each author is telling? Was it at all a new challenge for you?

MJC: This was not really a problem in Mainardi’s book, where the narrator’s voice is consistent throughout, and in Laub’s book, I really enjoyed translating the perversely optimistic entries in the grandfather’s “diary,” with its gloriously stilted bureaucratic language.

Marthine Satris: As someone who has been so known for translations of European authors, what has now drawn you to begin translating Brazilian authors?

MJC: There was no real decision involved, one of my publishers asked me if I would like to translate the two novels—Diary of the Fall and The Fall—and I said, “Yes.” There is a lot of interest in Brazilian literature at the moment, which has to do with Brazil being in the news—up-and-coming economy, World Cup, Olympics—but also with the fact that the Brazilian government is offering translation grants.

Marthine Satris: With regard to your comment that the authors you’ve translated have had a common sense of alienation from their countries and cultures, you said that alienation was “almost necessary.” Can you explain that intriguing insight a bit more? In order for them to be successful in translation, must their work look critically at their origins and context?

MJC: I think a lot of writers do write from outside their own culture, even if they remain living in the country or region. Think of those great writers from the Deep South—Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner—they were both outsiders intellectually, even though they lived in the South most of their lives, and Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic living in the Bible Belt. Perhaps it has to do with what Graham Greene called the splinter of ice in the heart of every writer. Perhaps, too, that is what makes great writers universal. Don Quixote is possibly the most universal of books and it was written in seventeenth-century Spain! And Cervantes was another outsider, dismissed by his contemporaries and despite the success of Don Quixote, he died in relative poverty. It’s a theory anyway!

Diary-of-the-Fall_06-242x390Marthine Satris: Like many of the authors you have translated, Laub and Mainardi are men. In their two books, both particularly address their life experiences as men—becoming a father, or a visit to a brothel as a sign of entrance into manhood. When you have translated male authors, have you noticed any particular gendered nature to the language choices they make?

MJC: Since most of the authors I translate are male, this isn’t really something I worry about, except, as you say, in speech, where, for example, a man might not say “lovely” or “how sweet,” but otherwise, the original is usually telling you what kind of language to use.

Marthine Satris: Has translating Brazilian writers changed or broadened your understanding of Portuguese as a language?

MJC: Every book I translate teaches me new things about the languages I work from. Learning a language, one’s own included, is a never-ending adventure. The Brazilian authors I’ve translated tend to use a very standard Portuguese. It would be quite different were I to attempt, say, Grande Sertão: Veredas by Guimarães Rosa, who is often referred to as the Brazilian Joyce, and, like Joyce, used a mixture of very colloquial language and a vocabulary of his own invention. The book is also set in the Northeast of Brazil, among country people (farmers and bandits); now that really would be a stretch for my largely urban, European Portuguese.

Marthine Satris: You mentioned having fun translating the sanitized, official grandfather’s voice in Laub’s book. Has part of your dedication to translation been a pursuit of writing in many different voices? For instance, in contrast to the almost dashed off, note-style of Mainardi’s sentences, another writer you translate, Marías, is known for his exceedingly long sentences. Can you talk a bit about the pleasure for you of getting to slip into these varied voices?

MJC: The main pleasure of translating does lie in (a) writing in one’s own language, and (b) writing in many different styles and voices. My principal authors have been Eça de Queiroz, José Saramago and Javier Marías, all of whom are very different. Eça is a brilliant stylist and also very funny, in a dry, absurdist, strangely English way. Saramago has those long, serpentine sentences full of tangents, as does Marías, although he is perhaps more cerebral. All can be very funny, and I do enjoy translating humor. Translating is often compared with acting, and there is that same pleasure, I suspect, of being simultaneously another person and oneself. Just as every Hamlet will be different—and some may convince more than others—every translation of Don Quixote or War and Peace will be different too—and, again, some may convince more than others, although quite why can be very hard to pin down.

Two Lines Issue 21

issue-21-cover-700-webThis is to announce that we’ve just published Issue 21 of our twice-yearly journal of translation, Two Lines. You’ll find the full table of contents here, plus all 11 of the online-only offerings.

Instead of summarizing some of the work in this new issue (if you want to know about that, just click over to the TOC), I’m going to post the first few paragraphs of a really interesting essay we’re publishing by Johannes Goranssön called “‘Awash in Mimicry’: On the Deformation Zone of Translation.”

If you’re familiar with Johannes at all, you know that he has a very particular approach to translation. I don’t want to try and summarize it here, since I won’t really do justice to the nuances of his stance, but suffice to say it’s a very playful approach that would probably scandalize a lot of people in the translation community. (I don’t mean to judge either side—I’m just stating a fact.)

Anyway, Johannes’s essay deals pretty frankly with his—and others’—ideas about translation, and I think it’s a very compelling part of a great issue. Have a look at its first two sections, and if you’re intrigued, for the low low price of just $10 (plus shipping) you can read the whole thing.
 

1.

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

I’m fond of pointing out that one of the most canonical definitions of poetry in America relies on translation. This suggests that translation—even if through negation—is essential to the American concept of poetry. We define poetry through translation, its opposite.

It might be strange to assert the prominence of translation in an age when we know—thanks to the work of critics and activists like Lawrence Venuti, Chad Post, Don Mee Choi, and Lucas Klein—that the translator and her translations are “invisible”: marginal, debased. But somehow the translator and translation are simultaneously marginal and central, both invisible and hyper-visible—if only as a threat, a ghost, kitsch.

If we want to find out why translation is in such fundamental opposition to poetry, we might ask ourselves: What is this something that’s “lost” in translation?

The short answer: the singular poem, the singular author writing within a single, patriarchal lineage. In other words: the illusion of a perfect, well-wrought urn of a text that can’t be paraphrased—or rather that isn’t paraphrased—written by one original author who expresses his or her views with absolute control of language.

But in translation we lose the illusion of a single lineage, and the supposed objectivity of that lineage. What if we don’t actually know who is influencing who? What if a writer is influenced by a text that is alien to her—can she really be influenced “correctly”? Is she misreading? The threat of translation to poetry is the threat of excess: too many versions of too many texts by too many authors from too many lineages. Poetry, it appears, gets lost in a noisy, violent excess.

2.

Over the past two hundred years, many Western (not just American, if I’m perfectly honest) theorists have discussed the excess produced by translation in terms of a violence. In Walter Benjamin’s classic essay “The Task of the Translator,” this excess becomes a violent alienness within the text itself:

If in the original, content and language constitute a certain unity, like that between a fruit and its skin, a translation surrounds its content, as if with the broad folds of a royal mantle. For translation indicates a higher language than its own and thereby remains inadequate, violent, and alien with respect to its content.

In this metaphor the act of translation surrounds the skin with foreign clothes—an excess that makes the text no longer organic or in balance with itself. Translation seems not to be a lack (what is lost) but an accumulation—an infection by the alien. An alienness that is violent in part because it is alien, like a disease.