A small bit of happy news:  University of Rochester has officially announced its new MA in literary translation studies program on the university website.  The program offers a stand alone MA in literary translation studies (aka MALTS), as well as certificate programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The program is further bolstered by the fearless editing of Chad Post at Open Letter.   This is very very exciting.



Visual Proust

February 27, 2009

Molly Springfield - Untitled (page 1)

Untitled (page 1)

Here’s a literary adaptation as innovative as the Dante Xbox game discussed on this blog a couple of days ago, although it will probably appeal less to 13-year-old boys.

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle,  Kenneth Baker attempts to describe artist Molly Springfield’s visual renderings of Marcel Proust, on exhibit now at the Steven Wolf Fine Arts Gallery in San Francisco through March 21 [scroll down]:

She set out to copy cipher-for-cipher photocopies of closely corresponding pages from the several English translations of Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu.”

Springfield’s ultimate concern may be the loss and gain of information that any translation, even a copy, involves. In drawing the photocopied book pages, she carefully rendered the “gutter” shadows created by the copy machine, the striations of the unexposed pages’ edges and the margins of seeming nothingness that surround the books splayed on the copier glass.

You can see the images and read a fascinating discussion of Springfield’s project at the gallery’s website.

Like Proust’s narrator, who begins In Search of Lost Time by musing, “I had gone on thinking while I was asleep about what I had been reading but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn,” Springfield takes us through her transcription process to a twilight place where the comfortable solidity of meaning and location breaks down. This is enhanced by stylistic elements in the drawings themselves. They look empirical at first glance, but the nuances of value and abstraction produced by the quirks of the copier machine and the magic of the toner grant them a dark and mysterious air. The center of the drawing channels Lawrence Weiner, the margins Agnes Martin. Technology and the hand collaborate in odd ways.

As a book, Translation will be more than a catalogue of the drawings. The ostensible subject becomes Springfield’s claim that we consider her work a viable new translation of Proust. On the wall the drawings are viewed, in book form they are more likely to be read. As rewritten by Springfield, Proust’s familiar words should sound different and signify differently. The reader will have to sort out whether the action in the book takes place in the imaginary village of Combray, in Proust’s cork lined room, in Springfield’s well-lit studio, or the place in which they are reading it. Time is out of joint.

Sounds amazing. Lucky San Franciscans.


Both Three Percent and the Literary Saloon have expressed delight and amazement at the suddenly increased number of translation-related pieces in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review, but check out The Guardian!

  • John Banville reviews a new translation of Stefan Zweig’s Post Office Girl.
  • Adam Thirlwell, author of The Delighted States, meditates on eminently hateable Italian author Curzio Malaparte.
  • James Buchan considers, via Jonathan Lyons’s new book, The House of Wisdom, the influence of Arab mathematics, geography, poetry, etc. on European intellectual culture in centuries past.
  • And, of course, James Lasdun reviews the omnipresent The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, which the Complete Review and La Kakutani of the New York Times roundly panned. It comes off somewhat better in Lasdun’s account, but I can’t say I’m eager for a 938-page slog if it’s even half as bad as other reviews have said.

All right, so the Arab history isn’t a translation, but it certainly speaks to the importance of cultural exchange. Could it be that translations are finally getting more traction and visibility in the mainstream publishing industry?


Mamet in Japanese

February 27, 2009

There was a very interesting article in The Daily Yomiuri yesterday about actor and first-time translator Toru Emori, who tackled David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, apparently with some success. There are some interesting discussions of translation choices:

“When you translate the word ‘I,’ beyond the gender difference, you must choose between words such as ‘boku,’ ‘ore,’ ‘uchi’ and ‘washi,’ for example,” he said.

“And the other interesting thing about Japanese is [even in the same character], the way they use pronouns changes. For example in English, ‘you’ will be still ‘you,’ but the tone of voice used when saying ‘you’ may differ based on the character’s emotional state. In Japanese, on the other hand, the words can be switched from ‘anata’ to ‘anta’ as the speaker becomes enraged. These subtle changes can completely influence the feeling of a conversation,” he said.

The interviewer, Ikuko Kitagawa, says he “found Emori’s 135-page Glengarry script elegant and old-fashioned,” and it apparently evokes “stylish, aggressive men from a period drama.” That’s not how I remember Glengarry Glen Ross on stage or on screen, but if that’s what it takes to make the translation seem like “it was written in Japanese, not diligently converted from English,” so be it.

The article brings up the interesting question of who is best qualified to translate a piece of literature. Emori says he was frustrated by translations where his “lines sounded like they had been translated,” and decided to translate “based on [his] experience as an actor.” It is certainly often said that good translators of poetry must be poets themselves, whether they’ve actually written poetry or not — although I’ve always thought that was splitting hairs. How is it any different from saying the person must be a good translator of poetry, which is tautological? Or maybe I’m doing the hair-splitting here?

Anyway, putting aside my irritation with that tendency to position poetry as an otherworldly, mystical craft, the idea of an actor as translator is intriguing to me. Could the demands of theater be different enough that something entirely else might be required? Actors study dialogue and human speech in a way that I, as a translator, do not. This is not to say there aren’t translators-who-are-just-translators who have a knack for spoken dialogue — of course there are, as well as playwrights, who we can assume probably have a pretty good handle on the field. But theater is anomalous is so many ways; the closest equivalent to this issue you could get with prose is to wonder whether a books-on-tape reader might have special insight into the wily ways of a written text.

I don’t really have any amazing conclusions here. Just something to think about.


Just a reminder that eXchanges is accepting submissions for our Spring issue until March 20, 2009. Details below. You can take a look at past issues here.

Call for Submissions

eXchanges will be accepting variations on the theme MIRRORS & MASKS for our spring 2009 issue until March 20, 2009. Short stories, novel excerpts, literary nonfiction, and poetry are all welcome, as well as critical essays on translation.

Submission Guidelines

To be considered, submissions must include:

•Both the original and the translation
•Biographies and photos of both author and translator
•A short note on the process of translation
•Permission for online publication for both languages
•Submissions should total no more than ten pages in length

Electronic submissions are strongly preferred. Please send both original and translation as .doc attachments to studorg-exchanges@uiowa.edu.

Direct paper submissions to eXchanges, Bowman House, 230 N. Clinton St., Iowa City, IA, 52242, U.S.A.

We do accept simultaneous submissions; however, please inform us if your work is under consideration elsewhere.

In the Barnes & Noble Review, James Hannaham reviews Margaret Jull Costa’s translation of Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s 2003 novel, known in English as The Accordionist’s Son. The translation into English is actually a translation of the Spanish translation of the original, a layering of language paralleled in the theme of the book:

[T]he sprawling epic concerns a Basque activist named David Imaz, from Atxaga’s imaginary town of Obaba, who lives in exile in California and dies leaving an unfinished memoir behind — written in Euskera. His wife, an American named Mary Ann, gives the manuscript to José . . . In turn, José decides to write a book himself, “based on what David had written, to rewrite and expand his memoir…in the spirit of someone finding a tree, on which some long vanished shepherd had left a carving, and deciding to redraw the lines so that … time will so blur the difference between the old incisions and the new that eventually there’ll only be a single inscription on the bark.

Hannaham has a couple of minor complaints about the translation (what does “it’s too plainspoken” mean, without a comparison to the Basque or Spanish texts?), but since I’ve been refusing to mention book reviews that don’t seem to notice that the book in question is a translation, that’s actually a welcome change.


Europa Editions

February 26, 2009

Nice writeup in the New York Times on Europa Editions, which made a splash last year with Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Their recent success, despite the fact they only publish literary translations, stands in stark contrast to current conditions in most of the American publishing industry.

Some larger publishers are starting to envy Europa’s selection and its frankly retro publishing model. Mr. Carroll “finds things, picks things up for a little bit of money and makes a lot out of them,” said Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “Most of publishing was once that way. It wasn’t about big money so much. He’s sort of preserving the old values of it’s-all-about-the-book and connecting the book with readers.”

It’s all about the book, huh? Amazing that this appears to be a revelation.