Interview with Erdağ Göknar

February 5, 2009

Short but sweet interview with Erdağ Göknar on his translation of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s 1949 novel Huzur, titled in English A Mind at Peace and published in December by the always wonderful Archipelago Books. Göknar was widely praised for his translation of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red a few years ago. It sounds like he probably had to do some creative glossing in this latest translation, given his description of his approach:

I tried to embellish the text just like an artisan shaping copper by pushing the limits of the English language. In fact, I did not translate some Turkish words that were in his original poetic text, such as “terkip” (constituent), “hüzün” (sorrow) and “iklim” (climate), and I preferred old or outdated English words. An easy to read simple translation would not do justice to Tanpınar’s text.

He also notes the fundamental role that foreign cultural grants seem to play in subsidizing translations. As foreign economies melt down in tandem with the U.S. publishing industry, I wonder how much that will affect publishers’ translation selections, especially from so-called minor languages.

I’m very interested in the interviewer’s question about cultural and political aspects of the novel versus literary and aesthetic ones, since it is seems to be exactly what I was thinking about yesterday when rambling on about Coleman Barks. The interviewer and Göknar agree that Western readers and critics tend to “place more emphasis on the historical and cultural context of a Turkish novel than its literary aspect.” I’m not sure where a tendency of this sort would come from. Our modern preoccupation with identity politics? A relatively stable, relatively uncensored political and cultural landscape that might be more amenable to this kind of analysis or exploration? A literary tradition in which aesthetic qualities are not as central as other characteristics? It would of course be foolishly reductive to say that American literature is all about plot and characters, but there does seem to be a distinct lean that direction. Has our poetic tradition become less influential on our contemporary literature, perhaps? (And our poetic tradition was fairly plot-heavy at times, as well — Beowulf and similar. I couldn’t say whether that’s any different from Turkish literature through history.)

I should note A.M. Correa’s recent post on the Words Without Borders blog that also engages this question, and from the other side again. “[S]imply conveying a certain ‘reading’ of a text is not enough for me,” she writes. “Why this text? Why bother? There are ineffably important perspectives and realities that people of other countries should understand…” Insights from the peanut gallery most welcome, since I seem to be talking myself in circles here!

Anyway, it’s great to see an older novel being brought into English for the first time. We need to deepen as well as broaden the body of literature available in English translation.



One Response to “Interview with Erdağ Göknar”

  1. […] 1947 Turkish novel, A Mind at Peace, in today’s Los Angeles Times. We recently linked to an interview in which Göknar described his decision to leave a lot of Turkish words in his […]

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