New Goytisolo Translation

March 31, 2009

The Literary Saloon reports that Dalkey Archive Press is publishing a new translation of Juan Goytisolo’s Juan the Landless, and provides a couple of quick comparisons of Helen Lane’s original translation with the Peter Bush one that will come out in July. They sound very different in tone — compare “the phallus, that is correct, the phallus” with “the cock, you got it, the cock.” I haven’t read the original yet — Goytisolo is a lamentable hole in my Spanish-language reading so far — so I can only assume that Bush is attempting to capture a playfulness and irreverence that Lane’s translation doesn’t. It could be, too, that the difference comes from the apparently substantial revisions that Goytisolo has done of his novel for this new version. The Saloon also mentions that the new version is somewhat pared down.

It may be that Bush’s is a measurably superior rendering of an excellent book. Still, though, in a zero-sum publishing climate, and with all the untranslated literature there is out there, it’s a shame that this will have inevitably pushed any number of other worthy projects out of the way. But it does put Goytisolo back on my radar, so maybe I’ll finally get around to reading some of his work.



Martha Tennent, whose translation of Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda’s short story “On the Train” we published in our Winter 2008 issue of eXchanges, has recently translated Rodoreda’s novel, Death in Spring, which will come out from Open Letter in May. Chad Post has written at Three Percent today about early enthusiastic responses to the novel and announced an event at the Ramon Llull Institute in New York on May 2, a reading by Jessica Lange:

The Time of the Doves is the most acclaimed novel by one of Catalonia’s best-loved writers, Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983), a master when it comes to explain a story with powerful vividness. Before the reading, Martha Tennent and Chad Post will present the latest novel by Mercè Rodoreda to be translated into English: Death in Spring. Read by Jessica Lange. Directed by Joan Ollé.

Congratulations to Martha Tennent and Open Letter for their success.


More Oresteia

March 29, 2009

For those interested in Anne Carson’s new translation of three Greek tragedies — and a lot of the people coming to this blog lately have been looking into it — there’s a thoughtful review by Brad Leithauser in the New York Times Book Review of the translation. Leithauser is less delighted by some of Carson’s choices than other reviewers have been, finding the tone sometimes jarringly colloquial. And indeed, some of the examples he pulls are odd:

There are moments when her diction stoops so low I had trouble remembering I was dealing with men godlike in their splendor, as when her Agamemnon announces: “Count no man happy until he dies happy. / If I keep this rule, I’ll be okay.”

I think it is particularly the contrast, in this passage, between the elevated and antiquated structure of “count no man happy” with the irretrivably modern and casual “I’ll be okay” that makes it such an uncomfortable juxtaposition. For anyone who would argue that Carson’s project is precisely to pull the tragedy down to the human level, rather than have its characters “godlike in their splendor,” Leithauser makes a pretty compelling case otherwise:

As soon as characters in a Greek tragedy look merely life-size, any distinction between the soaring and the sordid tends to collapse. Agamemnon is a principal in the larger tale of the House of Atreus, which encompasses adultery, boastful murder, madness, cannibalized children, matricide — mere grisly grist for the tabloids, if it isn’t the stuff of immortal literature.

Still, Leithauser acknowledges the power of much of Carson’s language, and also wonders how the translation would work on stage.

The play opens with a night watchman, lamenting the unchanging dreariness of his task. Here is Lattimore:

I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed upon the Atreidae’s roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night. . . .

What’s lost in this combination of metrical mellifluousness and clunkiness (elbowed dogwise?) is any sense of genuine exasperation. Here is Carson, where impatience emerges like a jab in the ribs:

Gods! Free me from this grind!
It’s one long year I’m lying here watching waiting watching waiting —
propped on the roof of Atreus, chin on my paws like a dog.
I’ve peered at the congregation of the nightly stars. . . .

It’s always difficult, in reading a review — particularly of a translation — to tell whether the  missteps noted are singular instances or endemic in the work, but Leithauser’s piece seems even-handed and attentive. And Carson’s work still appears to be a remarkable and innovative achievement.


Portraying Pushkin

March 28, 2009

A couple of days ago, the London Times published Rachel Polonsky’s review of two new books of Pushkin — one, a new translation of Eugene Onegin by Stanley Mitchell, and the other Andrew Kahn’s study of Pushkin through analysis of his library, and thus his interactions with the intellectual developments of his day. While Polonsky seems not to know about Douglas Hofstadter’s cheeky post-Falen translation (it must not have made it to the UK), she writes in depth about how Onegin has been translated. Some space is of course given to the critical scuffle between Wilson and Nabokov over Nabokov’s “unreadable” translation, but she also discusses the different aspects of Pushkin’s novel-in-verse that are preserved or abandoned in different translations — generally, euphony vs. nuance of meaning. “In any given instance,” she says, “a translator’s gain is paid for with loss.” Thus, Polonsky suggests, only multiple versions can provide a more or less complete translation:

A translation is a portrait; it hints at the essence of an original. The more likenesses the better, then, for, as Wilhelm von Humboldt said, “many translations result . . . in a cumulative approximation”.

While I prefer to think in terms not of losses but of emphases, I recognize that there may be no really meaningful distinction. Still, for more on the topic of multiple translations, see an earlier post here.


The Korea Herald has an article today about Lee Sung-il’s new translation of 15 classical Korean poems. The article takes the opportunity to comment once more on the lack of Korean literature available in translation (we posted on another article on that topic a while back), and it sounds like the Korean government is very committed to bringing Korean literature to the rest of the world. This anthology, The Brush and the Sword: Kasa, Korean Classical Poems in Prose, is actually a bilingual edition published by Cross Cultural Communications, presenting the translated poems together with their originals.

“Reading literary works in translation is not the royal road in getting acquainted with a literary tradition alien to one’s own,” [Lee] said. “So long as the lines in translation echo the original verse’s rhythm and meaning, however, one must be satisfied, for then the requirement of approximation to the original can be considered to have been met.”


A Translation Golden Age

March 23, 2009

John Timpane has an article on translation in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and even says we’re in a translation golden age. Wowza. Ties in with what Sara was saying below about translating the classics, and my overly lengthy response to that post. Ties in because this Inquirer article is focused pretty much completely on new translations of classics.

It’s great to see the author’s enthusiasm for translation. Really great. Really, really great. I would though have liked to see some attention given to translations of recent authors who are not named Bolaño, or to translations of classic works that break with our own literature’s traditional understanding of the genre “translation.”

For instance, the article focuses quite a bit on Anne Carson’s Oresteia, which we talked about below (1, 2). I’ve read a little more of it since then (in the current Tin House – I’m not sure that this is the same version that’s getting performed), and I mean, hey, it’s good. It’s Anne Carson. And the idea of taking plays by three different authors and translating them as a coherent trilogy (!), that’s a pretty radical idea. I like it. A whole lot actually. But that’s not what gets talked about. What gets talked about is Carson’s translation on the level of the line (of poetry, of dialogue), which is, as far as I can tell not having read the whole thing yet, the most boring level of Anne Carson’s Oresteia. If you want to see Anne Carson really taking the translation of a classic to a new place on the level of the line, read her translations of Catullus in Men in the Off Hours.

But hey. Did I mention there was a nice article about translation in the Inquirer?

Mike S

Al-Ahram has published a lengthy interview with Roger Allen, translator from Arabic. There is some hyperventilation throughout the article at the shocking idea of introducing any change to the original in a translation, as if the text’s recreation in an entirely different language weren’t in itself a pretty major alteration, but it’s an interesting overview of the field of Arabic translation and of Allen’s career.

Via Pierre Joris.