Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Metaphors

If you read this blog, you know I’m always interested in metaphors for translation. Well, there’s an entire book on the subject now, Thinking Through Translation with Metaphors, edited by James St. André.

As Ben Van Wyke points out in his contribution, which is about metaphors relating to bodies and clothes, translation and metaphor have always been tightly linked:

“The word for translation in English, as well as in many other European languages, comes from the Latin translation, which is a translation of the Greek metaphora, the word from which English derives “metaphor.” In ancient Greek, metaphora was used in the sense that we employ the word “metaphor” today, as well as for translation from one language into another. Thurs, related in this way, translation and metaphor both imply the notion of carrying over or transferring meaning from one word or phrase to another.” (18)

In this anthology, Celia Martín de León talks about the metaphor of footsteps, while Sergey Tyulenev discusses translation as a form of smuggling, and Yotam Benshalom focuses on performance, among other metaphors analyzed.

The book also includes a helpful bibliography of works that discuss metaphors for translation.

This is a light, enjoyable read that might give readers new ways of understanding old metaphors as well as offer entirely new metaphors for thinking about translation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

So Close and Yet So Far

I really enjoyed the recent article by George Packer in the New Yorker about Israeli author David Grossman.

The article mentions Mr. Grossman’s relationship to Palestinian writers, such as a professor called Ahmad Harb. Here is a quote from the article:
“I visited Harb, a tall, painfully formal man in his late fifties, in his Ramallah home. His living room looked out over a hillside that was covered with Palestinian construction projects. In the early aughts, Israeli troops had the town under siege, and Grossman phoned him often to be sure that he was all right. Harb did the same after Uri’s death. Harb had once thought of writing a book on the works of David Grossman, but the political situation in the West Bank wasn’t right—it might have led to trouble.

“Yesterday, I was talking to David about the possibility of translating one of my novels into Hebrew,” Harb told me. “He said, ‘Honestly, there isn’t much interest to translate Palestinian literature.’ And if a Palestinian translated or taught Israeli literature he would be considered a kind of collaborator.” There was no reason for this, Harb believed—in spite of their enmity, the two peoples should know each other and read each other. But, for now, all that they tried to build twenty years ago has come to nothing. In a better world, he and David would be close friends. “I hope, sometime in the future,” he said. “But it’s like a phantom. You say, ‘At some point I will reach it,’ but then anything will explode everything else, and you are back at square one.”

As I left, Harb gave me an English translation of his new novel, “Remains,” to carry the eight miles from Ramallah to Grossman’s home, in Mevasseret Zion.”

I tend to believe, perhaps idealistically, that reading literature about other people is a way of bringing us closer. That’s one reason why we need translation and translators. There’s something very sad about the fact that two people living in such close proximity and yet not reading each other’s literature. Something is seriously wrong with this situation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reviewing Kudos

I was very impressed to note in the 6 September issue of the New Yorker that a book reviewer, James Wood, actually read a translated book and its original in order to comment on the translation. This is very rare but a welcome step in terms of reviewing translated literature. Writing about Jean-Christophe Valtat’s book O3, Mr. Wood said:

“Some of the aesthetic credit should go to Mitzi Angel, Valtat’s translator. A reading of the original novella, published in 2005, reveals what a careful, alchemical job she has done, often coming up with ingenious slang, and with creative ways of patching English syntax into complex, and very French, phrasing.”

I hope more reviewers follow Mr. Wood’s example of comparing the original to the translation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Translation as Possibility

I saw the following quote in one of my favorite e-newsletters, A Word a Day:

Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve the languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

People are always claiming that poetry cannot be translated. But of course it regularly is translated and often quite well, too. So I think it’s time we moved on from this idea that translation is impossible, especially of poetry. No one can ever learn all the languages in the world, no one can be able to read all the literatures in the world, no one can converse with all the people in the world in their own native tongues – thus translation is necessary and by necessity, it must be possible.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sunday, October 03, 2010

2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

This year's Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday. Who do you think will win?

People regularly suggest authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Adonis, and Amos Oz. I don't think it's likely an English-language author will win this year. And given the way the Nobel tends to be linked somewhat to politics, I doubt an Israeli will get it, no matter how deserving his oeuvre might be.

What do you think?