Friday, February 09, 2007

Translating Milan Kundera

In the last post, I quoted from a review of I.B. Singer’s work, which makes it clear that he rewrote as he translated, thus blurring the definition of translation. In the book Translating Milan Kundera, Michelle Woods describes how Mr. Kundera does the same thing, constantly translating his work and his biography in a variety of ways.

Milan Kundera is a Franco-Czech novelist who, it can be argued, primarily has readership though translation. Ms. Woods analyses his oeuvre and the various functions of translation within it through the prism of the four kinds of translation that she sees there: translation in the traditional sense (that is, between languages and cultures), rewriting (Mr. Kundera rewrites his books, reworks his earlier writings into later ones, and redefines his bibliography), writing (all writing can be considered translation, and this is especially applicable to Mr. Kundera, since he mostly writes for a non-Czech audience), and reception (how publishers and readers both in the Czech Republic and abroad understand and receive his work). Woods compares and studies Kundera’s Czech, French, and English writings, and uses them as a case study to understand all the different ways translation is involved in authorship.

What is interesting about Mr. Kundera, as with Mr. Singer, is that he changes his books as he reviews and works on the translations (he does not translate himself, but works with and supervises his translators closely – some say too closely. The books aren’t changed so much that they become unrecognizable, but they are clearly not just ‘straight’ translations. So they are some combination of rewriting, adapting, and translating. Perhaps we could call it transwriting, writing across cultural and linguistic boundaries.

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