An article by Vivian Eden includes reviews of translations of poetry from Hebrew and French to English, and Dr. Eden, herself a translator, writes that translation is a good way of conversing with and learning from other writers:
“After many years of ruminating on this conundrum, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed possible to get dead writers to listen to you, in three steps: Read, read, read again and again; formulate your questions or observations very precisely (Do you really need that third drink?); and then again, read, read, read. The texts will tell you what you want to know and confirm, deny or comment on your observations. One of the best ways of carrying out this three-step procedure is by translating.”
Some of the issues this article, and the three books reviewed, brings up are fascinating. For example, what can a translator, whether of poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, do when faced with a word in the source text that has more than one possible meaning? How can the translator decide which meaning to highlight, which one/s to sacrifice?
And what about gender in languages? Linda Stern Zisquit, a poet, describes how she began to translate Yona Wallach’s poetry from Hebrew: “In 1982 I translated several of Yona Wallach's early poems in response to the request of a friend then editing an issue of Hebrew poetry for The Literary Review. I had reservations: My Hebrew was new, and Wallach's reputation - as a masterful poet who fragmented syntax with demonic power and broke laws of male and female conjugation - was intimidating.” The gender aspect is fascinating and it would be interesting to know how translators to and from other gendered languages deal with these issues. How can a translator represent gender, and the breaking of gender rules, in a non-gendered language? Similarly, number is something that can be played with by writers and that can be difficult for translators to portray in the target language. Ms. Zisquit includes notes in the book on the translation and challenges involved in working on Yona Wallach’s poetry, and that is a helpful idea that more translators might want to adopt.
And finally, to continue with the theme of gender, French poet Jacques Reda introduces a volume of his poetry in English translation with an implication that male and female translators are different – one wonders exactly what he meant by that. Mr. Reda, referring positively to his translator, writes: “Perhaps the convergence of these qualities comes as less of a surprise in a woman translator than in a man.”
So what do you think about these issues? Do male and female translators differ, and are they suited for different kinds of work? And what can translators do about gendered languages, numbers, and the multiplicity of meaning that some words or sounds have?
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