Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life Among the Translators . . .

Jeanne Verdoux, Illustrator
'Knitting the New
from a
Hostile Snarl of a Yarn'
(Image from New York Times)

The image above by Jeanne Verdoux on Edith Grossman translating Don Quixote caught my eye, so I transcribed the lines in translation:
Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. An occasional stew, beef more often than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Friday. Sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays -- These consumed three-fourths of his income. The rest went for a light woolen tunic and velvet breeches and hose of the same material for feast days, while weekdays were honored with dun-colored coarse cloth. He had a . . .
And there breaks off the manuscript. Blame Verdoux? Or Richard Howard, "Duet for Two Pens" in The New York Times (April 8, 2010)? Blame not Grossman, who continued writing:
. . . housekeeper past forty, a niece not yet twenty, and a man-of-all-work who did everything from saddling the horse to pruning the trees . . . .
And it, of course, goes on and on and on and on and on . . . but eventually ends. I know because I read it and wrote a paper on it not long ago, though when I say "it," I don't' mean Grossman's translation at all, but a different one that had gathered dust on my shelf for some time, so I suppose that I shouldn't say "it" at all in this context. Nor can I claim to have read Cervantes himself, since I don't in fact read Spanish.

I am a fake and a fraud, or possibly the reverse . . . or inverse . . . or vice-verse.

I am not even a real translator myself even though my name gets appended (sometimes) to translations that my wife has done and that I merely 'edited'. My admirable wife, Sun-Ae Hwang, is the one who lives her life in translation, as does an occasional visitor to Gypsy Scholar, Charles Montgomery, who has two blogs: Scraps and Morning Calm, Night Terrors: Korean Modern Literature in Translation, the latter of which he shares with "an international man of mystery."

What, then, would Grossman make of me, reviewer, academic, reader, but no translator? Read these excerpts on " the drastic inadequacy of the treatment generally offered to translated literature" by reviewers, academics, and readers -- from her new book, Why Translation Matters -- and hazard a guess:
[R]eviewers: "So few of them have devised an intelligent way to review both the original and its translation within the space limitations imposed by the publication . . . . Their inability to do so is a product of intransigent dilettantism and tenacious amateurism, the menacing two-headed monster that runs rampant through the inhospitable landscape peopled by those who write reviews."

. . .

[A]cademics: Translators "seem to be a familiar part of the natural landscape, so customary and commonplace that we run the risk of becoming invisible. This may be why many university English departments often declare a monopoly on the teaching of what they choose to call world literature or humanities . . . . I cannot quarrel with the inclusion of translations on any reading list, yet in the process foreign-language departments and their teachers of literature, the ones with real expertise in the works studied, are effectively snubbed. I have never been able to find the logic or coherence in that. Is there someone on a curriculum committee somewhere who does not know or cannot tell the difference between works in English and works in translation? The best face I can put on it is that the ironic disconnect may be an academic trait."

. . .

[Readers]: "Of all the interpretive arts, it is fascinating and puzzling to realize that only translation has to fend off the insidious, damaging question of whether or not it is, can be or should be possible."
I owe these selected gems of incisive cuts from Grossman to the review by Richard Howard . . . also a translator.

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10 Comments:

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sifar Anel, thanks again for commenting.

I agree on the importance of translation, and I really like the way Grossman begins her translation of Don Quixote.

I don't think that good translations would resolve all misunderstandings, though, for the various religions also have incompatible views.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:04 PM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

This is where we differ on religion. I think, for example, that Christian monotheism differs from Muslim monotheism in the fundamental view that each has on the nature of God.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:36 AM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Whatever the truth about the nature of the divine, there are certainly incompatible conceptions of it, e.g., Muslim Tawhid vs. Christian Trinity. These can't both be correct, though both could be wrong.

The incommensurability is my main point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:24 PM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If you are correct about distortions in the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad by their followers, then I would think that we can't know what these religious founders originally said -- and thus couldn't know if their conceptions of God were commensurable or not.

But we've probably said enough, so let's move on to other posts.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see that Sifer Anel has removed all of his comments, including one final one on a different post:

"So you have decided that we have said enough on this issue! Okay, you are a balanced and clever guy indeed. And may you thank me for the kind words and suggestions."

I am surprised that I offended him with what I thought was an innocuous observation.

Anyway, Sifar Anel, thanks for your comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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