What Works in Translation . . .
In yesterday's entry, I alluded to the special problems that a literary critic encounters when interpreting poetry in translation. That assumes already that the literary critic will encounter poetry in translation, but one doesn't often come upon the stuff, outside of the big names and the classics.
In fact, as a recent New York Times article notes, Americans generally don't read much foreign literature in English translation. Some people want to change that. Speaking as one partner of a translating team (the other partner being my wife, Sun-Ae Hwang), I hope that they succeed, but they have a steep path ahead, as Larry Rohter implies in "Translation as Literary Ambassador" (New York Times, December 7, 2010):
Among foreign cultural institutes and publishers, the traditional American aversion to literature in translation is known as "the 3 percent problem."That "3 percent" refers to translated literature's "minuscule share of the American book market." I'd known its market share was small, but I've now got its number. The forces of light are now on the side of us translators:
But now, hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market -- about 3 percent-- foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States.Or are these the forces of heavy? Governments are getting involved, and they're rather weighty. A bigger heavy yet is also settling in:
Even the online bookselling behemoth Amazon.com has entered the field, with a new imprint for literature in translation called AmazonCrossing, which is sold online and in bookstores.With Amazon getting involved, there must actually be a market. Translators still need support, though, because years of language learning, cultural immersion, and experience translating are usually required before a prospective translator is good enough to attempt literary translations. Again, there is now help for aspiring translators:
Government cultural institutes like the Institut Ramon Llull, which is dedicated to propagating the language and culture of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, and the Korean Literature Translation Institute have also helped underwrite conferences and books on translation, and others are sponsoring trips to take American translators to their countries to acquaint them better with their culture and people.Note the mention of the Korean Literature Translation Institute (KLTI). That's actually an overcorrection, for the institute is actually the Korea Literature Translation Institute. The correct version does sound rather odd, and gets 'corrected' about as often as Ewha Womans University gets 'corrected' to Ewha Women's University or my middle name "Jeffery" gets 'corrected' to "Jeffrey."
Anyway, I'm pleased that Rohter's article at least mentions the KLTI, for there's no mention of Asian literature in translation other than some from the Islamic world, i.e., "Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu," nothing at all from East Asia unless one counts Stig Saeterbakken's Siamese in the stack of books above.
Of course, Siamese, like the rest of the stack, is entirely European.