Alyson Waters and Donald Nicholson-Smith at Albertine

Join our childrens’ book translators Alyson Waters and Donald Nicholson-Smith for a morning of fun and discovery around Claude Ponti’s My Valley and Philippe Fix’s Seraphin.

In My Valley, Ponti leads us on a journey through the enchanted world of the Twims (tiny, extremely lovable, monkey-like creatures), a universe where uprooted buildings soar through the sky, trees keep the secrets you whisper to them, magic seeds grow into huge ships, and singing stones make children’s wishes come true.
In Seraphin, a ticket seller in a metro station underground dreams of gardens full of birdsong, sunny avenues, and flowers. One day, he learns that he has inherited an old, dilapidated house: he and his friend Plume set about building the house of their dreams, and much more besides!

Alyson Waters translated My Valley. She is also a translator of modern and contemporary literary fiction, criticism, and theory, as well as art history. She currently teaches literary translation at NYU and Columbia University.

Donald NicholsonSmith translated Seraphin. He was also nominated for a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His translations range from psychoanalysis and social criticism to crime fiction.

This event is in English, for kids ages 5 and up. Free and no RSVP necessary!
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Translating Knausgaard: An Interview with Don Bartlett

Meet Karl Ove Knausgaard’s translator Don Bartlett, interviewed by Scott Esposito for The Paris Review.

When did you first encounter My Struggle?

I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.

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Generosity: David Ferry on Good Translations

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In his commentary to Dialogos: Paired Poems in Translation by George Kalogeris, David Ferry offers some keen words of translation wisdom:

The human quality that a good translation gives evidence of is generosity: the generosity of imagination that can hear and respond to the voice of somebody else which speaks or spoke in another language and place and sometimes time; the generosity that tries to reproduce, in so far as it can, the qualities of that voice, not only the data of what is said, but the feelings, the attitudes, the nuances, the shifts, the hesitations, the intensities, and the degrees of intensities, that he or she hears in that voice of somebody else.

He advances this idea of generosity, exploring the visibility of the translator’s own voice:

What we hear in a good translation is not purely that voice of somebody else but also the voice of the translator registering that effort and its delight. It’s an activity which is at the same time selfless and not selfless. And when that voice of somebody else is the voice of someone great the delight in the effort is exalting, and the delight in that is one of the ways the voice of the translator himself enters in and is heard.

That last line, in its philosophical positioning of two voices that are both unified and distinct, seems to echo the first sentence of John Ashbery’s “The Skaters”:

These decibels
Are a kind of flagellation, an entity of sound
Into which being enters, and is apart.

Check out all of David Ferry’s commentary and the entire, remarkable book of paired poems in translation here.

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Translating the Internet: A Collaboration

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Luis von Ahn, inventor of the security feature CAPTCHA and the project Duolingo, proposes a mass translation of the internet, via outsourcing:

Okay, so there’s a lot of things to say about this question.First of all, translating the Web. So right now the Web is partitioned into multiple languages.A large fraction of it is in English.If you don’t know any English, you can’t access it.But there’s large fractions in other different languages,and if you don’t know those languages, you can’t access it.So I would like to translate all of the Web, or at least most of the Web,into every major language.So that’s what I would like to do.

Now some of you may say, why can’t we use computers to translate?Why can’t we use machine translation?Machine translation nowadays is starting to translate some sentences here and there.Why can’t we use it to translate the whole Web?Well the problem with that is that it’s not yet good enoughand it probably won’t be for the next 15 to 20 years.It makes a lot of mistakes.Even when it doesn’t make a mistake,since it makes so many mistakes, you don’t know whether to trust it or not.

 

His solution not only translates the Internet, but also teaches a foreign language to users. The service works both ways!

 

Check out the TED talk here, with his Duolingo discussion starting around 9:00.

 

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Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” – Part III

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A final look at Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator.” If you haven’t already, check out Part I & Part II.

For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate–for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize. If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is–the true language. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translation.

The original text — Benjamin seems to be saying — is itself an approximation of Truth. And so, each translation is a further triangulation around an epicenter of true meaning. Of course, this may call into question the authority of the author, but Benjamin separates the two tasks by designating translation as a “mode.”

 

He clarifies this difference further, comparing a translator to a philosopher like himself:

There is no muse of philosophy, nor is there one of translation. But despite the claims of sentimental artists, these two are not banausic. For there is a philosophical genius that is characterized by a yearning for that language which manifests itself in translations…[T]ranslation…is midway between poetry and doctrine. Its products are less sharply defined, but it leaves no less of a mark on history.

 

We should hope that translation — especially the translation of literature — should strike somewhere boldly between poetry and philosophy.

 

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Comparing Cavafy's "The City"

my-cavafy-21_display[  from Stahis Orphanos’s MY CAVAFY which pairs Cavafy’s poems with contemporary portraits ]

I just came across this article about comparing translations of Constantin Cavafy’s “The City”, and thought I would throw a few more ideas and translations of the last stanza into the mix.

First, a translation from our own Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Princeton University Press, 1992).

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

The directness, here, electrifies the voice of Cavafy. The tone feels cavernous and cold, which lets the idea of an inescapable reputation ring and echo throughout. They chose to include contractions. The poem seems to beg to be spoken, something which I tend to  like, and the intimacy helps the drive till the end.

Next, Rae Delven’s 1948 translation lauded by, among others, W.H. Auden:

You will find no new lands, you will find no other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
and you will grow gray in these same houses.
Always you will arrive in this city. Do not hope for any other–
There is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner, you have ruined it in the entire world.

I love the inversion of “Always you will arrive in this city.” The emphasis of “always,” rather than feeling archaic, seems to hammer home the point. Interesting how the next line — “There is no ship for you, there is no road” is exactly the same as Keeley/Sherrard’s. “Destroyed” certainly adds a much different texture than “wasted.”

And, finally, Daniel Mendelsohn’s recent 2009 translation:

You’ll find no new places, you won’t find other shores.
The city will follow you. The streets in which you pace
will be the same, you’ll haunt the same familiar places,
and inside those same houses you’ll grow old.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t bother to hope
for a ship, a route, to take you somewhere else; they don’t exist.
Just as you’ve destroyed your life, here in this
small corner, so you’ve wasted it through all the world.

The most colloquial of the three, Mendelsohn’s translation hits the point in a different way, like the hurtful rant of a drunken uncle you admire. For some reason — maybe it’s the relentless commas instead of periods — this translation feels more disparaging. The speaker not only advises against hope, but says “Don’t bother to hope…” Things seem already to have been decided. A life is already “wasted…through all the world.”

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Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” – Part II

benjamin2[ Walter Benjamin, circa 1928. © Akademie der Künste, Walter Benjamin Archive ]

Continuing our series on Walter Benjamin, Eric selects certain passages from “The Task of the Translator” and relates them to our work at Archipelago:

Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own.

 

Here, Benjamin emphasizes the dynamic quality of translation. Whereas the original text remains static over centuries, new translations continue to appear with generations, reviving the text, such as Scott Montcrieff’s original English translation (and subsequent revisions/edits) of Proust and Lydia Davis’s recent English translation.

 

Just as the manifestations of life are intimately connected with the phenomenon of life without being of importance to it, a translation issues from the original—not so much form its life as from its afterlife. For a translation comes later than the original, and since the important works of world literature never find their chosen translators at the time of their origin, their translation marks their stage of continued life.

 

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James Baldwin on Film Adaptations

decasia[scene from “Decasia” ; image courtesy of University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections/Icarus Films]

Now, obviously, the only way to translate the written word to the cinema involves doing considerable violence to the written word, to the extent, indeed, of forgetting the written word. A film is meant to be seen, and, ideally, the less a film talks, the better. The cinematic translation, nevertheless, however great and necessary the violence it is compelled to us on the original form, is obliged to remain faithful to the intention, and the vision, of the original form. The necessary violence of the translation involves making very subtle and difficult choices. The root motive of the choices made can be gauged by the effect of these choices: and the effect of these deliberate choices, deliberately made, must be considered as resulting in a willed and deliberate act—that is, the film which we are seeing is the film we are intended to see.

James Baldwin, on the film adaptation of Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (from The Devil Finds Work)

 

Enlightening, given a continued flow of tepid films adapted from searing books.

 

What is the most successful — and not necessarily faithful! — film translation of an extraordinary book? Write your thoughts in the comment below.

 

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Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator" – Part I

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Benjamin’s essay most relevant to our work here at Archipelago has to be “The Task of the Translator.” Originally written as an introduction to his translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens, the essay stands on its own as a translator’s manifesto. Over the next few weeks, I’ll highlight some particularly explorative statements, and I encourage anyone to leave a comment with their thoughts, rants, diatribes, etc. Discuss!

[A translation’s] essential quality is not statement or the imparting of information. Yet any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information–hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations. But do we not generally regard as the essential substance of a literary work what it contains in addition to information–as even a poor translator will admit–the unfathomable, the mysterious, the “poetic,” something that a translator can reproduce only if he is also a poet? This, actually, is the cause of another characteristic of inferior translation, which consequently we may define as the inaccurate transmission of an inessential content. This will be true whenever a translation undertakes to serve the reader. However, if it were intended for the reader, the same would have to apply to the original. If the original does not exist for the reader’s sake, how could the translation be understood on the basis of this premise?

These two, bold statements twist together to form a thought difficult for me to fully understand. He seems, at first, to suggest that translation is a middle-ground between meaning and music. The next sentence, however, clarifies this further:

Translation is a mode.

And later:

As translation is a mode of its own, the task of the translator, too, may be regarded as distinct and clearly differentiated from the task of the poet.

Benjamin separates the action of the translator from the poet or novelist, giving translators their due independence as artistis in their own, distinct way.

 

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Ezra Pound & Canto I

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If you’re going to engage with English poetry, a mentor once told me, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with Pound. She was referring, of course, to his controversial–and often, downright bigoted–remarks both on the page and beyond. But frankly, few modern English poets have influenced as many writers as Pound. That his work continues to resonate with successive generations poses a particular  challenge in the narrative history of American verse.

 

Pound recognized the need for international literature to enliven the language, incorporating untranslated text from other languages into his poetry and even translating whole works (see: Enrico Pea‘s Moscardino). Avoiding the mode of stiff, word-to-word translation, Pound followed his ear, sometimes creating a translation that was outrageously loose — but gorgeous.

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly seas, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.

My favorite example of his translation skills is in his “Canto I.” The majority of the poem is a loose translation of a brief episode from Homer’s Odyssey. Notice the trios of alliterative words and vowel-sounds at the beginnings of each line. Rather than follow Homer’s dactylic hexameter meter, which doesn’t work in the same way as it does for Ancient Greek and Latin, Pound chose to set the poem in a similar meter as Beowulf. Pound saw his task beyond translating the words: he translated the meter, from one language’s epic tradition to another.

 

For those in the know — or willing to Google the reference — Pound admits toward the end that he isn’t translating from the original Greek, but from a 1538 Latin edition translated by Andreas Divus.  Pound’s resulting creation feels like a direct address to the Art of Translation, its wonders, its pitfalls, and its importance.

 

Check out all of Canto I on the Poetry Foundation website here, with a great recording of Forrest Gander giving his thoughts and reading the first section.