Translation 15. A Few Links on Literary Translation

Whereas the peak achievement for interpreters is seen as the very public and volatile arena of international (geo)politics, the most highly regarded area of the translation world is the domain of literary translators and their solitary craft; to them we owe our appreciation of and insights into the work of those who translate works of literary merit from foreign languages into our own.

On the rare occasions when the acknowledged best of these lonely translators attempt to explain their linguistic and artistic input into the translation, they offer invaluable insights into their generally misunderstood (or underestimated) contribution to the translated works, especially to those of us who do not speak the language from which they translate.

In the language area with which I am most familiar, Spanish to English translation, the following interviews are well worth reading or listening to by all lovers of literature.

1.
Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman

2. Edith Grossman

In addition, Edith Grossman, who published a highly acclaimed new translation of Don Quijote a few years ago, has just published a book about her professional life:
Why Translation Matters, Yale University Press, March 2010.

A recent interview by Heidi Broadhead, an Amazon.com books editor, will further whet the reader’s appetite for the revelations of this accomplished writer.

The relationship between translators and the authors of the books translated is another area into which readers are occasionally allowed to peep. Among my cuttings are the following different reactions by J.M. Coetzee (the Nobel-Prize novelist and occasional translator from Dutch and Afrikaans), and Australian novelist Shane Maloney.

J.M. Coetzee, ‘Speaking in Tongues’, The Australian, Weekend Review, 28 January 2006, pp. 4-6. (No longer listed online as far as I can tell.) Later published in Meanjin (subscription needed) and, reportedly, as part of one of the essays in Identity as Change in the History of Culture, edited by Alexandra Lianeri and Vanda Zajko (Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199288076). My yellowing cutting from The Australian of this lengthy and difficult-to-acquire article is summarised thus: “Drawing on his experiences with translators, Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee identifies some of the practical difficulties involved in the craft of translation.” (Try to locate a copy.)

Shane Maloney: ‘On being translated’ (also published in Australian Author, Vol 36, No. 3 on 3 December 2004 and in The Age, 24 December 2004, as ‘When language gets on your unicorn’s goat’).

For those contemplating the possibility of working in this area, the following two items offer practical advice on some of the the major problems facing the freelance literary translator.

1. A plea for fairer treatment and better remuneration by the European Council of Literary Translators’Associations” (December 2008)

2. The American Branch of International PEN’s Handbook for Literary Translators, Fourth Edition, 1999

“Prepared by the Translation Committee of PEN American Center
Copyright © 1971, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1991, 1995, 1999 by PEN American Center All rights reserved.
An earlier version of “The Responsibilities of Translation” was originally drawn up in cooperation with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and The Translation Center (Columbia University).
“A Translator’s Model Contract” was prepared with the generous assistance of Peter Skolnik, literary agent; Jerry Simon Chasen, Esq.; and Leon Friedman, Esq.
PEN American Center, New York.”

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