He starts with a few questions, and the short answers he gives to them are extremely effective in driving home the main point of the article:
“Who wrote the Milan Kundera you love? Answer: Michael Henry Heim. And what about the Orhan Pamuk you think is so smart? Maureen Freely. Or the imaginatively erudite Roberto Calasso? Well, that was me.”
This is an issue that we, as translators, are very aware of, but even we might overlook it when thinking back to what we read before becoming translators. It seems quite natural, really, to give credit for the beauty we find in a story to the guy whose name is on the cover. After all, translators shouldn’t add or omit or change anything significant, right? Nevertheless, when the reader gets to the point of forgetting that he is even reading a translation, and is not aware of the process involved, it irks most of us, and above all it prevents literary translation from being fully recognised and valued. Parks points out a couple of very simple, emotional reasons for this:
“The great, charismatic, creative writer wants to be all over the globe. And the last thing he wants to accept is that the majority of his readers are not really reading him. His readers feel the same. They want intimate contact with true greatness. They don’t want to know that this prose was written on survival wages in a maisonette in Bremen, or a high-rise flat in the suburbs of Osaka. Which kid wants to hear that her JK Rowling is actually a chain-smoking pensioner?”
The images he paints are all too familiar, unfortunately, and the whole concept calls into question the mythology of literature. Whatever is glamourous about the publishing industry, though, translators are very seldom a part of it, no matter how many people are reading their works. We get our flat fee per word or per page, and then that’s it. Not that we expect to be interviewed and idolised, after all we don’t come up with any content. Still, it’s easy to see that the money we get is in no way proportional to the money we allow publishers to make.
Later on in the article, Parks writes:
You’ll never know exactly what a translator has done. He reads with maniacal attention to nuance and cultural implication, conscious of all the books that stand behind this one; then he sets out to rewrite this impossibly complex thing in his own language, re-elaborating everything, changing everything in order that it remain the same, or as close as possible to his experience of the original. In every sentence the most loyal respect must combine with the most resourceful inventiveness. Imagine shifting the Tower of Pisa into downtown Manhattan and convincing everyone it’s in the right place; that’s the scale of the task.”
I loved this one, as in my intentions one of the purposes of this blog is to explain and popularise the work of the literary translator, without many of the technicalities of academic writing, and I think this is another great way to describe the process in a few words.
You can read the full article here. As for myself, I need to get back to my own current Tower of Pisa.