Thanks to Daniela Ilieva on Biblit, I found another point of view – and quite a knowledgeable one, at that – on literary translation. In this case what Dacia Maraini wrote on Il Corriere della Sera a few years ago. I’ll offer a quick translation of my two favourite passages:
[…] the translator deals with the history of different countries and cultural developments. Great writers usually criticise the moral conventions of the countries they live in. Does the translator have to know and be a part of these critical operations? These questions are hard to answer. During my speech, I talked extensively about the definition of style. I like the one Roland Barthes gave: “a carnal verticality”. And thinking back to my efforts while translating the crystal-clear perfection of Emily Dickinson’s verses and the long musical waves of Joseph Conrad’s prose, I wanted to share the pain, but also the sensual pleasure of translating. There is something akin to caring for someone, in the practice of translation. Not coincidentally, it’s mostly women who lean on the language-child like on a precious crib where a newborn lies, a newborn so strong in his voracity and will to grow, and the same time so weak in his exposed fragility. It can be argued that translation, especially when we consider the great responsibility involved, really is under-acknowledged and underpaid. I think that translators should definitely have their names on the cover, together with the authors’, and should get a percentage of the royalties.
Towards the end of the article, Maraini, starting with a quote from Paolo Leoncini e Michael Caesar, concludes with an interesting simile:
Literature needs to be “sounded”, the two scholars say, “by observing and accepting its cavities and its potential, without trapping it in aesthetical judgement.” Which means underlining the importance of what we call intentio operis, the author’s intention, which has to meet and interweave with the interpreter’s. Just like good instrumentalists dealing with a musical work, translators have a wide range of choices on how to approach a text, and it’s their intelligence, passion and inventiveness that give them the chance of bringing the original work’s spell back to life.
Call me narcissistic, but when I read this sort of things, I like my job even more.