23 June 2012

Speak, memory

The ghastly conclusion is that a government might claim the right to silence an individual, much as Deza claims his right to silence himself. This safe, static silence is abhorrent to Marías. To him conversation is as natural as air; it is an essential, egalitarian activity. In the words of Wheeler, it is “what most defines and unites us ... the wheel that moves the world.” It is the one pleasure we all may enjoy in equal measure, a commonality that binds us in our shared humanity as creators of our world. As Marías writes at the beginning of his autobiographical novel Dark Back of Time, “I believe I’ve never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once, as everybody does, not only novelists or writers but everyone who has recounted anything since the time we know began, and no one in that known time has done anything but tell and tell.” In effect, Marías is arguing for the conversation’s immense importance to civilization — that we collectively breathe the fabric of reality into reality through fictions we tell as truths. Talk is fragile, can be misinterpreted, can be put to malign uses; it is subject to our moods and whims. But if we do not speak, our thoughts die with us.

From an essay on Javier Marías by Scott Esposito in Los Angeles Review of Books. (Thanks, Suze!)

21 June 2012

What to translate

2. What do you think should be the most important criteria in choosing books to translate into English?

Maybe that it be astonishing and that nobody is or could be writing anything like it in English. Sorry, that makes two.

From a short interview with translator Katherine Silver at Publishing the World.

César Aira's favorite Brazilian writers

Machado de Assis, Euclides da Cunha, Lima Barreto, Mário de Andrade, Guimarães Rosa, Dalton Trevisan, Sérgio Sant’Anna, João Gilberto Noll.

-from an interview in O Globo (in Portuguese, but try Google Translate)

Center for Japanese Studies

The Center for Japanese Studies of University of Michigan publishes works in translation from Japanese, usually under the Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies. Some titles can be ordered directly from this publisher (though some are already out of print) or from other online booksellers.

Official site

Some books are available digitally online. Here is a full list. It makes available works such as Donald Richie's Japanese Cinema: Film Style and National Character (1971) and Studies in Japanese Culture II (1969), ed. Calvin L. French, which contains uncollected stories and a play by Yukio Mishima (via LibraryThing):

  • "Three Primary Colors" (1955) - one-act play, trans. Miles K. McElrath
  • "The Monster" (1949) - short story, trans. David O. Mills
  • "The Peacocks" (1965) - short story, trans. David O. Mills 

19 June 2012

Translations are what they are

[Tyler Malone]: I recently attended the PEN World Voices Festival’s panel on translation, and I’m curious from your perspective, what goes into a good translation? It’s a precarious thing. There’s so many things a translator must attempt to carry across. So what are the criteria you use to judge a translation?

[Chad Post]: This is such a tough thing to unpack. And every attempt to explain it just leads to more and more and more questions and comments. Keeping it simple, yet enigmatic, a translation should capture the special something, the overarching “style” of an author’s prose and structure, that makes an individual book unique.

TM: Part of the panel discussion focused on whether the general public, or at least general readers, wanted to know that something was translated. This seems very important to the Open Letter project. One of the panelists suggested it was better not to highlight the translator’s name, and especially not to put it on the cover, because readers generally want to believe that what they are getting is straight from the author, not something filtered through another person. I have a hard time figuring out where I stand on this line of reasoning. I think the speaker may unfortunately be correct, in a way, that readers (and society in general) are obsessed with the idea of one man/woman, one genius, behind a text, and so from a financial standpoint, the less you highlight that “these aren’t the actual words of the writer you think you’re reading,” the more people might be apt to read. But at the same time, this sort of taboo about translation is puzzling and frustrating. Can’t we just appreciate literature in translation as literature in translation and love it in spite of whatever complications the whole practice brings to the table? What are your thoughts?

CP: We don’t live in 19th Century Germany. Let’s try applying this logic to another art form for a second: “I don’t like movies that include the name of the screenwriter and director on the DVD box. Viewers want to believe that this piece of art came straight from the actors.” That’s a dumb example, but I think it’s a dumb argument. We live in an era of overwhelming amounts of information. In most every situation we want to know more, or at least know where we can go to get to know more. In what other situation do we like having some piece of information–one that can add to, or inform, or not, our experience–withheld from us in hopes that a corporation can increase its profits? Not to make this political or anti-corporate, but I feel like that argument is based in the long-standing belief of corporate publishers that their readers are retarded. And that’s insulting. The whole argument is insulting. Sorry, but fuck that.

From an interview with Open Letter publisher Chad Post at PMc Magazine (via Three Percent). The panel referred to here, the one organized during the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, is the one we linked to before (Youtube). I'm also dismayed by the panelist's (Lorin Stein) suggestion not to put the translator's name on the book cover.

18 June 2012

Epilogue for variations: Lisa

The poem is from the 2007 collection La universidad desconocida (The Unknown University) by Roberto Bolaño. The first translation is one of the set of five that appeared in The Paris Review. The translator is not credited, but I assume it's Laura Healy whose translation of the whole collection will be brought out by New Directions. The second is a version by Mariela Griffor and B. H. Boston which appeared three years ago in Poetry International.

When Lisa Told Me
Translated by Laura Healy

When Lisa told me she’d made love
to someone else, in that old Tepeyac warehouse
phone booth, I thought my world
was over. A tall, skinny guy with
long hair and a long cock who didn’t wait
more than one date to penetrate her deep.
It’s nothing serious, she said, but it’s
the best way to get you out of my life.
Parménides García Saldaña had long hair and
could have been Lisa’s lover, but some
years later I found out he’d died in a psych ward
or killed himself. Lisa didn’t want to
sleep with losers anymore. Sometimes I dream
of her and see her happy and cold in a Mexico
drawn by Lovecraft. We listened to music
(Canned Heat, one of Parménides García Saldaña’s
favorite bands) and then we made
love three times. First, he came inside me,
then he came in my mouth, and the third time, barely
a thread of water, a short fishing line, between my breasts. And all
in two hours, said Lisa. The worst two hours of my life,
I said from the other end of the phone.

* * *

Translated by Mariela Griffor and B. H. Boston

When Lisa told me she had made love
with another, in the eternal telephone booth of life
in the market in Tepeyac, I thought the world
ended. A tall thin man with
long hair and a long cock, didn’t wait even
one night to penetrate her to the core.
It’s nothing serious, she said, but it
is the best way of getting you out of my life.
Parmenides Garcia Saldana had long hair and could
have been Lisa’s lover, but some
years later I saw he’d died in a mental hospital
or committed suicide. Lisa didn’t want
to lie any longer with losers. Sometimes I dream
of her and see her happy and cold in Mexico
designed by Lovecraft: We listen to music
(Canned Heat, one of Parmenides Garcia Saldana’s
favorite groups) and then we make
love three times. The first time he comes inside of me.
The second time inside my mouth, the third, hardly a thread
of water, a short fishing line, between my breasts. And all
of that in two hours, Lisa said. The two worst hours of my life,
I said from the other end of the line.

14 June 2012

A fascinating singularity

WH Staying on the topic of Bolaño for a little longer, what do you make of his extraordinary recent fame in the Anglophone world? I don’t think that when you started working with his writing this would have been the case. Has it got something to do with his sudden death? Or was it inevitable that he would receive the recognition that he has?

CA Back when I started in 2002, Bolaño was already very well known in the Spanish-speaking world because he had won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives. But that didn’t mean he was bound to be well known eventually in other languages. The Germans and the Italians had picked up on him fairly quickly, and, interestingly, the first book they both translated was Nazi Literature in the Americas. When the first couple of English translations, By Night in Chile and Distant Star, came out in England, they weren’t published in America straight away. Those books didn’t go very well at all—they didn’t sell very well—although they got good reviews; there wasn’t much interest. It was only a little bit later with the first book of stories, Last Evenings on Earth, which had been commissioned by Harvill in the UK, but was published first in America by New Directions, that there was a bit of buzz around. Only then did I start to think that the others would be translated, because with the first two I really wasn’t sure there was enough interest.

His premature death also may have had something to do with the excitement around his work, but not that much. He’s a writer who invented a commanding, distinctive style, in the largest sense of the word—a way of organizing experience as well as words—which is a pretty rare achievement. That spoke to many readers, for a number of reasons—I’ve heard, for example, that he is an antidote to the North American model of the professional novelist groomed by creative writing schools. There might be something symptomatic about his success, but I think that the main reason for it is that he is a fascinating singularity.

Chris Andrews interviewed in BOMB.