This week, we look at translation in all its many articulations.
- How do you translate a luxury handbag? While working on Karolina Ramqvist’s The White City, Saskia Vogel found herself determined to choose the right kind of handbag to accompany the Swedish gangster’s wife – was it Longchamp or Louis Vuitton? For Vogel, this became an example of the precision and flexibility necessary to get a translation not just right, but rightly contextualised. Perfecting sentence structure is one thing, but there’s also an entire cultural scaffolding, Plexiglas-transparent but strong and definite as steel. ‘I don’t aim for forensic fidelity in translation. I translate so that the reader will, above all, feel the book. Focusing on feeling is how I compensate for what will inevitably be lost; perhaps such coping mechanisms are the locus of a translator’s style. But perhaps I have focused too much on the word loss. The word try is also key. Try assumes a gap – between imagination and language, writer and text, text and translator, text and reader’ · Paris Review
- There are times, of course, when what looks like interesting cultural nuance turns out to be blunt miscommunication. Alice Kaplan digs into the discrepancy between the titles of the American edition (The Stranger) and the British edition (The Outsider) of Albert Camus’s masterwork L’Étranger. Far from a commentary on transatlantic attitudes to foreignness and class, Kaplan discovers that the distinction occurred simply because Hamish Hamilton never got round to sending a telegram · Guardian
- Having said that, there are times when diversions and discursions can enrich a translation practice. In Jen Calleja’s Verfreundungseffekt column, she sets Sam Riviere, Laura Tenschert, Jack Underwood, Livia Franchini and Chrissy Williams the task of translatory Chinese Whispers, with surprising and cheering results · The Quietus
- Though, it has to be said that Chinese Whispers is a strange phrase. According to Wikipedia, the use of the word ‘Chinese’ in a game of word distortion symbolizes the Western bamboozlement in the face of the Chinese language. How charming. Frankly, English and its nonsenses are just as bamboozling and nonsensical, as Alan Levinovitz finds in examining translations of Alice in Wonderland’s weirder neologisms · The Believer
- Translating nonsense is a challenge of specific articulation, but there are other translations that stretch the possibilities of interpretation. How, for example, would you translate music for the deaf? Amber Galloway Gallego is an ASL interpreter specializing in the performing arts, and her work is excitingly evocative even for those who can hear · Vox
Photograph © Alejo