Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Creole Chameleon Wives

Folks! I have just made my way again to Book Trust's snazzy-looking website, where Independent Foreign Fiction Prize winner Daniel Hahn is blogging his way through his newest Agualusa translation. The site, a sub-site on translation run by a very dedicated chap at Book Trust whom I had the pleasure of meeting some months before I packed up and quit London life, is a great resource of info on all things translation.

I first came across Hahn when I reviewed The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa for the TLS, which you can read a chunk of if you like. I was absolutely blown away, both by Agualusa's spellbinding writing, and by Hahn's translation, which was powerful and light-handed all at the same time. I've gone back to Hahn's translation of Creole and, soon, will go forwards with My Father's Wives. I saw Hahn speak in Hampstead Heath Waterstone's as part of a great translation series set up by a foreign lit fan on their staff who merits an honourary TA membership for his efforts. It was a rainy weeknight a while back, and a packed house. I was thoroughly taken aback by how young Hahn was, grumble... Also, do have a look at Agualusa's own site, of course (PT/ENG/GR/FR).

At any rate, please do follow along as he goes. Am going to come up with a way to work this into the MPhil. It's all about the Venn diagram of Parkbench and the MPhil these days, I'm afraid.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Joyce on the jacks

Nothing like leaping in at the deep end, I always say.

Today's translation mystery was a nice little chunk of Ulysses, which we started off discussing and in my case, attempting to translate in the wrong direction. I have no intention whatsoever of working out of my mother tongue into French and Italian, but that is precisely what this morning required.

Go on, have fun with this. I dare you.

Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: MATCHAM’S MASTERSTROKE. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers’ Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six.

Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone. Hope it’s not too big bring on piles again. No, just right. So. Ah! Costive. One tabloid of cascara sagrada. Life might be so. It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell. Neat certainly. MATCHAM OFTEN THINKS OF THE MASTERSTROKE BY WHICH HE WON THE LAUGHING WITCH WHO NOW. Begins and ends morally. HAND IN HAND. Smart. He glanced back through what he had read and, while feeling his water flow quietly, he envied kindly Mr Beaufoy who had written it and received payment of three pounds, thirteen and six.

Obvious issues arose around terms like 'asquat', 'cuckstool' (except for the Germans), all the –ing terms for the Dutch were problematical, 'costive', and, well, by the time we hit 'the laughing witch who now', we were ready for a mid-morning drink.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Dante is NOT LOST.

On Monday, I began my first week back at university. I'm back at my alma mater, doing, predictably, an MPhil in Literary Translation. I believe, though I could be wrong, that it's the only such MPhil in the world.

It's odd, going back to college. A week ago, I spoke to a pensions advisor and registered for university in the same morning. Going forward? Backward? Hard to tell.

When I got there, though, I felt right at home. I'm having classes in the very same rooms in which I did my undergraduate degree, which certainly helps, but really, I've come to remember why I got into this lark in the first place.

It's all thanks to Dante. When I sat back down in Room 4097, I had a flash of my first day of second year: Dante in the original, with one year of Italian language classes under our collective belt. The professor, an amazing woman and force to be reckoned with, beloved of Italianists the world over, read the first lines of the Divina Commedia.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

'And here, ladies and gentlemen, we will have to stop. Many of you will be reading the approved translation alongside your Italian. This is FINE, but in places, the translation, like all translations, lets us down.'

We were cowed. To begin with the greats so soon after beginning the language, to study under this professor, to be stopping already to question the legitimacy of a world-renowned translation. We were, we thought, completely out of our depth.

'Your translation will likely translate smarrita as 'lost'.                     This is wrong. When you're wrong, you're wrong, and                           THIS is WRONG.'

Just so that we're clear. Ahem. Dante, she went on to explain, was a true believer, and as such, he never lost The Way. He was human, and as we would learn, was more than aware of his own sins, so it is understandable that he would feel that he wandered, nay, strayed from the diritta via, but he was never lost. It was key that we understand this as we began to follow Dante through his journey.

*  *  *

Since the course began in earnest, we've been encouraged to keep a log; ideas and challenges met along the way (am trying to abandon the metaphor, really), themes we'd like to explore and the like. I propose, provided that it doesn't bore people to tears, to do that here. I figure that many of the experiences of a new translator will be common among a lot of Parkbenchers and others, so I'd really appreciate your feedback as I go along.

Something that grabbed me today was about dictionaries. Our lecturer commented on his difficulties in learning Arabic thanks in part to a lack of reliable dictionaries. This, of course, came from a francophile perspective. The French, of course, benefit from a mighty tradition in dictionaries. A glut of good dictionaries is a mixed blessing, he mentioned in an offhand sort of way, because it provides a seemingly endless supply of carefully attributed and explained near-synonyms.

This was something of a revelation. Of course I know about the French dictionary tradition and their importance in codifying and recording the development of the language, but I had never connected this to my constant use of my growing collection. Despite the fact that I have been studying French for the last seventeen years, I still find myself reaching for a dictionary more than I do for Italian,  nine years on.

Live and learn. And look it up.