Chinese whispers

As someone who’s made a (poor) living from academic translation in the past – I now make a poor living from editing my own dear language into UN-speak – I’m deeply impressed by good literary translators. I would never have read some of my favourite authors (Balzac, Bernhard, Perec, Saramago, Sebald, etc.) without them. I look at the Italian-to-English work of Tim Parks and William Weaver and a dozen others and marvel at how they manage to convey sense so effortlessly from one language to another. I do have some files of translations of poems by Pasolini and Sandro Penna tucked away, made in those heady youthful days when I felt it my duty to do such things, and I’ve translated a chunk of a wonderful novel by Renata Crea, a friend of mine, for the sheer pleasure of seeing it work in a second language (as it splendidly does), but I’d shy away from anything more, well, contractual. I think I’d get in the way.

Which is why it feels odd to discover that a short piece of mine, titled The Growing, is about to appear in a very smart-looking left-wing weekly in the Netherlands called Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands). In Dutch. In the whole world of my acquaintance, I know two people who will be able to read it, so I may have to ask them to back-translate it for me in the hope that something amusing emerges. It usually does. Repeated back-translation can effectively send a text haywire, to the general hilarity of those involved. The story itself is creepy and part of a longer thing I’ve been working on for, effectively, years now. One day, who knows? it may appear in English too.

I remember being disappointed some years back when The Barcelona Review did a story called The Time it Takes because I was under the impression they translated everything they published into both Spanish and Catalan and I was dying to see what it read like in both. But my impression, alas, was wrong and the story remained as it was. And now it feels oddly incomplete.

This entry was posted in language, pasolini, story, translation, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s