I think, to the majority of the people who visit The Parrish Lantern, this is a question that even if it momentarily flitted across their conscious mind - would seem so obvious, it must be rhetorical, and yet a post on a fellow bloggers site, made me reconsider this question. Because of the way my country appears to be heading, the way to all intents and purposes our leaders(?) have chosen to isolate us from the greater European community, a fellow blogger – Tom (The Common Reader) was so appalled by their decision, he wrote a post decrying this horrendous situation, stating that he was a Europhile. That because he as
“ a lover of European literature I have developed a sense of being “European”, sharing in the culture of Thomas Mann, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Robert Walser, Gunther Grass, Magda Szabo and many others”.
This got me thinking about how we, lovers of World/ translated literature, may have a different aspect, an alternate viewpoint to those that do not read or that only read works by English language writers. how can you be insular, inward looking whilst your viewpoint is being shaped and moulded by a whole world of writers, if your vision of this planet is not only shaped by the writers of Europe but Asia, the Americas and all points in-between. If your understanding of a situation is derived from a combination of questions and answers posed and dissected, screamed out at a confused and hostile world by writers from all points of this globe, you rapidly learn that we have far more in common and share a whole lot more than there are differences. A quick look through the index of this blog made me realise that the majority of the books on The Parrish Lantern, started out their lives in a language different to the one I read them in, writers like – Roberto Bolano, Yukio Mishima, Italo Calvino, Deyan Enev, Pablo Neruda, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Alois Hotschnig, Kobo Abe, Alessandro Baricco, Hans Fallada & many more, all of whom I read in a translated form.
Which brings me to this book “ Why Translation Matters” by Edith Grossman. In this book the writer/ translator stakes out her claim for the importance of translation and the role of the translator, she says in the introduction that:
“My intention is to stimulate a new consideration of an area of literature that is too often ignored, misunderstood or misrepresented. As the world seems to grow smaller and more interdependent and interconnected while at the same time, nations and peoples paradoxically become increasingly antagonistic to one another, translation has an important function to fulfil that I believe must be cherished and nurtured. Translation not only plays its important traditional role as the means that allows us access to literature originally written in one of the countless languages we cannot read, but it also represents a concrete literary presence with the crucial capacity to ease and make more meaningful relationships to those with whom we may not have had a connection with before. Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we may have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”
Three of the four sections of this book are based on lectures the writer gave for the Yale university press (connected to the Whitney Centres Annual lecture series), only the final chapter on poetry was specifically written for this volume. This allows her to discuss her craft, to explain the finer points, the differences between rote work and the kind of translation where through an almost metamorphic alchemy an alternate form is created*, a subject she is more than qualified to discuss. Edith Grossman is an award-winning translator specializing in English versions of Spanish language books, she is considered to be one of the most important translators of Latin American fiction in the past century. She has translated the works of Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, Mayra Montero, Augusto Monterroso, Jaime Manrique, Julián Ríos and of Álvaro Mutis, and her translation of Cervantes, Don Quixote is now widely accepted as the standard text.
By allowing us to explore through literature the thoughts and feelings of people from different societies or from different points in time, we learn, savour through a kind of osmosis what once was strange, foreign which through this process becomes familiar, whilst experiencing at the same time life outside our own skins and with it our preconceptions and misconceptions. Translation expands and deepens our world and our consciousness of it in many ways.
Chad post from Three Percent (a resource for international literature at the university of Rochester) stated;
“And so we come back to the first question: why does translation matter, and to whom? I believe it matters for the same reason and in the same way literature matters – because it is crucial to our sense of ourselves as humans. The artistic impulse and the need for art in our species will not be denied.”
Which brings me back to my title “Preaching to the converted” and my conversation with Tom & whether it is true that by reading, and imbibing another nations literature you can come to a greater understanding of their society and culture whilst in the process becoming closer to that culture and less isolationist as individuals or nation states, this is the idea behind the book “Why Translation Matters” and also something I totally believe and feel I’ve experienced myself, through my love of literature.
I will now throw this over to who ever is reading this - Is the writer of this book and myself being particularly naive about this subject or do you agree with this sentiment?
*One Hundred Years of Solitude translated by Gregory Rabassa, was declared by Gabriel García Márquez to be superior to his own Spanish original.