Lately, I've found myself considering translators and their role in transfering and promoting the literature of the language that they translate. One reason for this is that I am the host chair for ALTA's 2006 annual meeting, and, although the official invitation in the newsletter has not yet been published, the first proposals have started to cross my desk. I am amazed by the creativity of these early proposals and am eagerly looking forward to the rush prior to the deadline cutoff of April 3rd. And I also realize how grateful I am to other translators, and the way that they have brought the rest of the world to me through their difficult, creative work.
We all know that translation cannot be the source text, no matter how hard we try. And yet, in the hope of showing our fellow English-speaking members of Planet Earth that our language has much to offer humanity, we work on with our dreams and dictionaries, hoping to bring forth an artistic creation worthy of the text that we have in our hands. And much as we wish that we could read everything in the original, this is just not humanly possible short of brain implants. I can read fluent Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and German, and prefer to read works in those languages and not in translation. In Montreal, I picked up a number of novels in Quebecois, since I do read (though would never dare to translate) French. But in spite of the rise of Hispanic culture and language in the USA, I have never learned to speak or read Spanish, and must trust my translator to convey the text to me. I certainly don't speak Vietnamese, and now that I have an exchange student living in my house from Vietnam, I turned to Vietnamese literature in translated into English to find out about my guest student's culture and background. I was saddened to see how little of Vietnamese literature was presently available, and treasured every work I got my hands on. And how many of us in North America speak Mandarin Chinese? I've been working on learning Chinese, but assume that it will be a good five years before I can read a simple text. Again, my collection of Chinese literature is all in translation.
The events in the Middle East have brought a renewed interest in fiction and memoirs from the countries of the region, and, if you are like me and do not speak Arabic, Persian or Hebrew, it is the work of translators which allows us to experience these works and to inform our understanding of that corner of our planet. But how important that we do read these texts and understand as much as possible about the world they describe!
Literary translators have a hard lot. No matter how much they have polished their translations, no matter how many years they have devoted to the text, they are rewarded by criticism at best, dismissal or invisibility most of the time, and let's not even mention the abysmal financial renumeration in these United States. The legal or medical translator may be anonymous, but at least that person is well-paid, relatively speaking, for his/her work. We literary translators are also contributing to society. I am looking forward to planning (with the quite able and vocal help of the rest of the committee) ALTA 2006 in order to give my fellow literary translators that place to be heard and appreciated. My time is my gift to you and your hard, and (so neccessary in this world) chosen profession.
And now, let's see what the day's e-mail has brought in for 2006!