Sunday, April 30, 2006

UCSB Translation Conference, May 10-12

UC Santa Barbara is sponsoring a translation conference in May 2006. You can get their flyer in PDF format. It looks like a great conference - I wish I could go!

The panelists include Bei Dao, Larry Venuti, Haun Saussy, and Suzanne Jill Levine.

On translation and crime fiction

A reader sent me this link to Sarah Weinman's article Pen World Voices Festival: Taking Crime Fiction Seriously. In the middle of the article there is a fascinating bit about Larry Venuti, Henning Mankell, and Boris Akunin arguing about translation.
But it was only when an audience member asked about the author-translator relationship that the panel really got going. Though they didn’t exactly fight, the debate was spirited enough that it could have lasted for at least another hour. Essentially, Mankell voiced the opinion that a translator has to capture the author’s voice ("must convey a language that is mine,” in his words.) He’s rejected translations that, while letter-perfect, simply didn’t do that. Akunin agreed, saying that there were several candidates to translate his work into English but he chose Andrew Bromfield based on the sample he provided, not to mention his pedigree - fluent in Russian with a Russian wife. But Venuti, surprisingly, disagreed with the writers, essentially stating that a translation can only be one possible interpretation of the work in question and that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” translation.

I have a feeling that Venuti would admit that bad or wrong translations exist. In fact, I wonder how many literary translators turned to translation because they read something that outraged them and thought, "Hey! I can do that better." The issue is, perhaps, "Better for what?" Better for a particular time, or audience; better for a desired impact or effect.

Anyway, after reading Weinman's article, I'm curious to read Akunin's crime novels!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mexican Writer Bruno Estañol's New Book

Just posted on Madam Mayo about Bruno Estañol: The Collected Fiction, translated from the Spanish and with a preface by Eduardo Jiménez, which has been published by Floricanto Press. Here's the book's jacket text:
The narratives collected in this volume are mainly set in the State of Tabasco, during the turbulent time period running from the Mexican Revolution to the late 1950’s. In one sense we’re dealing with a dreamy, genteel, picturesque — though somewhat atavistic — world, in which the paddlewheel steamboat remains the preferred means of long-distance transportation, in which the townswomen wear ruffled organdy or tulle dresses while daintily promenading, parasols in hand, around the town square; where couples, young and old, dance on Sunday afternoons to the elegant melodies of pasodobles, danzones, tangos or boleros; and where the finest merchandise, ranging from the mundane to the exotic, arrives daily to the various commercial ports along the Tabascan coast, having been shipped there from the metropolises of New Orleans and Havana. On the other hand, it may also be a horrific, hostile and harsh world, where fierce tropical storms arise without warning, claiming the lives and fortunes of unsuspecting townspeople; where the jungle and the wild creatures within it habitually menace the fragile and vulnerable human civilizations erected in their midst; where frontier-style administration of law and order continuously makes a mockery of justice; and where the more talented and gifted individuals often find themselves molested or marginalized, trapped in a life of boredom, monotony, indolence and ennui. Occasionally, the author takes us to places outside the realm of tropical Mexico, staging some of his stories in New England, Germany, England, India, Palestine and Paris; yet he always remains faithful to his penchant for exposing both the beautiful and the sinister sides of humanity, while concurrently manifesting a keen sense of humor. Estañol’s skeptical, ironical and slightly philosophical brand of humor resonates with the work of such fellow Latin American writers as Juan José Arreola, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ernesto Sábato.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No problem and other problems

At this moment, I am in the midst of a Swedish book called Mei Wenti! Inget Problem! In other words, no problem, no problem! It is a discourse on how a Swedish woman fell in love with China, and how she learned to love Chinese. One thing that caught my eye was the expression No problem.
When I was in seventh grade, two expressions started sweeping the teenage set "No problemo" and "No way". Perhaps you, too, remember the phenomenon when it was new. To me it seems obvious that using "no problem" came into American English from Latin American Spanish, since the teens I knew were using it as a borrowed expression, even though the Hispanic population of Waukegan was lower than 3% at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that "Inget problem" is a borrowing from American English into Swedish. The amount of American English words and phrases that have become Swedified in the past 40 years is remarkable, and a number of studies and op-ed pieces have been written about this (the op-ed pieces ususally decry the deterioration of Swedish purity by these barbarous Americanisms, but the process continues unabated).
This brings me to the problems I referred to in the title of this posting. Once upon a time, in the area where Waukegan now stands, there was a Potowatomie village, and the language spoken there was replaced by French when the traders came in (and France claimed Illinois as part of New France). But French gave way to English as American settlers from the colonies moved in and after the Louisiana Purchase, Illinois became part of the United States. At the turon of the century, African-American people were moving in from the South to take advantage of the manufacturing work opportunities and white ethnics were moving in from Central and Southern Europe. There was a huge diversity of languages and dialects until the first American-born generation came into their own. When I was a small child, there were still a number of ethnic stores: Greek, Armenian, Swedish come to mind. These stores started to disappear during my teenage and college years, as the folks became more Americanized and fear of integrated schools drove many white ethnics out of Waukegan.
In the late 70s, a few Mexican families appeared in Waukegan and now the Hispanic population is over 50% in Waukegan proper. This is causing a great deal of tension between the remaining white and black population and the new immigrants, and a large part of the anxiety is language.
I was recently home for the Easter holidays, and I was able to experience some of this tension first hand. A number of seventh graders took it into their heads to march for Immigrant Rights and at the same time cut school on Maundy Thursday, which also happened to be one of the first warm and sunny days after a long winter. It seems to have been an idea the youngsters caught from the media, as there were no adults involved in the march. About 200 students wandered through the city, chanting in Spanish. A reporter tried to talk to them, but they did not understand his English. My brother-in-law, who saw this brewing, turned on the radio to the local talk station, and emotions were running high. One person called for a boycott of Waukegan to punish the "lawlessness". Another called Waukegan "a sewer". This prompted a number of calls by those defending Waukegan. Meanwhile, the police followed the kids at a distance, just to make sure that a riot did not break out, but refused to arrest the kids, as they were practicing first amendment rights. The march went on for three hours.
Waukegan has been the setting for a number of fatal clashes, so I thought it was good that the police did not attempt to aggrivate the situation. Nevertheless, I could understand many of the feelings running through the city that day. Since the English and Spanish speaking inhabitants of Waukegan are roughly equivalent, there is a power shift in culture and politics away from English and toward Spanish. Most of the storefronts in my sister's neighborhood have only Spanish signage, which alienates the English-speaking population and is making them feel like foreigners in their city. Many fear that Waukegan will cease to be part of the United States cultural sphere and will become "Mexico Norte". However, many of the kids of the immigrants, those who stayed in school that day, do speak English, just as the American-born children of earlier immigrants learned to do, and their parents are eagerly working toward American citizenship.
So there is a great deal of fear and anxiety in today's Waukegan, a place that has seen language shift three times in the past three hundred years. I believe that those who fear "Mexico Norte" must remember the past history of fears toward immigrants that this country has seen (including the "smelling like sauerkraut" Germans, the "dumb" Swedes, the Italians, Greeks, Armenians, and all the others who have come to this country for better opportunities). Maybe it really is a situation where we should say "No problemo". But language is a barrier, and in order to live and work together, people need to be able to communicate. We shall see how this plays out, but a start would be to have at least a small sign in English in the storefronts so that the English speakers know what is for sale. That's just my humble opinion. Who knows, they may find a new customer!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mexican Writer Juan Villoro: Translators Take Note

I just posted something about Mexican writer Juan Villoro on my blog, "Madam Mayo". To read it, click here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

let's talk about YOUR "big but"

In order to avoid talking only about my own obsessions, I'd like to spotlight a different ALTA member each week, starting in May.

It would be great to interview other literary translators and hear about what they're working on. I'm inspired in part by another writer, Mark Pritchard, and his own series "What Are You Working On?" - which he started on the theory that everyone asks writers about the books they've already completed. And that's like having someone ask you about your ex, years after your painful breakup, when you'd really like to talk about the love of your life who you just met yesterday.

I have to say, too, that the best part of ALTA is hearing other people get deeply geeky and passionate about the technicalities of their projects and "their" poets or novelists. I'd love to see some of that discussion, that "conference hallway conversation", happen online.

So if you'd like to talk about your current translation projects, please email me! Or you can suggest a friend, if you're extremely modest, as translators tend to be.

If no one takes the bait, I'll start with newer ALTA members, chosen at random.

blah blah blah my project

tuesday, longest day ever
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.
I'm deep in the final stages of my thesis project, so have not been posting as I should here. In early May I'll be done with my degree & back in the blogging saddle.

I could talk about "my project" all day long, which is why I have not written about it here. I'd never shut up again once I opened the floodgates!

In March I went to South by Southwest Interactive, the "creative computing" branch of the SXSW festival in Austin. While I was there I got to sneak into AWP's final hour, bought a lot of books, and saw lots of friends from ALTA at Marian Schwartz's backyard party! It was great.

While in Austin I also spent two full days at the Benson Latin American Collection, a splendid, splendid library. I could barely tear myself away! Working on... you guessed it... "my project".

The research for it now fills five large 3-ring binders. The anthology itself, a collection of poems from Latin American women published between 1880 and 1930, is 200 pages long with the Spanish and my English translations and introductions for each poet. There are 24 poets from 11 countries. I am including an appendix with all the women I had to leave out.

I could spend years researching this project and working on it and still not feel "done".

So far my favorite poets of this time period who are a bit off the beaten track (if the beaten track is Mistral, Storni, Agustini, and de Ibarbourou) are shaping up to be: Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, María Luisa Milanés, and María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira. The others are wonderful too or I would not include them, of course.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Trio of Mexican Writers

Thanks to Liz Henry, blogger extraordinaire, who not only started this blog, but was so encouraging to me about blogging, I have entered the blogging fray, as it were, with "Madam Mayo", a blog about many subjects, including literary translation. This evening's post is "A Trio of Mexican Writers"--- Araceli Ardon, Monica Lavin, and Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo. The latter's short story was translated by Canadian Geoff Hargreaves, who has also translated the work of many other Mexican writers, among them, Carmen Bullosa and Fabio Morabito.