Friday, May 12, 2006

Swedish Translation Fun at SASS

I have just returned from Oxford, Mississippi, home of Faulkner and the most recent conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies, which included a panel on Swedish translation put together by yours truly, moderated by Marilyn Blackwell and with additional panelists Johannes Göransson and Rochelle Wright.
Johannes discussed his translation of Aase Berg, and Rochelle her translation of Kerstin Ekman. A lively discussion ensued which addressed the entire spectrum of translation, such as word play, cultural context, what makes a "good" translation (ie readability versus accuracy) and Swedish peculiarities.
The never-ending question of readability versus accuaracy is one in which I will now add my two cents. I am all for readability first and foremost, with accuaracy an accessory to art but not its master. When I translate a work, I want the emotional impact of the original to resonate with the reader of the translation. If that is sacrificed to accuracy, art dissapears. We are not solely intellectual beings, but also emotional and spiritual ones, and these latter aspects of humankind are just as important to a work of art as the intellectual satisfaction. When folks ask how I see my work of translation, I call it "gut-to-gut" translation, meaning that the whole person must be included in the work of translation, whether as translator or as reader of translated literary works.
A work of translation cannot be entirely accurate, because the entire cultural context cannot be translated. If the reader understood the entire cultural context, they would also be reading the work in the original, since language is part of culture. At best, we translators are approximating the original as best we can into a new cultural context, and we must take the cultural resonances of the new language into account. A translation is a glimpse of another place, but cannot take the place of the original language. But translate we must, since we love the original so much that we do not want our own culture to miss out completely on the literature that we love. Without translation, our readers would never see the worlds that our authors have created.
Criticising a translation is like shooting fish in a barrel. There is always something to find that is not to the critic's liking, and we translators must develop a tough skin to withstand the withering critiques that are inevitable. There it is, that's life.
Back to translating now, hard workers in the field of literary transfer!


Anonymous said...

Oxford Mississippi! I remember that darling bookstore. Great post, thanks.

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