Thursday, 16 August 2012

Satisfied Feelin’

Strutting through with speed...
Coming down with a bump...
Highs don’t last forever...
For another glorious eight hour night shift, tapping away, out there on...
   Okay, so it wasn’t an all-night-out, Soul-beat dance affair exactly, more me locking myself in with a dead author, for a couple of days, to the sole beat of my long fingers tapping away on the old clavier – my best friends Marvin and Tammi would have to wait a good 48 hours for my renewed attention; I must have been serious!
   Still, when I say 48 hours, I don’t mean 48 consecutive hours – emphasis on the above “days”; these “days” I need my beauty sleep, as any of my so-called friends will confirm...
   Come to think of it, my translation of more than 11,000 words of Christiane Rochefort’s Les Petits Enfants du Siècle, as part of my MA dissertation, was completed in much less than half that time, and with my adviser telling me that my ‘1st draft’ will indeed suffice as my final draft.
   And I have to agree – he types with a conceited grin.
   No, but seriously, the reason I say this – and this my point – is because I could have actually translated those 11,000 words at the same pace before I began my MA course... except that the result wouldn’t have been anything like this one. I’m not at all suggesting that I’ve altered my style of translating, in terms of the physical act; I translate just as quickly, and maybe just as early, whenever I feel it time to begin “the physical act”. Nor I am suggesting that I now translate much better, and that the 11,000 words are superior to those I might have done before the MA course – that all depends on the individual reader. What has altered over time, however, while I’ve been on the MA course, is my mental act of (sub) conscious prefacing, or the thing I carry around with me for however long. Furthermore, I am now just as capable of carrying out my convictions.
   So just what do I mean by those last two lines?
   Firstly, the mental preface thing: Cluysenaar believes that a translation “[m]ust be faithful in any worthwhile way, work on the basis of prior stylistic analysis” (1976:41).  Allow me to quickly clear up the first part of this sentence, the “faithful” bit; the forbidden word – to use it around the translation fraternity is akin to an actor mentioning the ‘Scottish play’ in a theatre’s greenroom, just before a performance... Funny, why am I calling it the Scottish play? This room’s not green... Anyhow, to faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty etc – I’ve a good mind to capitalize them! For me, a translator’s duty is to endeavour to be true to his/her interpretation of the text in question, that is being faithful to the text and that is all s/he can ever do; that is the “worthwhile” way. As for the sentence’s second part, the “prior stylistic analysis”: well, believe or not, but each individual’s interpretation of a text is based on the stylistic choices of the original author, be they conscious or unconscious choices; Tabakowska states that “Stylistic choices reflect a speaker’s (subjective) choice of a given conceptualisation” (1993:7). Sufficed to say, Tabakowska is right, but I could use quotations all day, and I don’t want to. What I will say is that style is an expression of a cognitive state, and, therefore, the meaning we obtain from what is not on the page is driven by what is on the page... Stylistic analysis is thus fundamentally important to the fidelity a translator hopes to achieve, according to that ever-important interpretation.
   So what do I get from believing that? Well, firstly I’ve become better at the prefacing bit, through practice; that kind of reading on two levels, responding in both a reader and translator sense; doing two jobs at ones, it doesn’t have to be such hard work, the two levels complement each other. That’s how we find that ‘voice’. And it doesn’t all happen for me by staring at a page; it can happen while I’m walking my little girl to school, as in retrospectively of course, or even having just nipped downstairs for a bite...
   So to the physical translating, which, I believe, has improved too, in that I don’t find the work as hard as I once did. Something more important, though, is that... well, take the above-mentioned translation as an example: I’m sure that, had I translated the text previous to my MA course, I would, to use a laundry metaphor, have added far too much conditioner, smoothed out all those ‘rough spots’, and been far too keen with the old iron, on those slightly ambiguous bits, to such a point that the text would no longer have belonged to Christiane Rochefort , apart from having her name on the front of the book – there’ll always be a translator’s voice, that’s the interpretation bit, but I would’ve gone a little too far in the wrong direction. Venuti is right only partially, because I’m not talking about some political stance; I’m talking about replicating what a text does for a translator, not foreignisation versus domestication, for the sake of... With Rochefort’s text, I have gone completely against the grain of my writing – or have translated in a way that I never thought I could, rough bits, warts and all. And I think the text is better for it; it’s more it and less me, the perfect ‘blend’, and it wasn’t that difficult. What’s more, I like the feeling. I have truly found what the author’s voice says to me in my translation.
   And I have the course to thank for that. So thank you.
   Thanks more individually to Jean Boase-Beier, BJ Epstein, Valerie Henitiuk, Cecilia Rossi, Philip Wilson, Anne Cluysenaar – the quote – Elżbieta Muskat-Tabakowska – likewise – and to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell for their patience in letting me get on with my work, and for donating me the title of the blog, just one of many wonderful tunes.
   I’m Chris Rose and have a couple of blogs further down too, about Michael Caine and Tom Stoppard. If you’d like to drop me a line – whether you’re interested in translation or just a fan of Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Michael Caine films or... – my email address is
   Thanks for reading.

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