Thursday, 18 April 2013

“What if ‘adapted from’ in literature could also mean ‘translated from’?”

I would like to write about the experience I had working on the essay for the module Process and Product. When I started the MA in literary translation, I had a fixed idea on what was a translation and what was not. In my naïve opinion, translations had to be perfect mirroring reproductions of the source text and it was not the translator’s job to include her or his subjectivity. After spending two semesters working on translations, I slowly realised that the perfect translation was impossible. The awareness of this impossibility became the liberating factor that allowed me to call my children’s short story adaptation of Jacques Attali’s book, A brief history of the future a translation. Why? Because it was apparent to me that the process of my adaptation was identical to the process of any other translation. Even though the target text was far more creative than any target text I had ever done, I have never written a more meaningful and purposeful translation.

Attali is a French economist and author, he wrote in this book, published in2006, about the next fifty years of the planet. He explains basically what will happen according to him, what plausible future our behaviour is leading to. But he also makes clear that there is no way to know for sure what is awaiting us but he writes: ‘Finally, I want to believe that the horror of the future predicted here will contribute to make it impossible.’ (personal translation from Attali 2006: 391) In my researches I discovered that three French men have written a series of graphic novels adaptation for adults from Attali’s book. They created a whole story line with plot and characters but it is all based on the future Attali describes. Somehow, this very economical, political book had become very accessible even enjoyable and Attali’s words had spread. When I read the book with the intention of translating it, it seemed evident to me that I wished to translate it for children and therefore I would have to make it accessible to them.

What better audience than children? They will be the first affected with what will happen and yet they are so hard to address to with such complex issues. However, Jean Boase-Beier and Michael Holman (1998: 17) wrote in The Practices of Literary Translation: Constraints and Creativity that ‘the constraints imposed by the presence of a source text empower and enhance the creativity of the translation act by placing the translator in a position of striving to overcome them.’ For this challenging translation, I had to produce a voice and a story that would be enjoyable and relevant for readers between the ages of 11 and 13 and to keep real traces of Jacques Attali’s work. So I created the story of Amy a 12-year-old living in 2073 on what is left of England who finds in her granddad’s study a mysterious paper diary. This discovery leads to a conversation between the little girl and her grandfather about his life and the adventures he had as a transhuman (Attali’s concept of an altruism movement which will help the world to survive what he calls the ‘hyperempire’ and ‘hyperconflict’). Papy, the granddad was born in 2001, which is approximately the year of birth of the readers, so there is a double connexion between the readers and both characters. I had to explain, with accessible words, concepts and ideas from the source text. Papy’s character was very useful as he allowed me to employ words and structures of sentences that 12 year old would not say but would understand. He was definitely a bridge between the source text and the target readers.

In this exercise, maximal relevance was required, as Boase-Beier defines it, ‘Maximal relevance, when applied to the reading of a literary text, suggests that the way the text is formulated will be seen by the reader as especially significant.’ (2006: 49)  Even though relevance was a challenge, I also had constraints from the source text and the author’s intentions, as well as having to take into account my target readers’ background and expectations. All the difficulties encountered in the process of this piece of work made me view literary adaptations as translations more than ever before.

Charlotte Laruelle translates from English into French, currently doing the MA in literary translation at UEA. Contact:


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