I translate so that the reader will, above all, feel the book. Perfecting sentence structure is one thing, but there’s also an entire cultural scaffolding, Plexiglas-transparent but strong and definite as steel. This week, we look at translation in all its many articulations. In Jen Calleja’s Verfreundungseffekt column, she sets Sam Riviere, Laura Tenschert, Jack Underwood, Livia Franchini and Chrissy Williams the task of translatory Chinese Whispers, with surprising and cheering results · The Quietus
Though, it has to be said that Chinese Whispers is a strange phrase. ‘I don’t aim for forensic fidelity in translation. Focusing on feeling is how I compensate for what will inevitably be lost; perhaps such coping mechanisms are the locus of a translator’s style. While working on Karolina Ramqvist’s The White City, Saskia Vogel found herself determined to choose the right kind of handbag to accompany the Swedish gangster’s wife – was it Longchamp or Louis Vuitton?
How do you translate a luxury handbag? Try assumes a gap – between imagination and language, writer and text, text and translator, text and reader’ · Paris Review
There are times, of course, when what looks like interesting cultural nuance turns out to be blunt miscommunication. How charming. For Vogel, this became an example of the precision and flexibility necessary to get a translation not just right, but rightly contextualised. How, for example, would you translate music for the deaf? The word try is also key. Alice Kaplan digs into the discrepancy between the titles of the American edition (The Stranger) and the British edition (The Outsider) of Albert Camus’s masterwork L’Étranger. But perhaps I have focused too much on the word loss. Amber Galloway Gallego is an ASL interpreter specializing in the performing arts, and her work is excitingly evocative even for those who can hear · Vox
Photograph © Alejo According to Wikipedia, the use of the word ‘Chinese’ in a game of word distortion symbolizes the Western bamboozlement in the face of the Chinese language. Far from a commentary on transatlantic attitudes to foreignness and class, Kaplan discovers that the distinction occurred simply because Hamish Hamilton never got round to sending a telegram · Guardian
Having said that, there are times when diversions and discursions can enrich a translation practice. Frankly, English and its nonsenses are just as bamboozling and nonsensical, as Alan Levinovitz finds in examining translations of Alice in Wonderland’s weirder neologisms · The Believer
Translating nonsense is a challenge of specific articulation, but there are other translations that stretch the possibilities of interpretation.