Posts Tagged ‘literary translation’

Faking it well

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 8.35.20 PMA long time ago, I used to know an amateur German actress in Berlin who did dubbing jobs for film. She once said that, before a certain client would give her a job, he asked her whether the subject matter was ‘too close to home’. If so, she was told, she shouldn’t take it on: emotional breakdowns cost expensive studio time.

I asked a friend of mine who does commercial voice-overs whether this anecdote rings true, and he said: ‘I should imagine, if anything, that having gone through a certain experience would help an actor. He could work it into the job somehow.’

There it is in a nutshell: a professional actor knows how to use emotional experiences in his work. For an amateur, it could lead to an emotional problem.

I have recently started thinking about the job I do and what kind of effect it has on my psyche. It started when I experienced what it was like to translate a text that was not ‘too close to home’, but too harrowing for me to sleep properly at night. Most translators from the German have had disturbing texts land on their desks in the course of time, given the nature of the past ninety years of German history and the English-speaking world’s undying fascination with it. But while many translators might take this in their stride, I began floundering with this text. It was about Auschwitz: perhaps because it was written in the present tense, perhaps because of the details of parts of the text, I found myself procrastinating for hours before I could sit down and start work. I talked about this to a translator friend, who advised me to spend 10 minutes a day before I started work, just to jot down the feelings that this text was producing. Just for my own sanity. (more…)

Literary translation and epublishing: some thoughts

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

photo-2It has taken a few days to write this blog post after our Fiction Canteen discussion last Thursday on payment model for translators and authors in the age of digital publishing and the role of Amazon in all this (which, on reflection, seems rather smaller than I thought.) I think I needed to get some distance to the subject matter. So these are the thoughts I have had since the dust has settled.

First, I’d like to put the talk into context. We were a group of literary translators, as well as literary publishers and epublishers, talking about the situation we find ourselves in at the moment in Germany; the moment where ebook sales stand at around 12% of all German publishing revenue. Perhaps it is a moment that has long since happened in the States, where I believe ebooks stand at more like 25% of all publishing revenue now. The talk didn’t cover the scope of digital publishing on the whole, or outside of this country.

The people present came with some specific experience: literary translators who are used to working with brick-and-mortar publishing houses, and epublishers on the panel (Volker Oppmann, Nerys Hughes, Nikola Richter and Amanda de Marco) who all have some background in traditional publishing. Essentially, all the publishers, whether of ebooks or not, saw epublishing as an exciting new opportunity: new formats can be published, such as the Single, Maxi or Long Player formats at CulturBooks (essentially a short story, a novella and a novel), or Readux’s “delightful teeny books” in print, or mikrotext’s short, challenging literary fiction. The thinking behind this change in format is certainly a phenomenon that has come out of the digital age: it’s a break with traditional publishing, a way of forging new paths in literature. What’s short but sells many times over is a way to make money. How? Via Amazon, despite it’s big bad image as an exploiter of gaps in the market at the expense of certain things we love and cherish such as independent bookstores. Amazon was described by all epublishers as pretty much indispensable. It’s a huge moving river of data, and your product has to be in it. Amanda de Marco’s experiment to try and sell her Readux books on other channels and dispense with Amazon.com didn’t pay off. (more…)

On cheerleaders in our midst

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Susan BasnettEvery group needs a cheerleader. And it would have been no surprise if Susan Bassnett, during her lecture to a group of literary translators at the LCB last night, had whisked out a pair of pom-poms and whirled them in front of the noses of her enthralled audience members. She seemed able to do the can-can, high five, the splits or whatever was required. When asked why I hadn’t asked her any questions at the end, I realised later that I had just wanted her to carry on talking, sounding out her sometimes poetic, sometimes political notions of what a translator’s task could be. She made everything seem possible, she made translation theory seem like fun. And her questions were so good that she pre-empted any I might have of my own:

Is a translation a copy of the ‘original’ when even writers are refuting there is such a thing?
Does a fatherless or orphan text exist?
Is there any creation without tradition?
Can tradition survive without re-invention?
How far can a translation diverge from its original and still be a translation? (more…)