and the days go by… + some thoughts about translations

Not much inspiration these days.

Lots of things buzzing in my head, but not a clear topic I want to delve into.

I thought it was time for me to pick up the Odyssey and read. I thought it had mysteries waiting to unfold, and I am glad I was not wrong about it.

At a book sale, my ten year old picked a copy of a book we already have, of her own initiative. I saw it and a thought crossed my mind about recommending it to her, -since I am too reading The Odyssey-, but she just chose it herself, which is so cool, ha! I love this Willy Pogany’s rendition of Homer for children, it follows the same chapters and plot than the original. I am on book 9, and she is on book 4, so I am able to tell her some of what is coming, and get her more settled into the story. She was swiveling and reading, and drying her hair all at once.

We are also having our third book club next Friday, at our home. The book, The Hobbit. We are in the last pages, and lovin’ it.

We left Anne of Green Gables on hold, in part because we want to savor it more. My girls talk about Anne all the time. Now they, like the girls in the story, want to have a writing club too!

I also said I will write about translations, but I have been chatting with you in the comments and forum, and now I am dry. However, I am going to try a few words.

Translations make it possible for us to read and enjoy classics that are locked to us in their original language.

I do not share the academic view of one superior translations. Whenever there are many choices, it usually corresponds to a huge classic that has been in print for long, and that has many translations. All of them are valid, all of them have their place and function.

I assent that it is elitist to consider one translation superior to another one, though there are obvious differences.

No person who reads an original, and then one or several translations, should declare them all inferior and reductionist (as when they have lost some or much of the original message and meaning, content and form), no matter that person is called George Steiner. 

To say that translating is a process that will never render the original in its richness, purity, etc., it is to presuppose there is only one absolute original book, and that those reading in the original language are in touch with that immutable entity, the book itself, unalterable, only one, non transferable without loosing its richness, integrity, etc. But to me, to read is to render a meaning. I am not saying that reading something in the original language does not have a special quality to it, it does, but it is our subjective perception, it’s that additional flavor we savor when we know we are reading in the chosen language in which something was first written. Apart from that satisfaction and level of coolness, ha ha ha, we are still getting a personal rendition of a text, every time we read, no matter original or translated.

Every generation, every person in that generation, reads a book in a different context, even the original. Those Greeks who could listen to Homer, experienced Homer; and the oral Homer was not someone reading from a text, but someone reciting from memory. If you read aloud, you may agree that we, as readers in viva voce, give an imprint to the book we read, and those listening experience the book in a different way as if they were reading it to themselves.

I don’t read Russian, but nobody can steal from me my experiencing several dear Russian authors. They are with me, in my mind and soul. If I ever learn Russian, I know I will delight in reading new or older titles, and I will experience yet another level of connection, but I have read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, and not an anorexic version of their works. If I have missed some references, some connections, allusions… so do readers in Russian!

Those Greeks who read Homer, experienced Homer, -if even in a different way-. After that, it is just a matter of new public, different times, same book, different ways of reading it, -original or not-. There is something that remains in the original as in the translations, and something that varies, the readers, the culture of the readers. I envision the first original, as a rubric cube when it is all in order, each side a full color. Translations are movements of the rubric cube, they render the cube differently, but they inform you of its measurement, sides, colors, etc. Translators also vary, some are no longer alive, and some translated many centuries ago, so their translations have a different language, more classy, if you wish. Some of us prefer such a translation because we get the original, and in addition, we enjoy the style of the translator because it evokes something else in us, as 21st century readers. Some prefer a more contemporary translator because the language will be closer to the reader, and that will facilitate a connection with content.

We all understand that a translation is more than just the book, it has the language and style of the translator, but that is not a limitation, it’s a plus. Our job is then to know a bit about what type of translations we have available, and try to see which one is our best fit. 

I consider some translations better, but because I value some elements in them more than others. There are subjective factors when it comes to prefer one translation over another one, but yet there are some objective qualities to measure translations against. More than place them in a vertical scale, we could simply present them in a horizontal display, talking about what makes them different, special, valued, and let the public try them, test them, and decide.

The only case when I’d say a translation is horrible, it’d be when the translator fails to stay true to the original, fails to submit his skill and attempts to shine as an author himself. Instead of simply giving the translation his style and coherence, he will be altering the original text to an extreme degree, and will present a book of his own. 

Not all translations that are more contemporary are bad, but those who change from literary language to spoken language, will be, if not poor translations, more a blend between translating and fan fiction. 

I understand professors preferring one, and rooting for that, or even mandating that to their students. If one is studying a book, there are rules in our colleges, and professors have their syllabus, etc., so we have to comply with what they offer. But, if you are choosing a classic in a translated version, and have choices, you are capable of finding which is the one that fits you and allows us to love that classic, and experience as much of the richness time tells us it possesses.

Translations make or break our reading of classics.

After all, I was not that out of ideas!

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