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Lost in Translation.

A2R.

Member
The soul of the author is lost once the book is rewritten. We rewrite the story but leave the spirit behind. His thoughts become the translator's. His choice of words, his poetry and talent, his sequence and rhythm are gone. We no longer read the author's thoughts but a second hand interpretation of them. The author no longer speaks directly to us.

And so, sadly I ask you, are some books forever unavailable to us? They probe us to learn their language for sake of lost lustre. A story is never told the same as the man whose mind it originated.

The genius chooses his words wisely and assembles them accordingly. Like a chef in his kitchen, every word is an ingredient. Take that away from him and you strip him of the title.

Out of respect, Flaubert sits on my shelf unread. He waits for me to learn his tongue. He waits for me to become worthy of his intellect.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
I very much disagree. A bad translation can ruin a book, yes. But I've read plenty of translations that do remarkably well by the original text and have made it possible for me to read great books I wouldn't have had a chance to read otherwise. It seems to me that ruling out anything not written in your language (or written by a citizen of another country, as per your comments about Joyce) robs you of a lot of great literature. But to each their own.

A story is never told the same as the man whose mind it originated.
A story is always a dialogue between the writer and the reader. No two readings are the same anyway.

Anyway, Flaubert's dead (as some would argue all authors are), and I don't think he'll mind. :)
 

A2R.

Member
" robs you of a lot of great literature."

But what's the difference? You're being robbed nonetheless. You don't get his words, you don't get his assembly of thought. You get the translator's.

Your point is we have no choice, and I agree to a certain extent. We'll take what we can get. But don't think for a second you're getting the authors true feelings. And this makes me consider reading a translated version at all.

Read for the story, fine; read for the art, learn the language.
It doesn't give the author the credit he deserves.

But to each their own indeed.
I will read Madame Bovary.
 

Polly Parrot

Moderator
Staff member
I don't think you can ever get to the author's true "feelings" or "intentions" or whatever else you may want to call them. It is simply impossible to interpret any text in the way that the author intended it.

There are also some authors who translate, or oversee the translation of, their own work, would you discard those translations as well or would those, in your opinion, convey the message of the author properly, as intended?
 

A2R.

Member
"It is simply impossible to interpret any text in the way that the author intended it."

I like that. Well put.

"some authors who translate, or oversee the translation of, their own work."

That is a good point too that I overlooked. The authors must oversee the translated copy and give it an OK. But still, it's not the same; and we have no choice.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
I don't think I ever get the author's true feelings, whether I read it in the original or in translation; I get my interpretation of what they've written. Also, it's very rare for the writer's exact words to be the point of a work of literature - that's the trees, I read for the forest.

But yes, some writers (though they're a pretty small minority) are very difficult, nigh-on impossible to translate. I recently read the diary of the translator who did the new Swedish translation of Ulysses, and it's fascinating to see what he has to do in order to stay true to the original. For instance, how do you translate the difference between Irish and British English (which most English-language readers don't even pick up on)? Do you translate the Latin passages that were perfectly understandable to early 20th century catholics, but are pure Greek to 21st century secular protestants? How do you translate passages that are deliberately written badly? Why don't we re-translate books written in our own language as language evolves, to better capture what the writer meant to say? (To modern readers, the title of Sense And Sensibility makes no sense since the sense of "sensibility" has changed since.)

I'll quote a bit from the book (Day In And Day Out With One Day In Dublin by Erik Andersson):
...Harold Bloom has spoken of the anxiety of influence, the worry that strikes every original writer: sure you talk about kinship and inspiration, but once there's whispers of imitation and teacher's pet syndrome, you don't want to be a part of it anymore. In that case, it's better to start by committing patricide and getting rid of all inspirations to create an empty stage where you can take up your own space.
The question is if you shouldn't also talk about a related worry, the anxiety of translation. It occurs in the opposite way, as a suspicion that something "happened" during the translation. You want the influence to be total, for each meaningful unity to have a counterpart.
Ever since the age of the romantics, critics have tried to build up the writer to some semi-divine being. That's less out of kindness towards that profession than out of practicality; the writer must be "great" to carry all the significance you want to hang on what he writes. The writer personally guarantees the sinceirty of his work. That's why, for instance, there's been such hullabaloo around Shakespeare's person. Some have found it hard to accept that the greatest playwright in literature history would be some sort of lowly stage rat when there are so many diplomats and noblemen, educated and well-travelled, who would carry the honourable robe so much more beautifully.
So great is the writer, that he continues to guarantee his text even in translation. So it's of utmost importance that the translator doesn't lose anything.
Of course, that's my translation, so you haven't actually read it. ;)
 

A2R.

Member
Also, it's very rare for the writer's exact words to be the point of a work of literature - that's the trees, I read for the forest.

Why be in a forest if you don't take in the trees.

For instance, how do you translate the difference between Irish and British English (which most English-language readers don't even pick up on)? Do you translate the Latin passages that were perfectly understandable to early 20th century catholics, but are pure Greek to 21st century secular protestants? How do you translate passages that are deliberately written badly? Why don't we re-translate books written in our own language as language evolves, to better capture what the writer meant to say?

Excellent.
 

beer good

Well-Known Member
Does a forest become an entirely different forest if you exchange one birch for a beech? OK, that metaphor may have run its course. But still: very few writers use the exact words that they use for their own sake; they use them to tell a story (and all that comes with that). You don't need the exact same words to tell the exact same story. And if a professionally trained, experienced translator looks at the original text and can't figure out how to find the meaning in the words the writers used, then what chance do I as a lowly reader stand?
 
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