They hate translation, translation hates them

The things I miss not being a literary translator.

Apparently the Complete Review (which I’ve never heard of) published a review of a book about translation and some Rilke in Translation, where, among other things, the author writes “We at the complete review hate translation.” This provoked a bit of outrage here, here, and here. The original author responded to this criticism, saying

Translations may be well and good but they are not the originals. They are something different and what we’re interested in is the original. We want to read the author’s work, not the translator’s work. But being illiterate in languages X,Y, Z, etc. we are unable to read the originals and so have to rely on the translations — which in some ways resemble the originals but are still — arguably entirely and fundamentally — different. Reading a translation makes us feel we are blind and merely listening to someone describe the sights around us

This is silly. This is like blaming a banana for not being an orange. If the author doesn’t want to be reminded of his own shortcomings, he should do one of the following:

  • Learn the desired foreign language fluently
  • Abjure all contact with other languages, even through translation
  • Shut up

5 thoughts on “They hate translation, translation hates them”

  1. Yup, it’s very simple. If you hate translations, learn a new language and read it in the original. Certainly there are some differences between a work in it’s original language and its translation into another, but I have always found them to be minor enough not to make a difference really … so long as the person doing the translation is very fluent in both languages (and to some extent the cultures) involved. Have I read any translations I thought sucked? Certainly, but then I have also read a lot of literature in its original language that I thought sucked as well. :D

  2. I guess that most Americans probably aren’t even conscious of the fact that a translation is not (quite) the original. Perhaps that’s what he’s getting at.

    Poetry in particular will never be anywhere near the same. If you haven’t read V. Nabokov’s essay on translating literature and poetry, you should–it is excellent. Among other places, it’s included in his _Lectures on Russian Literature_.

    …I have a copy of Rilke’s poetry, in “taiyaku” style with the German on the left-hand pages and the English on the right. My German is abominable, but even so, this approach has advantages.

    A more interesting approach is the edition of Baudelaire’s _Les Fleurs du Mal_ which collects translations of the poems by many prominent persons, a number of them accomplished authors in their own right (Edna St. Vincent Millay, Aldous Huxley, etc). A few of the translations are every bit as wonderful as the original, and I think Millay’s “Tres Loin d’Ici”/”Ever so Far from Here” out-Baudelaires Baudelaire. (whatever that means)

  3. At a very literal level, the “o” is an honorific prefix attached to anything important (water can be “omizu”, the telephone can be “odenwa”) or to anything associated with the party you are addressing. In this case, it is being used in the second sense–the honorific is essentially used in place of “your.” “taku” is one way to say “house,” which is an indirect way of saying “household members” (Japanese is filled with indirect locutions like this).

    So basically, “otaku” means “you.” Why the hell has this come to mean “geek/nerd/obsessive loner”? As I understand it, this stiff form of address is used by these people between each other, and it is by this term that these people came to be known. There’s a nice resonance in referring to someone who probably spends a lot of time at home as his home, which probably plays into it.

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