Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Translation Is Like A Personal Story

Sometimes others' stories impact your own (in ways that seem to demand you stop translating and pause from writing a dissertation to listen). Won't you listen?

In some of Saul Bellow's stories, the protagonists won't read the stories in the newspapers, because they might believe them. And this is exactly why a young rabbi, a rather obscure one at the time, told stories saying, "Only for the ones who have ears to hear, please." So more on that in a moment.

Now, "Free Zimbabwe" is the story "for the next several days . . . for the Lingamish blog," which is a translation of this story:

"Enough is Enough" is the story of several lifetimes for Zimpundit at, which is a translation of this story:

"Sokwanele and Zvakwana both mean 'enough is enough' in the vernacular"; and this is the story of women who cry out for "Dignity. Period!," which is a translation of the stories of terror and tears:

"This Is Zimbabwe" is only a folder of terrible stories within a whole site of folders, a serial volume mapped as

So the young rabbi tells disturbing stories or, rather, stories that disturb the credulity of the stories of the listeners. They are never perfect or accurate translations.

A kid named Matthew hears one in his heart language, and writes it down in a heady language like this (but stay with him a bit because you'll hear it from Jane next in her French):

λλην παραβολν παρθηκεν ατος λγων

μοιθη βασιλεα τν ορανν νθρπ
σπεραντι καλν σπρμα ν τ γρ ατο
ν δ τ καθεδειν τος νθρπους
λθεν ατο χθρς κα πσπειρεν ζιζνια ν μσον το στου κα πλθεν
τε δ βλστησεν χρτος κα καρπν ποησεν
ττε φνη κα τ ζιζνια
προσελθντες δ ο δολοι το οκοδεσπτου
επον ατ
κριε οχ καλν σπρμα σπειρας ν τ σ γρ
πθεν ον χει ζιζνια
δ φη ατος χθρς νθρωπος τοτο ποησεν
ο δ δολοι λγουσιν ατ
θλεις ον πελθντες συλλξωμεν ατ
δ φησιν ο μποτε συλλγοντες τ ζιζνια κριζσητε μα ατος τν στον φετε συναυξνεσθαι μφτερα ως το θερισμο κα ν καιρ το θερισμο
ρ τος θεριστας
συλλξατε πρτον τ ζιζνια κα δσατε ατ ες δσμας πρς τ κατακασαι ατ τν δ στον συναγγετε ες τν ποθκην μου

Luckily enough for us, Jane Stranz of life, laughter, and liturgy tells that this way, with her friends:

Il jetait une autre histoire à côté de leurs histoires personnelles

Le palais royal dans les cieux est comme quelqu’une
Qui plante de bonnes semences dans son jardin
Puis pendant que le people dort
Son ennemi vient planter des graines de mauvaises herbes parmi les semences de fleurs et s’en va
Au moment où les fleurs fleurissent les mauvaises herbes apparaissent aussi
les ouvriers du jardin allait voir la paysagiste lui dire
« Madame, n'avez-vous pas planté des semences de fleurs au jardin?
D'où viennent alors les mauvaises herbes? »
Elle répondait « C'est mon ennemi qui a fait ça. »
« Voulez-vous que l'on abattent les mauvaises herbes? » demandaient les ouvriers.
« Non, en les abattant vous abattrez en même temps les fleurs.
Qu'elles poussent ensemble jusqu'au moment où il faut couper les fleurs pour les bouquets. A ce moment là je dirai aux fleuristes – abattez les mauvaises herbes et mettez les en piles à brûler, mettez les fleurs dans mes vases. »

Now if you've stayed with us long enough so far (and enough is enough), then you might suspect there's an English translation, my story telling, in there some where. There is. It was a day in April when enough is enough, I say.

But don't stop with my story. Pick up a newspaper. Read of the terror, of the horror in someone else's state. Visit Zimbabwe. You don't have to translate perfectly. Listen!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Aristotle Hates Luise Von Flotow-Evans

Actually, Aristotle refused to read anything that wasn't written in learned Greek by men. So if he hated Luise Von Flotow-Evans or her friends, it's for his own logical reasons. (And by his syllogism, he couldn't stand the nature of bilingual Canadians, whom he had to observe by cold objectivity to be Barbarians). Warning sir: in English, this is some of what Luise has written --

I would like to open this essay with a specific translation problem from La Nef des sorcières
, a dramatic work produced by a group of feminist writers in Quebec in 1976. The problem is how to translate the following line:

"Ce soir, j'entre dans l'histoire sans relever ma jupe."

There are two translators available for the job: one with more or less traditional views on the importance of "fidelity" and equivalence in translation, who believes that a translator's work should be seen through, and not heard about. The other is a feminist translator. The more traditional translator renders this line from the play as follows:

"this evening I'm entering history without pulling up my skirt."

This seems a perfectly adequate, idiomatic version of the source language text, although I would prefer the more colloquial "without hiking up my skirt." The feminist translator, on the other hand, translates as follows:

"this evening I'm entering history without opening my legs."

Is this a shocking, unacceptable over-translation, a deliberate over-interpretation of the original text? Is the translator taking outrageous liberties with a line that is relatively anodyne in the French? Is she being deliberately sensationalist?

I should add here that this example has been used several times before, but is still appropriate as an illustration of a current practice in Canadian translation. I took it directly from an article by Barbara Godard, one of Canada's first feminist translators, and she took it from an earlier article by Evelyne Voldeng; a tight circle, which may also go to show how few literary translators and critics in Canada are sensitive to feminist issues. It is all the more noteworthy then, that a small number of Canadian translators should have the effrontery to proclaim an anti-traditional, aggressive and creative approach to translation which they call feminist translation.

My exploration of this translation practice is not concerned with which of the two translations given above is better, or more appropriate, or more faithful. Instead, I am interested in the context, the practices and the underlying theories that make the feminist translation "without opening my legs" acceptable, even desirable. In commenting on this obvious over-translation, Godard, for example, praised its "shock effect," and the fact that it makes explicit what is implicit in the feminist text — "the repossession of the word by women, and the naming of the life of the body as experienced by women" (Godard, 1984, p. 14). I find the growing importance of this type of translation and its increasing visibility intriguing and potentially invigorating as a new approach to the work of translation.

I base my claim for the importance of the phenomenon of feminist translation in Canada on two factors: the increasing numbers of English translations self-consciously describing themselves as feminist, and on the increasing number of feminist texts being translated in Canada today. In the last few years almost all of Nicole Brossard's radical feminist work has been translated by Barbara Godard, Marlene Wildeman and Fiona Strachan, and her Désert mauve has just been published in translation by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. Similarly, France Théoret's early work is coming out shortly in a collection, The Tangible Word, translated by Godard, and I have just translated her UHomme qui peignait Staline. A first volume of Madeleine Gagnon's work has appeared in translation by Howard Scott, the only male who describes himself as a feminist translator, and Louky Bersianik's VEuguétionne is being re-translated by Scott. And finally, Lise Gauvin's Lettres dune autre has been deliberately turned into a feminist text in its translated, and prize-winning, English version by de Lotbinière-Harwood. Almost invariably these publications are prefaced by remarks that describe the work as feminist translation.

If you are Aristotle, this is fair warning also not to click here or here or here.