Literary roundup: Translation practices and Einstein’s definition of insanity

“Jasieński clearly believed that new convictions required a new formal approach, and as such he reinvents his language every fifty pages or so, and entirely rethinks how a metaphor might be used … it once seemed logical that a political revolution needed a corresponding revolution in the arts. Now the politics struggle to change while the artists keep doing the same old thing.”

The above is from an interview on Lemon Hound with Soren A. Gauger where he speaks about his translation of Bruno Jasieński’s I Burn Paris, recently published by Twisted Spoon Press.

Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (1946 – 2012)

Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko passed away unexpectedly earlier this month and there will be a special reading in his memory this evening in Brooklyn at the launch party of the St. Petersburg Review, which he was associated with. Eugene Ostashevsky, Matvei Yankelevich and others will be reading.

Dangerous translations

“My difficulty here was not so much with the pacing of sex scenes – that is the author’s task – but to find basic words describing the sexual anatomy itself without turning the text into a medical study, a comedy or a vulgar piece of arousing cheap lit.”

– Danusia Stok, in a short piece on translating Illegal Liaisons by Grażyna Plebanek on Stork Press’s website. My Polish vocabulary consists almost entirely of false friends between Czech and Polish (the Polish verb “to look for” is used in Czech to say “to fuck.” You can imagine the fantastic misunderstandings that have taken place) but now I also know the Polish word for member, in both the club and genital sense of the word.

Indirect translations

And speaking of translations, there was a lot of criticism a few years back when it turned out that the highly successful English translation of Sándor Márai’s novel Embers wasn’t done from the original Hungarian but from a German translation. According to The Literary Saloon this questionable practice goes on, as Monika Zgustová’s novel Goya’s Glass wasn’t translated directly from Czech but from the Catalan translation.

I wrote about this interesting sounding book and some peculiarities of a review of it (or in the novel itself), as well as the fact that I couldn’t find a single mention of the translator or even that it was a translation. I guess this explains why.

I realize that Czech, like Hungarian, is an obscure Eastern European language spoken by only a few thousand people (at least, until they end their stubborn holdout and just begin exclusively speaking English, Russian, French or, most likely, Chinese). Furthermore, there are only two people in the whole world who can translate Czech into English and one of them was at a party when the publishers might have called while the other translator is famously cantankerous, but seriously, no matter how closely Zgustová can match the Czech and Catalan versions, and how well Matthew Tree translated the Catalan to English, the only way to make sure the Czech novel made it into English would be to find someone who speaks Czech and English, which is presumably impossible.

Photo – Arkadii Dragomoshchenko

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