Good and bad translations
Posted by Constanza on August 11, 1998 at 11:32:38:
In response to Literature in translation (another long-winded rant), written by Barbara on August 10, 1998 at 17:06:34
] But in general, what do you all think about reading translations fo literary works?
I don't mind reading translations when they are good ... but I generally avoid reading English translations for two reasons: it seems that anybody feel like translating a book and I've found the most astonishing mistakes; even if it is a good translation I spend more time considering what the originally word or structure could have been than actually reading it. But then, except for new words and modern jargon I have a pretty good understanding of the languague... During my teens, when my vocabulary wasn't as large as it is today and I was not familiar with complex grammatic structures it sometimes took me so much time to understand "good literature" that the pleasure of reading it was considerabily reduced. Still today, I find that some books are an far easier read in Spanish than in English... for instance Christopher Tokien's comments on his father's work.
] My opinion is that if I can read it in the original language, then I do not want to read a translation, because my reading experience is being "filtered" through another person's perceptions. Many times when the translator chose a word, there was a value judgement there as to whether this word or another word was a better representation of the author's intention.
You are right, but then even if you are reading the original work, you must consider that your perception of the work will not be the same that that of the originally intended audience, because you lack its cultural background. I don't think that "A day in the life of Ivan Denísovich" would affect you in the same way that affects a Russian reader, even if you read Russian.
And yes you are right, translation is a creative process, so there are as many translations as translators. I took the trouble of comparing once two different translations of Esmé (Saki) and I could not find two identical sentences, even though both were fairly good translations.
] Now, on the other hand, if it is not a language I speak, nor am I ever likely to, then I am all for translations. For example, there is no way I would ever, ever be able to read Dostoevsky or Tolstoy otherwise.
What about languages you "barely" speak? For instance, I've been learning Italian for 2 and a half years, but I don't yet feel like reading any novel in that language... even if some words are so similar to Spanish that I was able to sort of grasp the general meaning of paragraphs or speeches even before I set about to learning it.
What about reading translations of foreign works into a language different that yours? I've read Siddharta (sp?) in English, would you believe it? That was pretty silly because I sort of went through two filters.
Just my two cents. :-)
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