"Once upon a time there were three sisters and a widowed father"
Posted by sanna on August 12, 1998 at 17:51:01:
In response to Literature in translation (another long-winded rant), written by Barbara on August 10, 1998 at 17:06:34
no, actually, there are three friends, women, ages ranging from 25 to 52. I`m the middle one. The eldest of us reads mostly new literature both international and Finnish. She doesnīt read in original languages, not even detective stories, although her English is quite good. Sheīs a journalist and thinks that she must keep up her "tools", Finnish language. I read mostly classics, historical novels, biographies - very little modern - but both in English and in Finnish. The youngest of us absolutely refuses to read any translations - but then she has lived in the USA and in Germany, learned Spanish in USA, Swedish here at school, had an Italian boyfriend... well, her Chinese still needs a little bit of polishing up :-p...
So itīs also a question of the aims you have in your reading. Barbaraīs comment about avoiding another personīs interpretation applies to my young friend. I agree with her in most cases, but when life is short and art is long (what a translation, poor me), reading good translations is the most convenient thing. But itīs also very educating to compare different translations especially if they are good, but the bad ones are also interesting ("for what do we live but make sport for our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn";-). Well, actually itīs not so mischievous, for example an outdated, old translation is sometimes rather revealing in a way it reflects the understanding of the story in the past. Our oldest(?), well, one of the older Shakespeare translators is still very popular here, because he was such a good writer - and people have learned verses by heart in his translations, so they donīt want to lose that experience. Only you canīt always know when a translation is created if itīs going to be evergreen or not...There are at least three modern Finnish Hamlets, all translated by our finest novelists or poets - different but good.
So a translator has to be a creative writer him/herself...? It may be that the the "goal"-language is, surprisingly, more important than the "start"-language. Writers have proved themselves to be trustworthy as translators here. "Catcher In The Rye" was translated by the No 1 Modern Finnish Poet - itīs clear that his knowledge of English wasnīt his best asset - but he did a very good job. Another type is the professional translator , like the lady, who translated Tolkien superbly and has since toiled with Sayers and Alice In The Wonderland...! (not a one to be terrified easily, I must say). I love the way she invented names in Finnish in Tolkien, Sackville-Baggins for example was translated into just the right equivalent surname insinuating irony at snobbery...( ahem, some of you may know that Tolkien was greatly fascinated by Finnish language and folk poetry...)
But as Constanza said, the reception is not the same even if you know the language, because there is still the cultural meaning and significance which canīt be imported. And some things are utterly out of the realm of translation, like some poetry. I envy so much those, who can read Walt Whitman and John Donne as their birthright. And Rainer Maria Rilke in the German are.. But the Finnish folk poetry is a great compensation!;-)
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