I’ve been over at Cantueso’s blog again, looking at translations of a poem by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and wondering about some of the phrases. In the blog comments, Cantueso says:
[the English] translation is much better and much more faithful than [my Spanish]
Not knowing any German, it’s hard for me to comment on that, but the coupling of the two adjectives ‘better’ and ‘faithful’ catches my attention. It makes me think of the Italian expression traduttore, traditore – ‘translator, traitor’.
I was in Nottingham at the end of April, at ‘It Gives Us the Other’, a conference and work day about literary translation and poetry, organised in conjunction with the Nottingham Poetry Series. One of the papers – Poetry Translation: a surveyable representation, given by Philip Wilson, from the University of East Anglia – started with the quotation:
[Literary translation] designs a text to be read by someone in no position to judge either its reliability or its quality; in this sense, translation aligns itself with the arts of forgery, a logic borne out by the lure of pseudo-translations. (Scott, 2008;16)
A lot of the translation I do – particularly travel and lifestyle journalism – is more recreation than translation: the original texts are adapted to fit the expectations, knowledge and cultural background of the readers. This is usually no problem, as I am paid to adapt and create. Even with literary texts I think a degree of ‘initiative’ is appropriate on the part of the translator, although I’m never sure when I’ve gone too far and made the new text an imitation rather than a translation.
So, what is translation? Is it treachery, forgery, or imitation? And since so many translators claim it’s an impossible task, why do we continue to attempt it?