Some Kind of Beautiful Signal
October 14, 2010 | by Thessaly La Force
Each year, the Center for the Art of Translation publishes an anthology series called Two Lines that focuses on literary translation. This year’s anthology is titled Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, and it was edited by the translator Natasha Wimmer and the poet Jeffrey Yang. If you’re like me, you’re probably familiar with Wimmer’s work on Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and The Savage Detectives, though Wimmer has also garnered praise for her translations of the novels by Mario Vargas Llosa. Last week, Wimmer was part of a collective response to Lydia Davis’s musings on translating Madame Bovary. But this week, Wimmer has been blogging on the Center for the Art of Translation’s Web site, where she describes discovering the writing of Bioy Casares and his novel The Invention of Morel:
Not only had I not read it, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t even heard of it. As anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with Argentinian literature will tell you, this was a travesty. Once you’ve read Borges, you read his great friend and collaborator, Bioy. The cult classic The Invention of Morel is perhaps the defining work of fantastic literature in Spanish, and as Rodrigo would say, fantastic literature may be the Argentinian literature par excellence.
Scott Esposito: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the piece you translated for this volume, Roberto Bolaño’s essay “La traduccion en un yunque,” which you translated as “Translation Is a Testing Ground.” It’s an interesting piece about the limits of translation, which it illustrates by talking about those authors who will and can be translated versus those who can’t or won’t. What was the thought-process that got you from “yunque” to “testing ground”? And did your own extensive experience with translation inform your decision to go for this interpretation of “yunque”?The anthology offers a few online morsels, but the physical edition is worth considering. Not only is it printed multilingually (which I love as a reader), but it includes as many as fifteen different languages, including Zapotec and Uyghur! We here at The Paris Review offer a hearty congratulations to Wimmer and Yang for their hard work.
Natasha Wimmer: “Yunque” means “anvil,” so the suggestion is that translation is the anvil on which literature is tested. If it’s good enough, it will survive even the worst translation, or the most brutal pounding of the hammer. It seemed to me that the meaning of “La traducción es un yunque” was more immediately obvious in Spanish than in English, so I gave the title an interpretive rather than a literal translation. In retrospect, though, I wonder whether it wouldn’t have been better to leave it as “Translation is an Anvil,” which also (it occurs to me now) suggests that translation is a heavy weight falling from a great height on a poor unsuspecting text. Maybe I’ll change it for the book version (the essay will be published in the forthcoming collection Between Parentheses)—check in and see!