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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

From Nowhere: An Interview with Antoine Volodine

July 8, 2015 | by

© Didier Gaillard

© Didier Gaillard

We both discovered Antoine Volodine, appropriately enough, in winter. One of us was sitting in a classroom overlooking bare trees, translating the first pages of Des anges mineurs (Minor Angels). The other one of us had just read the same novel in English and was sleepwalking through the dark, snowy streets of Rochester recalling Volodine’s declaration that the novel’s meaning was “not in the book’s pages but in the dreams people will have after reading it.”

Volodine’s books are almost as dreamlike as their author himself. He writes under four (or perhaps five) heteronyms, including Antoine Volodine, and only the most basic facts of his biography are known: he was born in 1950, came of age during the 1968 student protests in Paris, and taught Russian in France for some fifteen years before devoting himself entirely to writing. His debut, Comparative Biography of Jorian Murgrave, appeared in France in 1985. It is the story, told by way of fragmented microbiographies, of an alien hunted down on Earth whose dreams are invaded by psychobiologists intent on making him talk. “There is no way I could call Biographie comparée a novel,” one befuddled critic wrote; others were swift to express their shock and delight at such an innovative author appearing in the frequently monotonous ranks of science fiction. In a matter of years, Volodine had became famous for his (and his heteronyms’) singular brand of writing.

Names, places, and themes recur throughout his oeuvre; it has quickly coalesced into a new genre, which Volodine terms “post-exoticism.” This genre, “a foreign literature written in French,” describes prisons and Eurasian steppes, interrogations and monologues, walks through the Bardo state, failed revolutions and cataclysms, and humans struggling, in spite of everything, to survive in a world similar to our own.

Minor Angels, published in France in 1999, comprises forty-nine narracts—brief texts, prose poems, short stories—loosely connected around a group of immortal crones who indirectly revive capitalism; it won Volodine the Prix France Inter in 2000 as well as an international readership. To date, he has published some forty books—including Naming the Jungle, We Monks and Soldiers, In the Time of the Blue Ball, and Writersunder his own heteronym, as well as those of Manuela Draeger and Lutz Bassmann. Open Letter Books will publish translations of three new books over the next three years; the first of these, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, appeared in May.

We interviewed Volodine last winter, shortly after he was awarded the Prix Médicis for his novel Terminus radieux. We asked our questions in English, and he responded in wonderfully Volodinian French.

Twenty-five years ago, a reporter at Le Nouvel Observateur asked in which literary category you would place your work, and you responded that it was outside and beyond the conventional categories of existing literature. The question prompted you to invent the nearly nonsensical phrase “post-exoticism.” But eight years later, the phrase had taken on some significance, enough that you published a book around it, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. Since then, has “post-exoticism” come to mean something different for you?

I’d like to start by correcting an error I made. I attributed this question to a Nouvel Observateur reporter. It actually came from a reporter for Le Point in July 1991. Our conversation was exactly this—“What genre do you prefer to be classified in?” “Anarcho-fantastic post-exoticism.” It was a somewhat irreverent wisecrack, but it was a way, at the time, to confirm that I didn’t belong either to science fiction, the genre in which my first four books had been classified, or to highbrow French avant-garde literature, which Éditions de Minuit, my publisher at the time, often published. I took the opportunity of the interview to proclaim this break, which seemed evident to me but which literary critics had had trouble taking into account. They hid for far too long behind the adjective unclassifiable, which I can still find in numerous publications today. Read More »

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“Mumbling Like a Maniac”: An Interview with Robert Fagles

July 1, 2015 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. This one features Robert Fagles, who died in 2008—a prolific translator of ancient Greek and Roman texts, he’s remembered especially for his seminal editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Read More »

“I Will Unveil Myself”: An Interview with Czeslaw Milosz

June 30, 2015 | by

 

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. The first is with the poet Czesław Miłosz—it’s his birthday today, coincidentally—whose translations into Polish include  works by Baudelaire, Eliot, Milton, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Simone Weil. Read More »

Pure Prose

June 9, 2015 | by

Translating Jon Fosse from Norwegian.

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From the cover of Aliss at the Fire.

Norwegian is a language that English-language writers and translators seem willing to pick up: James Joyce learned it to read Ibsen; Lydia Davis is learning it to read, and solely by reading, Dag Solstad; and I learned it to read Jon Fosse. It helps that grammar is simple, with few tenses and word endings; the vocabulary is small; the language is one of the deep cores of English, so reading it feels eerily familiar, like a song you half know. After being asked to read Fosse’s novel Melancholy in German, I decided to cotranslate it with a native Norwegian-speaker friend, and I have since translated, on my own, two more of Fosse’s novels—Aliss at the Fire and Morning and Evening—two stories, and a libretto.

Jon Fosse is less well-known in America than some other Norwegian novelists, but revered in Norway—winner of every prize, a leading Nobel contender. I think of the four elder statesmen of Norwegian letters as a bit like the Beatles: Per Petterson is the solid, always dependable Ringo; Dag Solstad is John, the experimentalist, the ideas man; Karl Ove Knausgaard is Paul, the cute one; and Fosse is George, the quiet one, mystical, spiritual, probably the best craftsman of them all. Harrison’s titles—Something (aka Something in the Way She Moves), Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps—could even be Fosse’s: Someone Is Going To Come, Closed Guitar, The Name, Night Sings Its Songs, Angel with Tears in Its Eyes. But it’s harder to show what makes his music work. Prose doesn’t have hooks, and Fosse’s incantations are as unexcerptable as Philip Glass symphonies or Béla Tarr tracking shots. Here is an opening, a fraction of the first sentence of Aliss at the Fire: Read More »

Man Versus Machine, Part 1,000,000,001, and Other News

June 9, 2015 | by

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In 1959, the Mark 1 Translating Device produced its first automated Russian-to-English translation. The Mark 1 was demonstrated for the public at the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

  • With machine translation growing ever more sophisticated, we may as well revive the old is-translation-an-art-or-a-science question—and ask if machine translation imperils human translation. “What mostly annoys human translators isn’t the arrogance of machines but their appropriation of the work of forgotten or anonymous humans. Machine translation necessarily supervenes on previous human effort; otherwise there wouldn’t be the parallel corpora that the machines need to do their work … In a sense, [Google’s] machines aren’t actually translating; they’re just speeding along tracks set down by others. This is the original sin of machine translation: the field would be nowhere without the human translators they seek, however modestly, to supersede.”
  • When we read, we often recognize—The Death of the Author be damned—a personality behind the page, even when we don’t want to; our opinion of this shadowy presence is compartmentalized from the rest of the reading experience. “Even when I know nothing about a novelist’s life I find, on reading his or her book, that I am developing an awareness of the writer that is quite distinct from my response to the work … I might be attracted to both work and author, but in different ways … Literary genius is the ability to draw readers into one’s own world of feeling, with all its nuance and complexity, and to force them to position themselves in relation to you.”
  • In 1910, Apsley Cherry-Garrard accompanied Robert Falcon Scott on his doomed Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica. The latter froze to death; the former returned and did what every survivor must: he wrote a book about the experience, The Worst Journey in the World. Now Jason Novak, who has drawings in our new Summer issue, has made some illustrations to accompany one of the book’s bleaker passages. “If the worst, or best, happens, and death comes for you in the snow, he comes disguised as sleep, and you greet him rather as a welcome friend than as a gruesome foe.”
  • Today in privilege: a young, straight, white, male poet bemoans his status as a young, straight, white, male, and another young, straight, white, male says, Hey, man, it’s okay to write as a young, straight, white male, because, like, “Every human has a unique perspective.”
  • John Aubrey and John Soane: two men, two singular approaches to paper. “After his death in 1837, Soane’s elaborate will instructed his executors and trustees to open a series of containers revealing the family secrets at preordained intervals. The last of them, his bathtub, was opened in 1896: the contents included papers which revealed further grim episodes in Soane’s family battles and a set of false teeth.”

Relax—It’s Our Summer Issue

June 1, 2015 | by

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Our new Summer issue features work in and about translation. There’s a story from Andrés Neuman and a sneak peek at Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel, Submission, plus poems by Coral Bracho, Xi Chuan, Radmila Lazić, and Iman Mersal. At its center are two interviews in our Art of Translation series—first with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have been married for thirty-three years and whose thirty-odd translations include The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Chekhov’s Selected Stories. “Very naive readers think you take the Russian and you put it in English, and then you’re done,” Pevear says. Read More »