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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

Mahasweta Devi, 1926–2016

August 8, 2016 | by

mahasweta_devi

Mahasweta Devi.

“Please don’t write more books. I can’t read so many books,” a little girl once said to Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate. The little girl was Mahasweta Devi, who grew up to be one of India’s best-known writers and activists. When Mahasweta died, on July 28—Devi is an honorific—she left behind no small collection herself: she had written more than a hundred books, including fiction and nonfiction about India’s tribal communities, Maoist insurgents, and women. Read More »

Secrets of the Trade

August 4, 2016 | by

Károly Ferenczy, The Woman Painter, oil on canvas, 53.5 in x 51 in, 1903.

Károly Ferenczy, The Woman Painter, 1903, oil on canvas, 53.5" x 51".

Anna Akhmatova’s poem “Secrets of the Trade,” translated by Jo Ann Clark with Zhenya Zafrin, appeared in our Winter 1996 issue. Akhmatova died in 1966; our columnist Anthony Madrid recently wrote about an epigram of hersRead More »

Aerosol Dreams, and Other News

August 4, 2016 | by

Mmmm ... spray-on food.

  • A lot of things keep me up at night. Lately it’s all the forgotten potential of Cheez Whiz and Reddi-Wip—the beauty we lost when mankind turned away from aerosolized foods. As Nadia Berenstein writes, “Push-button cuisine is one of the great, unrealized dreams of postwar food technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, food manufacturers, along with their allies in the container and chemical industries, imagined a world of effortless convenience, where, in the words of one 1964 newspaper article, ‘entire meals … can be oozed forth by a gentle push on a few cans’ … Starting in the late 1950s, an avalanche of new push-button food products made their way to grocery stores. There was Whisp, a Freon-propelled vermouth spray, for that extra-dry martini. Sizzl-Spray, an aerosol barbecue sauce designed for seasoning burgers and steaks on the backyard grill, itself a 1950s innovation. Tasti-Cup, an aerosol coffee concentrate, for the office worker too busy for instant.”
  • While we’re on the mechanisms of publishing: a season’s biggest titles will arrive worldwide on nearly the same date; translation is built into the production process. In a new book, Rebecca L. Walkowitz “argues that these new conditions of production have altered the very shape of the contemporary novel. Many literary works today do not appear in translation, she proposes, but are written for translation from the beginning. They are ‘born translated.’ Adapted from ‘born digital,’ the term used to designate artworks produced by and for the computer, ‘born-translated literature approaches translation as medium and origin rather than as afterthought. Translation is not secondary or incidental to these works. It is a condition of their production.’ ”
  • Everyone loves a “lost” book—the thrill of the forgotten, of rediscovery, has fueled some of publishing’s most major events the past few years. The only problem: most of these books aren’t good. Alison Flood writes, “It’s a tricky tightrope to walk. Publish as much as possible of a beloved author’s work, because the fans will lap it up, or exercise a fierce quality control? It’s a question that I was pondering only this week, on reading the forgotten Dr. Seuss stories in Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories to my children. We are regular readers of Horton Hears a Who, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas—and were looking forward to it. And … it just wasn’t as good. The Grinch wasn’t the right color, he wasn’t very funny, and there were only two pages of him. Horton wasn’t as charming.”

Staff Picks: Bad Calls, Bad Books, Breakups

June 24, 2016 | by

From Cemetery of Splendor.

A still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Cemetery of Splendor.

Tate Modern, in London, recently showed Cemetery of Splendor, the new and wonderful movie by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It was part of a weekend homage to the sly, metaphysical Thai filmmaker, including an all-night sequence of his complete works. Now, I am no longer young enough to watch movies all night, so I contented myself with my own home retrospective, including the wonderful bipartite movies Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century. In the new Tanks space at Tate Modern, which just opened this weekend, you can also see his installation Primitive, a nine-video extravaganza. There are few people thinking more rigorously, or more joyfully. —Adam Thirlwell

I was so relieved to read Tim Parks’s review of The Vegetarian, the Man Booker–winning novel by Korean Han Kang. The novel came recommended by a friend, so I persisted till the bitter end, despite grousing about every awkward sentence, every cliché, every narrative contradiction. I spent much of the first section wondering whether it was the fault of the writer or the translator. Parks was bothered by the same question and spends the space of his review examining the way content and style in the English translation work in relation to one another. He concludes that “the prose is far from an epitome of elegance, the drama itself neither understated nor beguiling, the translation frequently in trouble with register and idiom.” But for Parks, The Vegetarian isn’t merely a bad book badly translated; it’s representative of a “shared vision of what critics would like a work of ‘global fiction’ to be.” The desire to always see oneself in a story necessarily limits one’s view of the world, and seems to me to be the exact opposite reason for reading a book in translation—or any book, for that matter—in the first place. —Nicole Rudick

Just yesterday I was given two gorgeous chapbooks, both part of a series called Señal of contemporary Latin American poetry in translation. I began the first in the series—Sor Juana y otros monstruos, a dissertation (of sorts) in verse by Luis Felipe Fabre, translated by John Pluecker—this morning, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Fabre muses on the scholarship buzzing around the seventeenth-century poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, tackling one assertion in particular. “Yes: Sor Juana was a monster,” he writes. It’s a claim most academics accept as true, but “where they differ / is / / on what kind of monster she was.” Was she a phoenix? A sphinx? Will she, as Fabre imagines, return at night to devour her scholars because her body has never been found? And yet, the most striking question Fabre goes on to ask is this: “What kind / of monster is it whose power / resides in language?” Whatever it is, Fabre would be one, too; Sor Juana y otros mostruos is like nothing I’ve read in a long while. —Caitlin Youngquist
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Poets Saving Parks, and Other News

June 24, 2016 | by

From a WPA poster for Yosemite.

  • When I think of the Beats, I think of drugs, of brooding nights in dens of iniquity, of casual misogyny. But it’s time to revamp their public image: they were also, as Timothy Egan writes, eloquent proponents of our national parks. “They were known as literary subversives, rebel voices in the era of Silent Generation conformity. But among their other contributions to American life are words that some of the Beats marshaled on behalf of wild places. Kerouac, inspired by Snyder’s rapture about a summer spent in the clouds, followed him as a lookout to an area that eventually became North Cascades National Park in Washington State … In this year when the Park Service is celebrating its centennial with all sorts of hand-wringing about the future, it’s instructive to remember how language can save landscape. Powerful prose has been put to good use in the cause of America’s Best Idea.”
  • Cynthia Ozick, at eighty-eight, is still a force of midcentury belletristic intellectualism—even her regular cabdriver in New Rochelle is quick to say that “the old lady” still has “all her marbles.” Giles Harvey paid her a visit: “Like her characters, a sorry gaggle of pallid shut-ins and thwarted fantasists, Ozick doesn’t get out much. She has spoken of her aversion to stages and of her impatience with what Henry James, her lifelong inspirator, called ‘the twaddle of mere graciousness.’ She writes at night, for years at the Sears, Roebuck desk she has owned since childhood, measuring her existence ‘in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail.’ When I first wrote to her to propose this article, she responded with a detailed message about her unsuitability. As far as she could tell, her life was altogether devoid of public action, public interest. ‘I once wrote that I’d flown cross-country, solo, from the Westchester County airport to the Rocky Mountains in a single-engine 180-horsepower Piper Cherokee,’ she added promisingly. ‘But that was a lie.’ ”
  • In which Emma Cline offers a glimpse into her past as a child actor: “For that week of filming, it was like I had a new team of parents … I thought the blessing would never end. And my mother must have felt it, too: she had met people who would chat with her during downtime, crew members who brought her bottles of water, other parents of kid actors who would commiserate over work permits and Screen Actors Guild dues. She belonged and so did I, marked by rare luck, sanctioned by all the busyness and effort that surrounded us. And who wouldn’t want to believe that the world took notice of you, made a space for you, fussed over your presence and wished for your success?”
  • True-crime stories are more popular than ever—and so, too, by extension, are white dudes with martyr complexes hoping to solve cold cases. James Renner’s new book True Crime Addict tells a familiar tale: “Cold cases have long attracted hangers-on like Renner, who work for years on ‘solving’ the crime but never do. In cases that broke before the advent of Internet sleuthing, they often called themselves ‘private investigators,’ which represented a shockingly diverse category. Now many of these people gather on the Internet, posting on sites like Renner’s. The result is a complicated morass of uncontrolled speculation. It certainly isn’t justice … I’m frankly surprised that a major publishing house decided to release Renner’s book.”

On a Certain Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

June 21, 2016 | by

Akhmatova

Detail of a portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, 1922.

In my village it’s a famous epigram, but I wonder how many of you are familiar with it. Here it is, complete and unexpurgated, in Anna Akhmatova’s original Russian, from 1958:

Могла ли Биче словно Дант творить, 
Или Лаура жар любви восславить? 
Я научила женщин говорить... 
Но, Боже, как их замолчать заставить!

And now here is a transliteration, with metrical stress represented by bold type, so that the Russianless—or persons like myself with only a year of Russian, the might-as-well-be-Russianless—can have at least some chance of appreciating the sounds. (Note: iambic pentameter, with an inversion in the first foot of line 2.) Read More »

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