“My dog came into the bathroom … and I honestly think he was judging me. I was down at his level, sitting on the toilet, and I just think he totally lost respect for me. I could see it.” Illustration by Jason Novak.
On newsstands and in your mailbox next month, our Summer issue features translations and translators, including interviews with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, on translating the Russian classics, and Peter Cole, on translating poetry from Hebrew and Arabic. We’ll also have works in translation by Xi Chuan, Radmila Lazic, Iman Mersal, and Andrés Neuman, and a sneak peek at Michel Houellebecq’s controversial Submission.
Last week the Washington Post called for the return of the serialized novel, suggesting The Paris Review ought to lead the charge. Having serialized two novels in recent years, we’re proud to say we’re already on the case. Our Summer issue will kick off a third serial: Chris Bachelder’s novel The Throwback Special, about an ordinary group of men who gather together once a year to reenact what ESPN has called “the most shocking play in NFL history.” Each installment will feature illustrations by Jason Novak.
Plus stories by Ann Beattie, Lucia Berlin, Padgett Powell, and Deb Olin Unferth and a portfolio by Aidan Koch.
From “Heavenly,” a portfolio by Aidan Koch forthcoming in the Summer 2015 issue.
Peter Cole, The Art of Translation
Smart people say such dumb and disappointing things about translation.
Such as that, unlike so-called original composition, it’s always a matter of compromise, of negotiation—that translation is inevitably a failed approximation, or like a black-and-white photograph rather than color. But what in life that’s valuable over time doesn’t involve negotiation or intelligent compromise? Where does friendship come from? Or marriage? Education? Commerce? A culture? Would you colorize Stieglitz? And who says that original composition is fundamentally different from translation? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Beckett isn’t talking about translation there, he’s talking about life, or writing, period. Poetry isn’t lost in translation, it is translation. It’s lost only in bad or gray translation—and in the mindless repetition of the thin figures of speech we use to talk about it.
I’m a little tired of all the apologies and qualifications that hover around translation. Sure, it requires an inordinate supply of humility. The job and the world will remind you of that all the time. But less acknowledged is that translation also requires a great deal of presumption.
And also a kind of desperation?
You have to be desperate, at some level, to write anything, no? To move the magic of consciousness and language from one state or place to another. From an itch or an instinct to a line of poetry, and from that line of poetry to the next one, and from these two in combination to a third, and then to a reader. Translation as we normally think of it only raises all that to a higher exponential power. So, yes, there’s desperation, but even more so, at least for me, there’s desire—for nourishment and for pleasure. Translation isn’t some weakly technical craft. It’s a deeply human activity, an essential part of the art of our lives, whether we’re aware of it as such or not. Of course it exists in relation to something, not on its own, and so we think of it as secondary, but hey, so do we exist only in relation to something, as inheritors and animators or deadeners of traditions of all sorts. But that’s my stump speech—deep translation.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, The Art of Translation
I read you had trouble with the editing of the British Penguin edition of Anna Karenina.
They hated what we did.
It was quite something. For example, Vronsky meets Anna on the railroad coming to Moscow. He says, “Did you come recently?” And the copy-editor wrote a comment which said, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but this word now has acquired different meanings.” And there is better! Kitty is discussing the upcoming ball. Seventeen-year-old, completely innocent Kitty says, “I do like balls.” Again the copy editor wrote, “I’m not sure if you’re aware . . .” Then the editor had this other problem. I had written Anna “got into the carriage.” And the editor said, this is the American usage of the word “got”. We can’t do this in a British edition. You should say Anna “went” into the carriage. I wrote back, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but this word has now acquired different meanings . . . ”