Archive for January 2013

2013 Bridge – Lispector Style

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that New Directions reissued a whole bunch of beautiful Clarice Lispector books last year, and now they’re being featured in the first Bridge Series event of 2013, presenting Johnny Lorenz and Idra Novey, the translators of (respectively) A Breath of Life and The Passion According to G.H. The incredible Ukranian-born Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector is one of the most exciting novelists ever (and also check out her biography by Benjamin Moser). This should be a very special evening, especially since the two translators will be joined by their publisher, Barbara Epler, who is herself a wonderful speaker (not to mention editor).

If you don’t know about The Bridge yet, you can read up on it here.

The Lispector Bridge will be taking place tomorrow, Jan. 23 at the Center for Fiction at 17 E. 47th Street (btw Grand Central & Lexington/53rd). RSVPs are requested at 212-755-6710 or by e-mail.

Translating Catalan? Let Beckett Help!

I’m always fascinated by translators who use intertexts in their translations to help capture something about the original that might otherwise be tricky to communicate. I do so myself. I relied a lot on Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria for turns of phrase and sentence structure when working on my translation of Schleiermacher’s canonical essay on translation. I slipped a fairly subtle Ophelia reference into a key moment of despair in my translation of Hesse’s Siddhartha. And there’s a smidgen of Arthur Miller in my forthcoming Kafka (of which more soon), for which I also found myself rereading Melville.

So I was very interested to read in Martha Tennent’s introduction to her just-out translation of The Siege in the Room: Three Novellas by Miquel Bauçà that she relied heavily on Samuel Beckett to get to the bottom of Bauçà’s elusive style. Bauçà himself sounds fascinating, a literary outsider even within Catalan literature and society whose work is often compared with that of Walser, Buzzati and Kafka, three of my absolute favorites. His dates are 1940 – 2004. Here’s Martha’s description of the three long stories collected in this volume:

Carrer Marsala, The Old Man and The Warden unfold in an oneiric, surreal atmosphere of brutal worlds which seem to have become unhinged from discernible reference points, where language has almost supplanted material reality and external facts cannot be trusted. Although these novels retain elements which could be termed realistic, there is no effort to convey the sense of plausibility normally found in fantastic literature. The descriptions of the narrators’ thoughts and activities are rendered in a manner that allows in the reader a response similar to that of reading Beckett or Kafka, but here the struggle plays out primarily in the landscape of the narrators’ minds. Through them, Bauçà offers us his personal sense of the moral degradation and mediocrity of late twentieth- century Catalan society, the precariousness and anguish of existence and his view of life as an illness devoid of meaning, a delicate balance between madness and the quotidian drudgery necessary for survival.

Bauçà’s Catalan (he saw Spanish as the “enemy language”) is challenging and thorny and frequently, Martha writes, avails itself of “the ludicrous and the bizarre.” And to highlight “the sharp curves of his non sequitors” she decided to develop “a lexicon of representative words and phrases from Beckett’s novels and at strategic points intercalat[e] them where there was a semantic correspondence with the original. The intertext with Beckett is intended to enable the reader to recognize the familiar, even if the familiar is beyond our rational understanding.”

I asked Martha if she would show me some examples of intertexts she used in her translation, and she sent the most fascinating list. Here it is:

• Beckett; “poofy-haired; Bauçà, Carrer Marsala (35): “… una dona que es va estufar els cabells” [a woman who teased her hair]; Tennent, Carrer Marsala: (25) “Used to be a woman there who had poofy hair… ”

• Beckett: “only the most local movements were possible;” Bauçà, Carrer Marsala, (33): “Ella no es pot moure” [She can’t move]; Tennent, Carrrer Marsala, (24): ”She can make only the most local movements.”

• Beckett: doss; Bauçà Carrrer Marsala (78), “…em retiro ben abatut cap all llit que m’agombola” [I withdraw, completely dejected, to the bed that protects me]; Tennent, (57): “I retire to the shelter of my doss, completely despondent.”

• Beckett: cerebrum; Bauçà Carrrer Marsala (40): “És cert que l’amazona m’ha buidat el cervell.” [It is true that the horse rider has emptied my brain.]; Tennent, (29): My cerebrum is vacuous, depleted by the horsewoman.”

• Beckett: “pocketed his hand”; Baucà, L’escarcellera (54),: “Què puc fer, llavors, sinó posar-me les mans a les butxaques…” [What can I do, then, other than to put my hands in my pockets]; Tennent, (109): “What can I do, other than pocket my hands…”

• Beckett: “serenade, nocturne and albada; “ Bauçà L’escarcellera (97): “Si li ho digués, reconegut, em faria serenates, i més tard, albades…”, [If I told him, with gratitude he would offer me serenades and, later, aubades]; Tennent, (143-4): If I mentioned it to him, he’d show his gratitude by offering me serenades, nocturnes and aubades.”

After reading Martha’s glorious translation of Mercè Rodoreda’s glorious novel Death in Spring, I have perfect faith in her ability to make fantastical literature come beautifully alive in English and can’t wait to sit down properly with her Bauçà. Find your own copy here.

2012 Compass Awards To Be Presented Today

The Compass Award for translations of Russian poetry started up last year, and I blogged about it, but somehow seem to have neglected to announce this past year’s contest, which was dedicated to the work of Marina Tsvetaeva. Meanwhile, winners have been chosen, and the awards will be presented this afternoon at a ceremony at Poet’s House.

Here’s the list of commended translators:

1st prize (“Compass” and $300) Alyssa Gillespie, Associate professor of Russian Language and Literature; University of Notre Dame, for “The Poem of the End” (Alyssa is also the 2nd place winner in Compass Award-2011, the Gumilyov contest)

2nd prize ($150) Brian Droitcour, Graduate Student, Department of Comparative Literature, New York University, for “Upon a Red Steed”

3rd prize ($100) Leah Goldberger (a Russian-Arabic-English interpreter in Cairo, Egypt. ) and Eugene Serebryany (biology Ph.D. student in Cambridge, Massachusetts) for “An Attempt at Jealosy”

The awards will be presented by Irina Mashinski, the StoSvet Project director and co-editor of Cardinal Points Journal; Sibelan Forrester and Alexander Veytsman, judges; and Regina Khidekel, the director of the Russian-American Cultural Center. There’s a $5 entry fee to attend the ceremony, which will be held at 2:00 p.m. today, Saturday, Jan. 12, in Kray Hall at Poet’s House, 10 River Terrace, New York.

More details here.

Time To Submit for the 2013 BTBA

It’s a new year, which means the judges for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award are about to start taking stock of the best of last year. If you published something in translation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, you have until the end of January to put your book in the running for the award. For instructions on submitting, see the BTBA website, or click here for poetry and here for fiction submissions. Usually it’s the publishers who submit works for consideration (since having a book longlisted, shortlisted or in the winner’s circle can certainly boost sales) but f you happen to be a translator who works for a publisher who happens to be boycotting the award, feel free to submit your own work. Best of luck & hope to see you on the longlist!


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