I've been thinking a lot about translation lately, in large part because I reviewed the Dalkey Archive Best European Fiction 2010 anthology for the Quarterly Conversation (forthcoming, I'll let you know when it comes forth). What seemed most interesting to me about that collection was the idea that there ever is a kind of fiction that can be classified as "European"; and the kinds of stories contained in that volume seem to suggest that translation can be a means of turning disparate cultures into one big melting pot. Then I read this piece on Néojaponisme– a translation of Mori Ōgai 森鴎外’s Honyaku ni tsuite「翻譯に就いて」 (”On translation”), published in 1914 for a collection of essays on literary technique– and it sort of complicates that idea, dealing, as it does, with a Norwegian text and Japanese as the target language.
Ōgai talks about the virtues of being "wrong" in translation– adding or detracting from the original text; of most interest, I think, is the final section in which he contemplates how far a translation should go into the source culture. On translating Ibsen's A Doll House, he writes:
The sweets that Nora eats I translated makuron マクロン. Write rather amedama
飴玉, I was told. Advice like this simply boggles the mind. Tins of
almond macaroons have been shipped here in great number so that you may
buy them at Aokido whenever you please. Reflect, if you will, on the
difference in situation between a woman of the West eating a macaroon
and a child of Japan eating an amedama. I recall one scene in a
novel by someone-or-other wherein two female university students in
Paris’s Latin Quarter munch on macaroons as they trade stories of
heartbreak. To switch those macaroons for amedama, of all
things — well, it would certainly be comical. The gist of such
teachings is that item should appear in translation as appropriately
chosen items unique to Japan, but as for myself, I strive to avoid
things unique to Japan, the better to produce an extraordinary effect.
Furthermore, we only consider here cases where there is an appropriate corresponding item. When uniquely Japanese and inappropriate items appear, the results are quite unbearable.
To be continued when the QC review runs.
I can't wait to see the new Gainsbourg biopic, which opened in France yesterday– watch the trailer here.
Obviously I love Gainsbourg (who doesn't?), but I'm also a big fan of the director, Joann Sfar, who is primarily known as a graphic novelist with a penchant for rabbi's cats. I did an interview with him a few years ago– he was the nicest guy, and very patient with my nervous bumbling phone-French. The piece is still up, caught in the folds of the internet, although something strange has happened to the line breaks. Anyway, you can read it here.
I haven't been much interested in all the lists that are going around lately– in addition to the end of the year, we just saw the end a decade, which brought so many changes to publishing, and what changes could the next decade possibly hold? and blah, and blah, and blah. But for once, one is worth your time. And of course it belongs to Richard Nash.* An excerpt:
5. The mechanically reproduced object will have its aura restored in this Age of Digital Reproduction and we'll wish, again, that Walter Benjamin could have seen all this.
6. In 2020 we will look back on the last days of publishing and realize that it was not a surfeit of capitalism that killed it, but rather an addiction to a mishmash of Industrial Revolution practices that killed it, including a Fordist any color so long as it is black attitude to packaging the product, a Sloanist hierarchical management approach to decision making, and a GM-esque continual rearranging of divisions like deck chairs on the Titanic based on internal management preferences rather than consumer preferences.
7. In 2020 some people will still look back on recent decades as a Golden Age, just as some now look back on the 1950's as a Golden Age, notwithstanding that the Age was golden largely for white men in tweed jackets who got to edit and review one another and congratulate one another for permitting a few women and the occasional Black man into the club.
*Richard (former head of Soft Skull) is a brilliant guy. If you don't believe me, read his manifesto, a description of his new social-publishing project, Cursor, that is so far-thinking it left most people of us who read it saying "I'm not really sure how it works, but I think it will make sense in time." For semi-regular doses of Richard-wisdom, read his blog.
A piece I wrote this summer has just now run over at Bookforum; it's called Chorus Girls, and it's run in Bookforum's "Syllabi" section. As in, if I were teaching a seminar on chorus girls, these are the primary sources we would read.
From the cabaret to the nightclub, from the theater to the ballet, women who perform in public have attracted writers and artists for as long as women have performed in public. Unlike the prostitute, who, as Walter Benjamin once said, is "saleswoman and wares in one," the chorus girl is not exactly selling herself—she's selling a dream of who she mightbe. The gaze that falls on her is sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes singular, sometimes multiple. Onstage or off, the chorus girl is defined by her relationship to a necessary other—her audience—who, after all, may just be the reader.
The latest issue of Tim House features an interview with Amélie Nothomb, by the magazine's Paris editor, Heather Hartley. In between talking about Rilke, writing as pregnancy, and the importance of boredom, Hartley asks Nothomb about her concept of being a jamaisien– a state of being without country, of having never had a country, that struck me as an interesting way of looking at a familiar problem. Here's the passage:
HH: In The Life of Hunger, you created the neologism “jamaisien” [in French “jamais” means “never”]—denoting someone from the “country of never.” How do you recognize yourself in this idea?
AN: In the whole idea. For me, it’s really a profession of faith. I think that perhaps everyone who has known exile or long-term expatriation can recognize themselves in this profession of faith. I imagine you recognize yourself in it?
HH: Yes, on a lot of levels, and in different ways—as a woman, as a writer, as a foreigner living in France . . .
AN: At the same time there are enormously very fine, wonderful sides to it [this idea of being “jamaisien”.] Right now, I’m in France quite a bit—almost all the time—and every day when I leave my house I say to myself, “This is extraordinary, I’m in a foreign country.” And it’s true this is not my country. I’m living abroad and I feel it. I have all sorts of proof that France is a foreign country. And this makes life much more interesting.
But at the same time, it’s true that it’s also a lack, a deficiency. I suppose that if I’ve never been able to build anything except [constructions] out of words, it’s because of this deficiency.
The place where I live in France—that some would call “my apartment”—is not fit for a normal person. It’s uninhabitable. There are, then, for me, these things lacking. Deficiencies for elementary basic things like this.
HH: Yes, and everyone who is a jamaisien . . .
AN: Absolutely. They all have this trait.
[Read the full interview here.]
Being a jamasien is about a tension between supplement and lack, about having one country too many or too few, about the productive strangeness of being alien to a place and yet at home in it… occupying this grey area that most people couldn't stand to inhabit. Even for the jamasien (is the word becoming too precious?) to stand it, one must make use of it. It's quite a demanding position, not a passive one at all.