I wasn’t planning to post anything for Thanksgiving — WAY too much cooking to do. But one of our fellow readers, Patricia Nelson, sent this to me and it was too good, and too timely, not to share.
Some Thanks for Great Translations
Thanks and praise for great translations. I am grateful for William Weaver’s translations of postwar Italian writing, especially Elsa Morante’s great novel History: A Novel, Gregory Rabassa’s Garcia Marquez, for the extraordinary pleasure of rereading Anna Karenina in the Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation, for Vasily Grossman’s Life & Fate translated by Robert Chandler, Francis Steegmuller’s Flaubert, Kathleen Raine’s Honore de Balzac, Edith Grossman’s Cervantes. Nabokov translating himself! Even our own language closes to us over time, but we have Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, John Gardner’s Gawain poet, David Wright’s Canterbury Tales. I’m fascinated by texts that are somehow magnets for translation: Rilke translated by Edward Snow, Stephen Mitchell, Robert Hunter; Sappho by Mary Barnard, Willis Barnstone, Anne Carson; Han Shan by Red Pine, Burton Watson, Gary Snyder. None of us in our Babel can reach very far alone, but great translation is the gift of a very deep contemporary reading, fluency in cultural nuance, brilliant interpretation and the rather miraculous and gracious service to the text which great translators bring.
Richard Sieburth (who translates Walter Benjamin into English, Ezra Pound into French etc) recommended Lydia Davis to Penguin for our translation of Swann’s Way. Sieburth says of Davis’s Proust: “As a translator she is sort of wry and understated and so was Proust. This is the Proust that Beckett was writing about as opposed to the Moncrieff, which was almost flowery. This is minimalist, highly wry and understatedly comic. Lots of people underestimate just how funny Proust is.” (NYT 12/05/03)