Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Happy Birthday, JM

JM Coetzee
Today in 1940, in Cape Town, South Africa, J.M. (John Maxwell) Coetzee was born. He's a Nobel laureate, winning for Literature in 2003. His books often deal with South Africa, though he no longer lives there, but not always: Waiting for the Barbarians is set in an empire that never existed, where the author explores the concepts of duty and civilization. He also wrote a quite lovely essay on translation (no longer on line, alas), exploring it from the viewpoint of the original author. Here's a taste:
"It would be highly appreciated," wrote my translator, "if you could help clarify what Summer Palace and globe surmounted by the tiger rampant ... refer to. I wonder if [they] refer to the Old Summer Palace in Beijing that was destroyed by British and French allied force in 1848." The question may seem simple, but it holds surprising depths. It may mean: Are the words Summer Palace intended to refer to the historical Summer Palace? It may also mean: Do the words refer to the historical Summer Palace?

I, as sole author, am the only person able to answer the first question, and my answer must be that I did not consciously intend to refer to the palace in Beijing, and certainly did not intend to evoke the historical sack of that palace, with its attendant national humiliations.

At the same time, I did intend that enough of an association with imperial China should be evoked to balance and complicate, for instance, the association with imperial Russia evoked elsewhere in the book by the phrase Third Bureau, the arm of the security forces for which Colonel Joll works.

As for whether the words in question do refer to the palace in Beijing, as author I am powerless to say. The words are written; I cannot control the associations they awaken.

But my translator is not so powerless: a nudge here, a nuance there, and the reader may be either directed towards or headed off from the Beijing of 1848.

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8 Comments:

At 10:38 AM, February 09, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

ISO the complete essay you cite, I discovered that the hyperlink at "a quite lovely essay on translation" is, alas, defunct. The best I was able to locate online is in:

http://books.google.com/books?id=6UBV5f0LThoC&pg=PA216&lpg=PA216&dq=%22Old+Summer+Palace+in+Beijing+that+was+destroyed+by+British+and+French+allied+force+in+1848%22&source=bl&ots=eTZDV2qYtw&sig=Qk7QA264csxBTGYF3AKTsW4_pt4&hl=en&ei=PK1STbjENcKAlAf16dX6Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22Old%20Summer%20Palace%20in%20Beijing%20that%20was%20destroyed%20by%20British%20and%20French%20allied%20force%20in%201848%22&f=false

Hope there's no copyright violation in Google's reproducing it online. Will read what's available later on as time permits, but meanwhile thanks for introducing me to the essay excerpt.

Translating work by a living author with whom one is in contact has the advantage of asking whut-the-heck s/he meant, while translating dead authors has the advantage that they're no longer around to complain if one gets it wrong ;-)))

 
At 10:54 AM, February 09, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Final graf should open, "Translating work by a living author with whom one is in contact has the advantage of BEING ABLE TO ASK..." (yes, I committed the sort of faux pas that gest excoriated on this blog!).

Also, the essay starts on p. 213 of the Google Book.

 
At 1:35 PM, February 09, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

OMG, I can't believe I still made typos in my correction.

Final graf should open, "Translating work by a living author with whom one is in contact has the advantage of ONE'S BEING ABLE TO ASK..." (yes, I committed the sort of faux pas that GETS excoriated on this blog!).

 
At 8:45 PM, February 09, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

eek. I hope I don't excoriate typos!

Also, I hadn't realized the essay had gone away. I have a soft-copy of the whole thing, if you'd like to read it.

 
At 11:13 PM, February 09, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

How generous of you to offer, Ridger. Since nearly all of the essay appears on Google Books, I'll see if that suffices (never got around to reading it today, alas, though I've bookmarked it).

Did you catch the NOVA epi tonight about Watson and the "Jeopardy!" challenge? You can guess how DH and I will be spending 30 minutes of Valentine's Day early-evening :-)

 
At 1:58 PM, February 10, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

«Did you catch the NOVA epi tonight about Watson and the "Jeopardy!" challenge?»

I didn't know it was on, but I just watched it on the PBS web site after I saw your comment. Nice (and nice to see some of my former colleagues — Jennifer Chu-Carroll and John Prager were on screen a number of times, but didn't speak and weren't identified).

Did you catch the quick glimpse of Alex Trebek as a baby... er... much younger man?

 
At 3:26 PM, February 10, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

They said it was on, but then the scroll said the topic was something different, so I didn't watch it. I'll catch it on the web site.

 
At 3:21 PM, February 13, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

A goodly portion of the substance of the NOVA program, as well as a local slant, are presented in this article in today's paper, "Human champs of 'Jeopardy!' vs. Watson the IBM computer: a close match / As two game show champs compete with the supercomputer Watson, anyone -- or anything -- could win":
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11044/1125163-96.stm

I'll be watching with my Valentine :-)

 

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