Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Edith

Eidth GrossmanToday in 1936, Edith Grossman was born today in Philadelphia. She's one of the great translators from Spanish - her Don Quixote, which came out in 2003, is considered one of the, if not the, best translations (Carlos Fuentes called it "truly masterly") and was a best-seller - and I loved it, though I don't speak Spanish so can't judge it as a translation - and Gabriel García Márquez calls her "my voice in English". She has also translated Mario Vargas Llosa, Mayra Montero, Augusto Monterroso, Jaime Manrique, Julián Ríos, and Álvaro Mutis. In 2003, at the PEN Tribute to Gabriel García Márquez, she said:
"Fidelity is surely our highest aim, but a translation is not made with tracing paper. It is an act of critical interpretation. Let me insist on the obvious: Languages trail immense, individual histories behind them, and no two languages, with all their accretions of tradition and culture, ever dovetail perfectly. They can be linked by translation, as a photograph can link movement and stasis, but it is disingenuous to assume that either translation or photography, or acting for that matter, are representational in any narrow sense of the term. Fidelity is our noble purpose, but it does not have much, if anything, to do with what is called literal meaning. A translation can be faithful to tone and intention, to meaning. It can rarely be faithful to words or syntax, for these are peculiar to specific languages and are not transferable."
Or, as she put it in an interview with Guernica:
Yes, I think we have to be faithful to the context. But it’s very important to differentiate between fidelity and literalness. Because you can’t be faithful to words, words are different in different languages. You can’t be faithful to syntax, because that changes from one language to the other. But you can be faithful to intention and context. Borges allegedly said to one of his translators, “Don’t translate what I said. Translate what I meant to say.” That is, in fact, what a translator does. Because languages are very resonant and various levels of diction and styles of discourse echo in the mind of the native reader and native speaker. I always think that my job is to find the English that will resonate like the original Spanish for the English speaking reader.
And here's a bit about translating García Márquez for the first time, from a piece in Criticas:
“I knew this Colombian writer was eccentric when he wrote me saying that he doesn’t use adverbs ending with -mente in Spanish and would like to avoid adverbs ending in -ly in English.” She remembers thinking, what do you say in English except slowly? “Well, I came up with all types of things, like without haste.”

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