Tradutores (2)

Quando estava a traduzir para inglês Du Côté de Chez Swann, o primeiro dos sete volumes da Recherche de Proust, Lydia Davis respondeu a um inquérito feito a vários tradutores pela revista online Feed. Eis as suas respostas:

Question One: As you write word by word and sentence by sentence, how do you make the words and sentences carry the weight of the foreign, sometimes distant, cultures behind them? At what point does the culture come to be evoked?
I don’t “make” the words and sentences carry any weight of anything. I don’t mean to quibble with the wording of the question here: I think it’s important to emphasize that there is no forcing involved, and there is no separation of text from culture or culture from text. The foreign text dictates or suggests to me, word by word, and not I to it. And I do not manipulate for effect as I translate. Any effect I achieve, or any culture that is transmitted, comes through my trying to find the closest equivalent possible of a text on a micro level – part by part of a sentence, in diction, tone, sound, reference. When I have the closest equivalent I can manage, I read and reread the sentence with more distance to see if it reads as English, live English. If I do this conscientiously, the culture seems to come through. Just now I am in the midst of translating Swann’s Way. French culture of course permeates Proust’s thinking and determines the way his thoughts unfold in each sentence. I try to stay very close to the order of this unfolding.

Question Two: What, exactly, is lost in translation? What can and can not be conveyed? What is gained in translation?
Since Proust is working with sound to such an extraordinary degree, using alliteration, assonance, and meter (for instance, he would revise his drafts to include more perfect alexandrines in his sentences), it is nearly impossible to reproduce in English all that is going on in the French. He has often chosen the only word that will do everything at once in a given situation: convey meaning, convey mood, link to another word through sound. (He is very fond of words beginning with “p,” for instance!) Often there is an English equivalent that does the same, because English and French are so closely related. For instance, “the market at Martinville” would be a completely successful translation of “le marché de Martinville”: The meaning, the diction, the tone, the alliteration, the order of elements within the sentence, and the syllable count are all reproduced. But in an entire long, complex sentence, it is often not possible to do everything at once with the English. If five or six things at once are happening in the French sentence, the English might manage three or four of them most of the time, and all of them some of the time. There are priorities, although the priorities sometimes shift. I must hang onto the meaning, first. The sentence must read as English, second. Then, if I’m lucky, I can keep the same order in the sentence that Proust had, and end on the same word or phrase. Often, I am able to keep the same balanced construction that Proust made. The English words must have the same character – abstract or concrete, colloquial or formal, etc. – that the French have. And then I try to reproduce the alliteration, the meter – but this is not always possible. I can’t imagine what is gained in the translation, in this case, except that a new, living text exists in English.

Question Three: How do you balance the need to make something new with the responsibility to preserve the original? Would you compare yourself more to a pianist liberally interpreting a score or to a doctor in a foreign country who must get a prescription right, or does neither metaphor apply?
I would compare myself to a pianist accompanying a singer, except that of course the pianist’s part is so different from the singer’s. I mean, though, that I would not try to dominate the singer but to respond to and follow the singer; the translation should serve the text, not compete with it. I do not interpret a text and then remake it in my own voice. (For instance, I generally do not read very far ahead in the text I am translating, and part of the reason for this is to let the author continue to know more than I do about the text.) My own voice should magically disappear and be absorbed into Proust’s, so that what one hears, even in English, is Proust’s voice.


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