Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Subtleties of narrative, or sometimes you can have too many footnotes.

In the Fuks text I've been dealing which, one of the main characteristics of the work, and, indeed, in his writing in general, is a sparse opacity when dealing with matters of timing, which complements the slightly surreal attitude that pervades throughout where characters and actions flit about and repeat themselves. There are offhanded references to a light spring breeze, a quarter of a year after Christmas, several weeks after the events of the preceding chapter, and so on. You can figure out when things are going on with a large degree of precision, but such things are not transparent.

I'm not above over-footnoting things, but as a matter of course throughout the translation of the work I had been unpacking as many of these details as I could, with the intent of providing them later. (In an event not to spoil this yet further for anyone who may end up reading it, when I have it transcribed, I shall talk about things at a level of remove) This involved such things as dealing with the calculations necessary to obtain the exact date of some church holidays, or the day of the week the events of a historical action had occurred. Naturally, smug with my success at having done so, I planned on sharing these exact dates as footnotes, and have them all scrawled down at various points.

Now I think that would defeat the purpose altogether, allowing my own obsession with the text to overwrite, and inappropriately so, a level of detail, and more or less undermining the point. As historical curiosities, sure, they're fun to know, and least for me. But I can keep them that way. Well, other than babbling about it online.

"But here it is: the translator is a collaborator, not exactly with an author, living or dead, but with a text. Thus there are two phases any translator must go through: first to read something, then to write something.

This is why the naïve scribbler is so very very wrong to suppose that translating is the easy way to write a poem, a story, a play, that all you have to do is know the language of the original and, as it were, transcribe it in your own.

Try it. "

(from Waldrop, p 98 of this paper. [pdf; much obliged, as usual, to languagehat])

I disagree with some of Waldrop's later points--especially with the re-hash of Dryden's "one does not translate words," which has some merit (inasmuch as the tone and frequency of the words involved can contribute to an overemphasis on morphological clarity, thus ruining the tone of a sentence), but not as a general rule. Still, I am trying. And it seems that having a whole bunch of words on paper may only be the beginning. Interesting.

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