Five Times on Translation

small__ukasiewicz__Pi___razy___ok_adka_PLATONMy first post on this blog was about Fu wojny and some innovative ways of discussing translation theory and practice. Although I wrote that it’s nice to have works which are different from the usual, boring textbooks, it doesn’t mean that we cannot have interesting books about translation which are more down-to-earth than Bartnicki’s application of “ancient war strategies” to that field.

Karakter publishing house, a rather new one in Poland and already one of my favorites published a book of essays by renowned Polish translator Małorzata Łukasiewicz titled Pięć razy o przekładzie (“Five Times on Translation”). It concisely reflects on issues such as why we have literary translations, what problems does a translator encounter, what relations there are between different entities involved in translations etc. As we read on the back cover:

Referring to the history of literature, stories of other translators and her own experiences, the author talks about the dilemmas and paradoxes of translator’s work as well as how to read translations and what literature can be.

I’m not really keen on writing full blown reviews, so let me just point out some things which I especially liked and which sparked my thought. The second essay of the collection is connected directly with my earlier reflections on Fu wojny. It talks about the multitude of metaphors about translating. What’s most surprising is that they can be used both in more essayist, or informal as well as academic and defining contexts. It shows that when translation studies was a rather new discipline, we were looking for some means of defining what translation is by referring to everything around it. However, as the discipline was becoming more and more precise and well-grounded in theory, translation itself became a certain model or archetype (Łukasiewicz gives an example of gender studies and how it talks about the original work associated with masculinity and reproduction, rewriting with femininity).

Some interesting points are made on literature in general. When talking about literary translations we cannot avoid the topic of literary studies. The author writes:

There are books which does not satisfy you even after the second or the third reading. One would like to do something more with them. It can be a truly burning desire. Rewrite them, by hand, with the use of calligraphy and the most beautiful ink on a handmade paper? Learn it by heart? Tell it to someone with your own words? Find out why they puzzled and enchanted us so much? Analyze, interpret, dig out the underlying mechanisms? Is not that the source of literary studies, book clubs, literary criticism – and translation? In his title Gadamer claims: “Reading is a translation.” Gayatri Spivak inverts the subject with the predicate but binds them with the same strength: “Translation is the most intimate act of reading.”

Reading literature is an intellectual challenge which breeds a whole universe of ideas. Literary translation is one of the products of such process. Commercialization is one thing, but for the most part translating literature is and will always be a form of artistic and intellectual expression.

There’s much more to say about the book which only proves its merit. It mixes essayistic reflections with a pinch of theory (Nida, Derrida, Spivak and others). Such works are great for students as well as for all of those who are interested in literature from a more pragmatic perspective.


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