Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Translators on translating: Michael Hofmann warns for peanuts

I just read a really lovely piece by Michael Hofmann on being a poet and translator. The images he uses are glorious. Why should translators leave no trace of themselves in a text (there's a question for our translation studies reading group, which has been reading Theo Hermans on that very topic)?

If 'chocolates carry warnings that they may have been manufactured using equipment that has hosted peanuts; why not translations too?'

If 'a translator is a passenger, riding in relative safety (and deserved penury) in a 
vehicle that has already been built', Hofmann would still rather be 'a passenger of the bobsleigh kind — a converted sprinter, someone who at least puts his own bones and balance and reactions into his work'. Of course, this takes for granted that you are translating for someone with no access to the source text. The presence (or threat) of a parallel text can 'protract negotiations'.

Invoking what Gideon Toury called the 'law of growing standardisation' in translation, and what David Bellos refers to as a tendency 'toward the 
accepted and the established and the center, the unexceptional and the unexceptionable', Hofmann counters: 'I don’t mind much where my extremes come from — whether they are mine, or my authors’, but I want them to be there. Extra pixels. The high resolution of a fourth or fifth decimal place'.

And a salutory reminder to all translators and translators-in-training: the people who don’t look [words] up are usually the ones who don’t know them. Good translators look the words up anyway.

For more links to translators talking about their work, see here.

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