Monthly Archives: March 2021

Since when was a translator’s race important? (Since now.)

 

 

Alex Marshall

 

Regarding a New York Times article from last week which I have posted here:

“Amanda Gorman’s Poetry United Critics. It’s Dividing Translators.”

By Alex Marshall

The New York Times

March 26, 2021

 

I posted the following comments on Facebook yesterday evening:

This is reverse racism pure and simple. We have gotten so far removed from the idealism of Martin Luther King, Jr. that it is very sad to contemplate. I hope to be able to find the time to write more about this. So, in order to be hired as a translator, one has to pass a skin color check? What about persons descended (as many of us are) from various racial or ethnic groups? What if I wrote a novel with some black characters in it? Why hasn’t “Porgy and Bess” been canceled yet? (Don’t worry — in due time.) White men and French missionaries did heroic work translating from and studying the languages of Native American tribes. Should they have been prohibited from doing so? How dare Mozart write an opera with Italian characters in it? Or Tolstoy a novel about Chechnyans? If I were hiring a translator, I would want the best person for the job. Think about it: That would be the way to honor and do justice to Amanda Gorman’s poetry.

A translator translates WORDS. The essential requirement in this instance is a knowledge of English and the target language. Plus the rare ability to translate poetry. Of course, words have connotations and in the case of literature a literal translation is almost never desirable; and then there are special challenges in translating poetry. And of course in a poem or any work of literature the writer’s personal experience and feelings, outlook, culture, and identity as they conceive it come into play. What deserves great care and respect from a translator is the writer’s words, what they said and meant, not other, external factors. The cancel culture types could care less about this.

In a college course devoted to world literature, I taught a novel regarded as a classic: “Snow Country” ( 雪国) by Yasunari Kawabata. We read it in translation. The English translation was by Edward Seidensticker, an American (white, not Asian!) who was born and raised in the West and was of German, English and Irish heritage. The novel is a brilliant and there is something very Japanese about it. You know this is not Western literature. You feel very much in a different culture and place. It was obviously a very difficult work to translate. Should someone have laid down the law that the job should have been reserved for a translator who was Japanese? The translation is regarded as brilliant. I am so glad that the work was available in English. This is the sort of thing that cancel culture philistines never even think about.

 

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Here are a few excerpts (in italics) from the article, with my comments (in all caps):

 

Should a white writer translate a Black poet’s work? A debate in Europe has exposed the lack of diversity in the world of literary translation. [subtitle of Times article]

THIS IS AN IDIOTIC QUESTION.

 

Ms. Haruna-Oelker, one of the German translators, said one disappointing outcome of the debate in Europe was that it had diverted attention from the message of Gorman’s poem. “The Hill We Climb” spoke about bringing people together, Ms. Haruna-Oelker said, just as the German publisher had done by assembling a team.

“We’ve tried a beautiful experiment here, and this is where the future lies,” Ms. Gumusay said. “The future lies in trying to find new forms of collaboration, trying to bring together more voices, more sets of eyes, more perspectives to create something new.”

GREAT TO BRING TOGETHER. THE REVEREND DOCTOR KING WOULD HAVE AGREED, BUT POEMS ARE NOT POSITION PAPERS. AND I THOUGHT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE MATTER OF TRANSLATION, A RARE SKILL AND SOMETHING THAT IS OFTEN DONE BY INDIVIDUALS (AS WELL AS BY TEAMS, USUALLY COMPRISED OF TWO PERSONS.

 

Several other European publishers named Black musicians as their translators. Timbuktu, a rapper, has completed a Swedish version, and Marie-Pierra Kakoma, a singer better known as Lous and the Yakuza, has translated the French edition, which will be published by Editions Fayard in May.

“I thought Lous’s writing skills, her sense of rhythm, her connection with spoken poetry would be tremendous assets,” Sophie de Closets, a publisher at Fayard, said in an email explaining why she chose a pop star.

RAPPER?

POP STAR?

HOW ABOUT LeBRON JAMES?

 

Aylin LaMorey-Salzmann, the editor of the German edition for publisher Hoffmann und Campe, said in a phone interview that the rights owner had to agree to the choice, which had to be someone of similar profile to Ms. Gorman.

A TRANSLATOR HAS TO HAVE A “SIMILAR PROFILE” TO THE WRITER WHOSE WORK THEY ARE TRANSLATING?

 

Irene Christopoulou, an editor at Psichogios, the poem’s Greek publisher, was still waiting for approval for its choice of translator. The translator was a white “emerging female poet,” Ms. Christopoulou said in an email. “Due to the racial profile of the Greek population, there are no translators/poets of color to choose from,” she added.

CAN YOU IMAGINE? WHAT A PROBLEM!

.
A translator’s main task is to capture the nuance and feeling of a language in a way that you could never achieve with Google Translate,

THEY FIGURED THAT OUT?

and most translators have long happily wrestled with questions of how to faithfully translate works when they are about people completely unlike them.

THIS IS IRRELEVANT … IF I WERE TRANSLATING TOLSTOY. WOULD I TEND TO THINK OR CARE WHETHER HE WAS OF THE SAME NATIONALITY OR WHATEVER AS ME? I MIGHT ASK MYSELF, IS THIS A GOOD BOOK? IS IT WORTH TRANSLATING? I WOULD HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE BEGINNING THE JOB.

 

{Marieke Lucas] Rijneveld, who uses the pronouns they and them, was the “ideal candidate,” Meulenhoff said in a statement. But many social media users disagreed, asking why a white writer had been chosen when Gorman’s reading at the inauguration had been a significant cultural moment for Black people.

SHE USES THE PRONOUNS THEY AND THEM. WOW! THAT SURE TELLS THE PUBLISHER A LOT ABOUT HER QUALIFICATIONS AS A TRANSLATOR.

 

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Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to bring people together, not divide them. He envisioned a society where there was no discrimination or segregation.

These ignorant meddlers in decisions about translation and translators — something they know nothing about — want to do the opposite. It’s as if they were conducting a recruiting session or an audition and they said: “All blacks and people of color, step to the front. Whites and ethic Europeans, move to the rear. Any blacks present, raise your hands.”

Irrespective of the issues here, what counts for me is PERSONS, human beings. A person as an individual. What is he or she like and is to get to know? And their mind and intellect, to the extent that it’s relevant?

A poet is also a person. But what is being translated is the poetry of that person. This is not a matter of eugenics or social engineering.

The people intervening in this know nothing about what’s involved.

How could or would they? They don’t really care about poetry or words, including this poet’s.

They are crude, ignorant social reformers doing a hatchet job on poetry, literature, and culture in general.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 29, 2021

apologias for censorship

 

 

Ross Douthat, ‘Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear’

 

Alyssa Rosenberg, ‘The Great Dr. Seuss Hysteria’

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Facebook the following op-ed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat:

 

Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?

The Dr. Seuss cancellation illustrates all the problems that they used to have with censorship.

The New York Times

March 6, 2021

 

Theodor Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, was an author of illustrated children’s books.

 

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This led to the following exchange on Facebook:

 

Roger W. Smith

I always thought censorship was a bad thing, but now we are being told it’s often a good thing. And if you ban some books by an author but not all of them, that’s not censorship. And here I was choosing whom to read on the basis of what I thought of the book as a literary work, monograph, etc. But now I find that certain works are contaminated and may not be available any longer. Who decided that? The self-appointed cultural commissars. Have they actually read the banned authors? Want to guess? We are dealing with philistines posing as trustees of culture. How many of them, do you think, are familiar with what Milton had to say about this 400 years ago? Or have a clue as to who Milton is?

“This week I learned from a different kind of liberalism that only easily triggered rubes care when offensive books are made to disappear. … often the Seuss cancellation was dismissed as a boob bait for Fox News viewers and a move to which only someone sunk in white anxiety could possibly object. … Plus, we were told, it’s only six books. And is Seuss so great anyway?’ ” — Ross Douthat

This is the very definition of sophistry (what Douthat is identifying).

But since Fox News types are crying censorship, it (censorship) must be okay now. The establishment approves of it, so it has suddenly become not okay and impolitic to object. It’s a matter of choosing the “right side,” and that means the book banners. How suddenly things change. It’s hard to keep up with the expectations of correctness our superiors have of us benighted, querulous intellectuals. They don’t care about out reading habits.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

We aren’t burning books. No one is banning Shakespeare. or Moby Dick. Or Robinson Crusoe or Joyce or Twain. This is all just unnecessary fear.

 

Roger W. Smith

So it’s okay to ban “lesser” authors? Who decides who will escape banning by the self-appointed censors? And which books by the “transgressors”? I like Henry Miller and got pleasure from reading him. He insults Jews and other races and religious groups; and it’s worse with his portrayal of women. I fear Tropic of Cancer may be headed for the dustbin. Miller is very unlikely to achieve canonical status and he seems to be a good target for the censors. When they get around to it. They have a lot of vetting to do. I wonder if Porgy and Bess and the King and I (those Asian stereotypes!) will survive the cut.

Seems like you know which works are bannable and which are privileged and safe from harm. You see, most kids never heard of James Joyce, but they do know and like Dr. Seuss.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

No one is banning any authors.

 

Roger W. Smith

Oh, and I should have pointed out that while Joyce observed that Defoe was what we would probably call today a white supremacist with racist, imperialist views, he thought Defoe was a great author and Robinson Crusoe a great book, as do I.

 

Roger W. Smith

You are so off base here, it isn’t funny. Liberal, PC, cancel culture types can’t see or admit what they are doing: banning books? I do (see it). I have been researching the author Theodore Dreiser in the 1930s. He had a lot of cockeyed, wrong opinions. That didn’t stop the Nazis from burning his books in their public book burnings. You can’t see the danger and the harm being done here? Ross Douthat says it all. Why not ban some Shakespeare? Just “a few” plays — The Merchant of Venice and the Taming of the Shrew. Why not Moby-Dick? Isn’t Queequeg a stereotype of a pagan infidel? Let’s get rid of Robinson Crusoe for the sin of Defoe’s preconceived opinions, which, as James Joyce noted, are represented in the character of Crusoe, the quintessential smug proto-English imperialist, who while he values his servant (read, slave) Friday, treats him with condescension. Said Joyce: Defoe “is the true prototype of the British colonist just as Friday (the faithful savage who arrives one ill-starred day) is the symbol of the subject race.” You better get to work. There is lot of stuff for you to comb through. I thought you loved literature for its own sake. And, yes, children’s books are literature.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

Liberals had nothing to do with the decision not to reprint certain Seuss books. This is a tempest in a teapot.

 

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Another long time acquaintance copied and posted the following on Facebook:

No one is cancelling Dr. Seuss. There are 6 books that HIS OWN ESTATE are ceasing to publish because of overtly racist content.

They are using them as a way to say “this is the heritage that we came from, and we have learned and are doing better now.” 6 books out of hundreds isn’t cancelling, it’s learning. It’s like when you rocked whatever horrible fashion was trendy when you were 13, and at 30 you’re like ”phew, glad I got over that tragic look!”

Dr. Seuss, and most of his work, is alive and well. NOT cancelled. 6 books are no longer being published.

It’s the right thing to do.

— “No One is Cancelling Dr. Seuss (or Mr. Potato Head),” MediaChomp March 5, 2021

 

No One is Cancelling Dr. Seuss (or Mr. Potato Head)

 

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I had previously read and posted a comment on the Washington Post site re the following op-ed by Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg:

The Great Dr. Seuss Hysteria of 2021 shows how silly and unimaginative adults can be

The Washington Post

March 3, 2021

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/03/dr-seuss-hysteria-2021-shows-how-silly-unimaginative-adults-can-be/

in which I stated: “Too bad. Ms. Rosenberg just doesn’t get it. This is Jesuitical sophistry, a weak apologia for the banning of beloved children’s books. I loved them as a young reader. My sons and relatives’ children did. I am a liberal Democrat and a writer myself. Who is she to be opining about what kids should enjoy?”

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” has always held a place in my consciousness.

Its penetrating insight.

Everyone admires the emperor’s new suit of clothes as he parades down the street before assembled onlookers. A child finally speaks up and says, “”But he hasn’t got anything on.”

Why did it take an innocent child who “didn’t know better” to state this truth?

(1) Because he (the emperor, that is; not the child) was the emperor. (2) Because everyone had been assembled to admire his magnificent new costume; and they were compelled to buy into this.

 

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The defenders of censorship, in this case (they vehemently maintain that it is not censorship), have similarly put on blindfolds. They have decided overnight that censorship in some instances (a “lesser” or minor author; some but not all of that author’s works) is copacetic. Why? Because the people with “correct” views and lifestyles have ordained it.

But here’s the key thing: Fox News commentators and the extreme right have raised a hullabaloo about this very case. Well, if it offended them, it can’t, a priori, be offensive. It’s “a tempest in a teapot.” What’s all the fuss about? (They say, pompously).

Censorship used to matter (until it seems like just the other day) to so called liberals. But their opinions are subject to modification when they see who is lined up on which side; and then scurry to the other one while suddenly deciding it’s not so important if a few beloved children’s books are banned after all. (Oops, I misspoke. They are not being banned! They are … what is the euphemism?)

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021

post updated – The Pocasset murder

 

 

See

 

the Pocasset murder (1879)

 

— Roger W. Smith

Charles Pierre, “Urban Nomad “

 

 

Charles Pierre, ‘Urban Nomad’

 

I walk a random path through this desert
of concrete and asphalt, an urban nomad,
a caravan of one, with thick-soled shoes
and shoulder bag, who treks arid miles
where myriad people and vehicles
swirl around me like sand, in all seasons,
by day or night, while I pass unnoticed,
listening to jazz from clubs and hymns
from churches, the chatter in schoolyards
and parks, the haggle of markets
and gossip on corners, the stadium cheers
and barroom talk: each oasis of sound
refreshing my spirit as I walk by
on a lone route through trackless terrain.

 

— Charles Pierre, “Urban Nomad”

from Circle of Time: Poems (New York, Halyard Press, 2020)

posted with permission of Charles Pierre

 

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Yes, refreshes the spirit. I can relate from my own experience to what this poem describes and says so well.

Charles Pierre’s Circle of Time is “filled with poems of quiet lyricism and great economy” [back cover copy, Circle of Time].

Pierre is the author of five poetry collections. He lives in Manhattan.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

an exchange about (Russian, American literature) – UPDATED

 

 

 

Between me and my Russian collaborator Nataliya this morning. We are working together on translations of Pitirim Sorokin’s early works from Russian into English.

 

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NATALIYA

 

I don’t see a problem with the translation of the poem.* I know that there are many good translations of nineteenth-century Russian poetry into English. I myself saw such publications in the Library of Valdosta State University.

Lermontov is a great Russian poet of the nineteenth century, the second after Alexander Pushkin. Unfortunately, he did not live long. He was killed in a duel when he was only twenty-seven years old. Of course, his poems were translated into English.

We just need to find these translations. If I could go to Moscow or St. Petersburg, I would find them in the library, but this is not possible yet. Let’s not rush it. This is not the only poetic quote in Sorokin’s book. While we can find translations on the internet, then we will check and search in high-quality and reliable publications. We don’t need professors for that.

 

*Дума (Mediation), a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, from which Sorokin quotes several lines

 

 

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ROGER

 

Thanks for the message and wishes, Natalia.

An internet friend of mine, Elisabeth van der Meer, has a site in English devoted to Russian literature. I like her site. She always reads my stuff. She had a recent post about Lermontov:

 

https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/2020/10/15/the-most-scottish-of-the-russian-writers-mikhail-lermontov/

 

Of course, I had heard of Lermontov but knew very little about him, and still do (know little).

I will get back to Sorokin soon.

You might like this post of mine:

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/04/01/spring/

 

I became engrossed in Tolstoy in my mid-twenties. I read his major novels pretty much in a row. When I read the passage about spring at the opening of Воскресение [Resurrection], it made a powerful impression on me. Around that time, I also got into Chekhov, briefly — but, again, I found his works unforgettable.**

All of this was in English translation.

The thing about the passage about spring (Tolstoy’s) that impresses me greatly is how Tolstoy is the great realist, descriptive novelist — nothing is fanciful — “All is true,” as Balzac said at the beginning of one of his most famous novels novels, Père Goriot — yet there is always a weighty level of deep philosophical meaning.

Herman Melville comes closest to achieving this among the great American writers.

 

** Especially, in my case, a lesser known Chekhov work:  Остров Сахалин (translated as The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin); not the most artistic of Chekhov’s works, but I found it very powerful.

 

 

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NATALIYA

 

Dear Roger,

 

Elisabeth has a wonderful website. Her post about Lermontov is great. I knew about Lermontov’s Scottish roots, but she told about it so interestingly and beautifully. I’m going to the North Caucasus in the summer, just in those places that are associated with the biography of Lermontov and his death. There are very beautiful museums and monuments there. I’ll send you photos.

I also love Leo Tolstoy and believe that at every age, at different stages of life, people discover new content in his works. He is a child of his own time and at the same time timeless. That makes him great.

 

 

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ROGER

 

Tolstoy is the best novelist ever! Competitors? I would say Herman Melville (one great book), Victor Hugo (same), Charles Dickens. And, yes, Tolstoy is timeless.

P.S. The House by the Dvina by Eugenie Fraser is an interesting book. I bought it in London during a trip overseas.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 7, 2021; updated March 10

 

Robert G. Ingersoll, “Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman”

 

 

Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman’

 

Posted here (downloadable PDF document above) is Robert G. Ingersoll’s eulogy for Walt Whitman, which was delivered on March 30, 1892 at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey.

 

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Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was an American lawyer, writer, and orator. Known as “The Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll was a staunch advocate of free thought.

Ingersoll was a close friend of Walt Whitman. They had profound admiration for one another, as can be seen by anyone who reads Horace Traubel’s multivolume work With Walt Whitman in Camden. “It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is ‘Leaves of Grass’ … He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen–American-flavored–pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light,” Whitman told Traubel.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021

lunacy triumphant (or, who’s in charge?)

My wife, a consultant to mathematics teachers in training (and a former mathematics teacher herself), told me about something that one of her mentees told her today.

As my wife explained it to me, there is a core problem for high school mathematics students involving probability which is used as a teaching tool and will often be on standard exams. The problem is as follows: What are the probabilities of parents who have three children having 1 boy and 2 girls? 1 girl and 2 boys? 2 boys and 1 girl? 2 girls and 1 boy? 3 boys? 3 girls?

Or, as follows:

What is the probability that all three children in a family will be the same gender?
P(all female)= 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8
P(all male ) = 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8
P(all one gender) = P(all female) + P(all male) = 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4

What is the probability that a three-child family is two girls and one boy?
Each possible birth order has P=1/8. That is, P(G,G,B)=P(G,B,G)=P(B,G,G)=1/8.
So, P(2G,1B)= 3/8 and P(1G,2B)= 3/8.

This allows us to write the overall gender probability distribution for families of three children as follows:
1/8 will be three girls
3/8 will be two girls and one boy
3/8 will be one girl and two boys
1/8 will be three boys
Adding it all up, we have 1/8 + 3/8 + 3/8 + 1/8 = 1 (100%)

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I vaguely remember doing such problems in high school math class. Didn’t Mendel do this with peas?

Well, guess what? My wife’s mentee informed her that this problem can NOT be taught any longer. A problem which refers to gender might be offensive to some students.

What’s next? How will biology be taught?

As a footnote of sorts, my wife told me that her mentee also told her that in a Spanish class in the school she is at — according to a student teacher the mentee knows — querulous students are voicing objections when nouns are assigned a gender: e.g., el mano. la mesa.

Who, I ask you, is in charge? Whom can we entrust with the wisdom and sense to instruct students?

Who is listening? Not to the students, but to the few people, educators in this case — it sometimes seems that they have all taken to the hills — who still have what used to be called common sense.

— Roger W. Smith

    March 2021