Tag Archives: Yasunari Kawabata. Snow Country

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!

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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