“An artist in her own right”

“I first read Chekhov in Russian, as a student, both short stories and the plays, but the effort to focus so hard on the original Russian, and my lack of experience in life, had left me, as a student, with a somewhat blurred vision of Chekhov himself. I rediscovered him much later, with the ease (and laziness) of reading in my own language, this time through translation. And it was a great gift: at last, through her work*, I could see clearly who Chekhov is as a writer, and why he is incomparable. It’s not really something you can explain; you read the translation, and you know.”

–Alison Anderson

*The speaker refers to translations created by Constance Garnett.

The role of the literary translator in the age of “Ferrante Fever.”


“Stop!” vs. “Desire of Liberation”

“…an aspect of the ‘Kamasutra’ that has been lamentably overlooked is its strikingly modern attitude toward the role of women in sexual relations. One reason for this ignorance is that the text is known almost entirely through the flawed 19th-century English translation of Sir Richard Francis Burton.

Burton can be admired for the courage and determination it took to publish the work at all (it was banned in England and the U.S. until 1962), but he robs women of their voices, replacing direct quotes with reported speech rephrased by a man, thus erasing their vivid presence. For instance, the text says that, when a man strikes a woman, ‘She uses words like ‘Stop!’ or ‘Let me go!’ or ‘Enough!’ or ‘Mother!’ Burton translates it like this: ‘She continually utters words expressive of prohibition, sufficiency or desire of liberation.’

— Prof. Wendy Doniger, author of “Redeeming the Kamasutra” and a translation of the “Kamasutra” (with Sudhir Kakar); The Wall Street Journal, Sat/Sun, March 19-20, 2016

Lines Lost, and Found

Fragment 31
       translated by Josephine Balmer

It seems to me that man is equal to
  the gods,
that is, whoever sits opposite you
and, drawing nearer, savors, as 
  you speak,
the sweetness of your voice

and the thrill of your laugh, which
  have so stirred the heart
in my own breast, that whenever
  I catch
sight of you, even if for a moment,
then my voice deserts me

and my tongue is struck silent, a del-
  icate fire
suddenly races underneath my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears
  whistle like 
the whirling of a top

and sweat pours down me and a
  trembling creeps over
my whole body, I am greener than
at such times I seem to be no more
a step away from death;

but all can be endured, since even a 

[The last three lines are lost.]

“Sometimes, I think, it’s puzzle-solving…”

“…I want to make good English sentences but without losing the particular voice of the Italian writer. I can’t explain how it happens. I think it has to do with staying pretty close to the original.”

— Ann Goldstein, head of the copy department at the New Yorker magazine, “accidental” book translator

“Her name on a book now is gold.”

— Robert Weil, editor-in-chief of Liveright

“A Book Translator Becomes A Star” by Jennifer Maloney, The Wall Street Journal, Arena, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016

Where Will You Travel Next?

“Keats never really ‘heard’ Chapman speak. He and Clarke are reading Chapman’s words from a book two centuries old. Through a translation, which they see with their eyes, speak with their voices, and hear with their ears, they come upon Homer-land in its physical authenticity. They ‘breathe’ its pure air as if they were actually there. All translation–a Latin word whose Greek version is, in fact, ‘metaphor’–is a carrying across.”

–Willard Spiegelman explores ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ (1816) by John Keats

The Wall Street Journal, Review, Saturday/Sunday, Dec. 12-Dec.13, 2015

I worked hard for restraint…

”I worked hard for restraint, and my mantra was ‘trust Homer, trust Homer.’ I knew that if I could find the simple English word for his simple Greek, work for cadence–spoken cadence, not the cadence of ‘high poetry’–it would work.”

–Caroline Alexander

Read about Ms. Alexander and her translation of “The Iliad” in The Wall Street Journal’s Arts & Entertainment (D6 Friday, November 27, 2015).

Andrés Barba tells the truth


“Every time I’ve experienced an intense feeling of pleasure when reading a book, it was somehow related to the idea that what I was reading there was profoundly truthful.”


“…I try to create characters that come across as much as possible like real people. And if our feelings about real people are always complex and ambiguous, why shouldn’t the same be true in a novel?”


“Translating is a very beneficial process for a writer, but it’s also very difficult—and, in Spain, particularly badly paid. Often you don’t even realize you’re learning anything until you sit down to write something of your own.”

Read the full interview here.

The most salutary thing about the school system

“The most salutary thing about the school system as we know it today is that it takes the Greek and Latin languages seriously for years on end. Students learn respect for grammar and the dictionary, for a language fixed by rules; a mistake is a mistake, and one need not be put out at every moment by the claim that caprices and misdemeanors of grammar and spelling, like the ones we find today, can be justified.

If only this respect for language were not floating in limbo—a purely theoretical burden, as it were, from which one is immediately released on returning to the mother tongue! But the teacher of Latin or Greek typically doesn’t bother with his native language; from the start, he treats it as a place to relax after the rigorous discipline of Latin and Greek.

The splendid practice of translating from one language into another, so beneficial in stimulating an artistic sense for one’s own language, is never applied with appropriate rigor and dignity to the undisciplined contemporary language where these qualities are needed most. And even these translation exercises are becoming less and less common: It is enough to understand the classical languages, one needn’t bother to speak them.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche