Saturday, 7 April 2012

Translation, Unrequited

Loving books is very much a one-way street. They may give us comfort and succour and inspiration, they may make us laugh or cry or reassess our lives. They tell us stories - but isn't the way we feel about those stories often projection, to a great extent? When I partly define myself as loving German books it feels very accurate - and I do find myself using the word love to describe the way I feel about certain books with a rather lazy frequency.

I suppose my bookish equivalence of limerence - near-obsessive attraction and desire for reciprocation - is translation. When I get a crush on a book, I want to translate it. I experience translation as a very intimate act. It's a truism that translators are the closest readers a book will ever have. We spot the inconsistencies that passed by the editor, we ask the niggly questions that some books struggle to answer, we get to know every last inch. And it's this closeness that I cherish, perhaps. The act of making a book mine, appropriating it for myself more than for other readers, at least in the moment of translation.

I get hugely possessive. If another translator expresses an innocent interest in my book I can fly into fits of private rage. On the other hand, if a writer already has a translator their books will be less interesting for me, as I assume the translator feels the same way and I wouldn't want to come between them. And I've fallen out of love with a book during the translation process, which was rather painful and guilt-inducing. The dragging end was like a dying relationship - things had to be got over and done with out of a sense of duty rather than the passion I'd once felt, which made them twice as hard.

But the appalling thing is that the translator's love is so far removed from an emancipated relationship. We ministrate to the book, we give it all we have and we carry it into our own languages on our own two hands. And what does it give us back? It just about keeps us in pin money, that's what, while we adore it and pander to its every whim - not changing a thing, accepting it as it is no matter how much it changes us.

At least I'm not the only one. What I'm seeing a lot of at the moment, beyond my own private bubble, is book fetishism. Those photos and so on that publishers and book people put on their blogs and their Facebook pages, where the generic book is the object of desire rather than a specific title - attractive individuals reading, chairs made of books, beautiful bookshelves, songs about reading. Book porn all about the physical form and not about what's inside. It was fun for a while but now I'm getting tired of it. I wonder if it's a backlash against the less tactile and perhaps therefore less fetishised act of reading electronically, or just harmless fun to fill virtual column inches.

How silly of us though to fall so hard for inanimate objects. They can't love us back.

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