Friday, 22 June 2012

On Loving

Last weekend saw the annual German literary translators' get-together, as I mentioned previously. And one of the features is an evening event at which translators read from their work on a selection of themes. I unleashed my inner diva and read a short story by Clemens Meyer, "A Ship Will Come", from my translation of his collection All the Lights.

Partly, it was a fantastic ego-massage exercise. Some Germans have a tendency to read in a slightly monotonous manner, so if you raise and lower your voice and speed up and slow down and do the kind of thing you'd generally do when reading a bedtime story, German audiences can be very impressed. And the atmosphere among literary translators, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, is terribly supportive and appreciative - possibly because we don't see each other very often - so people did actually come up to me over the weekend and tell me how much they enjoyed it. Which was wonderful. Thanks everyone!

But one major reason why I enjoyed it and the audience did too is that the story's just so damn good. I really, really love that story. I won't tell you much about it because obviously I want you to buy the book and enjoy it for yourself, but it leaves a lot open to interpretation and it gets you almost as confused as its protagonist. I love the way Clemens Meyer does that to his readers, it's a real art.

Later in the weekend there was a panel discussion between the writer Katharina Hagena and her English and Norwegian translators, Jamie Bulloch and Elisabeth Hallvorsen. The chair Gregor Dotzauer asked about the differences between writing and translating, suggesting that writers put more of themselves into the process. Now that may or may not be the case, but it made me think of something else.

One huge benefit we translators have - if we're lucky - is that we're free to adore the writing we work on. I imagine that most writers are never fully satisfied with their writing, similarly to the way most translators are never fully satisfied with our translations. But while I do feel that frustration, at the same time I can marvel at what someone else has put into words. And I can say, "Yes, I genuinely love this story!" I don't know, maybe I'm the only person who feels that way, but it gives me the conviction to present the writing I've translated with enthusiasm and - yes, absolutely - with love. I hope that comes across.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your love certainly did come across :-)

leifhendrik said...

You make such an excellent point in your final paragraph. I've so often heard writers describe how agonized they are to sit in front of a blank page each morning. But I've never heard a translator say that! I suspect that, for most of us, sitting before the text to be translated is most often extremely exhilarating. I feel that way. I can hardly wait to get to it each day, to admire what the author wrote and to begin the exciting process of translating it.

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