Thursday, 28 May 2009

Dancing with Myself

This week held a whole new experience in store for me - I got to translate myself. I'll have to go back a few months to explain how this came about.

Back in February, I was absolutely fascinated by the event "Das Fremde und das Eigene", which I wrote about here. It was about migrants in German literature - how they are accepted and reflected. I started reading around the subject, including Tom Cheesman's Novels of Turkish German Settlement (which I found fascinating but ultimately too wedded to its own normative ideas) and the very good TEXT + KRITIK special edition on Literatur und Migration. All three of these sources brushed on the subject of how ethnic minorities are actually presented by non-minority writers, but it was always a bit of a tangent.

So I decided to write about the subject myself. The ideas were circling in my head and it seemed too much for this blog. I had to write it in German, I realised, as - frankly - the subject is more than a little marginal for English speakers. And that's what I did.

Let me tell you, writing in German is hard. Now I understand all that soul-searching and lamenting that authors do. It's not just a question of finding the right words, you have to give them the right endings. And then you have to go through it and make sure it's not full of unintentional anglicisms - at least you do if you're me. Thankfully, a very valued colleague helped me by correcting the text very thoroughly (some of which I changed back again).

The editor man said "yes" and I was over the moon - and then came the waiting. I'm told this is normal; it's not as if the topic were particularly urgent. After a number of nudges and only one very minor tantrum, they finally sent me an edited version. I'd expected this to be painful, but in fact I wasn't upset by the fine cuts made to my text; it was as if a skilled butcher had trimmed it of excess fat.

So far, so exciting. Now came the moment when I had to translate my own writing, as the text is published on a bilingual website. I'd thought it would be really difficult - but it was easy! Almost too easy, in fact, and I found myself making many more compromises than I would with anyone else's text. I flattened out my carefully chosen verbs to "do" and "put" and "have". I went for much too conventional collocations that I'd deliberately avoided in the German. And I skipped out on a couple of things entirely, thinking they'd be impossible to render in English.

In short, my draft translation was a complete wet blanket. I sincerely hope I managed to polish it up to standard again the next day. If you want to judge for yourselves or you're genuinely interested in the subject matter, you can read the German here and the English here. I don't think I'm ready for hard-hitting feedback though.

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