Tuesday, March 10, 2009

flying, translation, crocuses

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Two pigeons.















I am returning to Proust, whom I left one third of the way through A la Recherche du Temps Perdu , a few months ago. The prospect of continuing to read it in French is none the less daunting. I wish to lose no nuance in a work overflowing with nuances, and my French is not nearly good enough to grasp the finer points of those elongated sentences from which exploring tendrils reach into the most obscure corners of the mind.
So there is no alternative but to read the original alongside the Kilmartin translation, as well as a dictionary. To my surprise, I find that I am enjoying myself. The complex thoughts and descriptions unravel in two languages. I am a slow learner, who is forced to learn more slowly than usual. The odd thing is that if I were studying for an exam, I could not be reading the book more carefully, and yet I am doing it only for pleasure. I hope that in time the need for the crib may fall off, but I want to miss as little as possible.
The whole exercise makes me ponder the problems of translation. Does it ever approach perfection? It seems to me that the chief difficulty is to capture the essence of the original, which inevitably is founded in language. When the language changes, however satisfactory equivalent words may be, something important is lost. One example which comes to mind is the use of regional accents in the performance of translated radio plays. A production of the Don Camillo stories on Radio 4 a few years ago has Don Camillo speaking English with a north country accent. OK, he has to speak English, but the regional accent localises it in a way which makes suspension of disbelief more difficult.
In Proust, the use of idiomatic expressions in dialogue in particular, when translated localise the usage, not necessarily in respect of region, but in respect of time and class. The translator, hoever good he is, can't help creating something separate from the original, but it is separate and different as well in a way that cannot happily be bridged. Does it matter? We shall see.

After the rain, the crocuses in the Grove, which, with their long pointed petals, have done well this year, have tumbled over, and look, from a distance, like litter.

5 comments:

Barrett Bonden said...

One of the crucial aspects of translating Proust is to capture the tone of voice of whoever is speaking. Think of the sneery tone of the Verdurins, the abrupt utterances of Bloch, the smarminess of the pianist (can't call his name to mind for the moment) which becomes autocratic when he captures de Charlus. The consistency of these voices may be a significant factor in judging the translator's skill. And on that score Kilmartin must get at least 7 out of 10.

Now here's a point I hesitate to raise since you may well have adopted different aesthetic criteria from me. You will notice that the text width of the first para above has been shrunk to a mere three or four characters. The effect is artistic but difficult to read. However if you were to click "Centre" before you upload the picture this effect would disappear. It appears you are permanently defaulting to indent left. But, as I say, I may be interfering.

Plutarch said...

I was just about to sort out the layout problem when I saw that you had got there first. I didn't want that to happen and find it as unsatisfactory as you do. The two pigeons, on the other hand, don't worry me. So I have left the text as it was.
I find that if I centre the text, it comes out unjustified left and right, which I do not like at all. I'm going to have a another go at that next time. Thank you.

I think I give Kilmartin at least 7 probably 8 out of 10. It is a fascinating problem to observe closely. I think Kilmartin helped by Scott Moncrieff does very well. How well Proust does in this respect is another matter. I hope that in time my labours will allow me to form a judgement on that.

Barrett Bonden said...

I quite agree about centred text; in fact it hinders comprehension. However, on my blog at least, pic and text centering are separate. The four options to position the pic (They include "None" which I've never tried) are offered during the image upload procedure. The text options are controlled by the familiar icons (Ragged right, centred, ragged left, justified) on the mini-toolbar above the area where the post is composed. Although cumbersome, this means you could highlight text that is undesirably centred and then select the format you wanted.

Should you wish, the line "Two pigeons" could possibly be pushed down into the text below by inserting the cursor ahead of the line and then hitting the Enter key.

None of this is very Proustian, I'm afraid.

Plutarch said...

Thanks. I'll try to separate text and picture separation in future.

Lucas said...

A great pigeon photo. Movement is paramount and how do they find their way?