Imagine If You Lived in Denmark
My wife asked what I was listening to on my iPod recently. I answered: “It’s a
Paul Auster downcast”. The New York Trilogy author isn’t renowned for light-hearted fiction, so my verbal slip turned out to be inspired.
As it happens, it was a live recording from the New York Public Library, featuring Paul Auster in conversation with the French novelist Celine Curiol. As a young man Auster lived and worked as a translator in France. Celine Curiol asked Auster why he did not write in French, to which he answered:
“I can appreciate it passively. I can read a French book in French and know that it’s well written or not well written. I can know that. But it’s a passive response. I can’t actively produce it.”
Curiol: It's impossible to translate a book. And yet translations happen.
You've done translations –
Auster: Yes –
Curiol: Well. So. What is it?
Auster: I think we live off of translation. We have to have translation.
Otherwise we’d be confined to our own language and imagine if you
lived in, ah, I don’t know, ah, Denmark and there are 5 million
people there and you couldn’t read anything else.
Curiol went on to ask Auster what was important to him, what he looked for, when he translated and he answered:
“I did two kinds of translation. This is all when I was quite young. Translation for love. Which was mostly poetry. And then translation to make money. Which was all prose. Mostly non-fiction prose. Some very bad books. And I would just try to make the best sentences I could. With the poetry I worked very, very hard. And I think I, tried to create, English poems out of the French poems. And I think this kind of exercise, for a young writer is very valuable, because it teaches you how to manipulate your own language but all the pressure is off, you don't have to create something, just have to re-invent something and it's a very big difference. And I think it's something every young writer should do.”
While it’s safe to say that we at EICOM don’t get much in the way of poetry, we do get a lot of prose, some better than others, and like Auster, we try to make the best sentences we can.
Category: ON TRANSLATION