Tento blog je preventivním opatřením proti 1) smazání pevného disku, 2) spláchnutí flashky do záchodu, 3) krádeži, ztrátě nebo požáru, při němž by došlo ke zničení jedinečného šanonu s poznámkami a texty, 4) kombinaci všech předchozích katastrof. Vychází bez jakéhokoli žánrového omezení, a to zcela nevypočitatelně buď v češtině nebo v angličtině.

úterý 1. dubna 2014

The art of fidelity: Why is Kundera wrong

Et voilà: it is Milan Kundera's birthday today. I thought I'd email him a card, but in the morning, I heard on the radio, that Kundera actually dislikes birthday wishes (so if you run into him on Boulevard de Montparnasse later tonight, don't leap to him with a bouquet and a handshake, as his attitude to birthdays compares to the one of Frenk Underwood). Kundera, in any case, is the only Czech author whose work proves a point I have tried to advocate since ten years: a non-native writer can make it. Apart from remarkable storytelling and clarity of thought, the linguistic perfection Kundera demonstrates in his French texts tops most of contemporary native French writers. It is the absolute mastery of foreign language he achieved that, in my eyes, authorizes any scepticism he might have with regard to literary translation. Still, instead of congratulations, let’s challenge some of his scepticism and explain why he is wrong.  
Years ago an article appeared in Lingua Franca magazine, analysing Milan Kundera's attitude to the translators of his work. (The article is not available online, anybody interested in looking it up - the title is Infidelity, the author Caleb Crain). It is true that in many cases, Kundera had more than a good reason for fury: "Where Kundera had written "The sky was blue", Aymonin had translated "Under the sky of periwinkle, October hoisted its showy shield." Kundera was furious. "Rage seized me," he later recalled." As an author currently dealing with several translators of my own work, I can understand that after several such mishaps, Kundera lost trust and demanded to keep control over the translations (which, inevitably, most translators must have perceived as an obsession and micro-management). He insisted the translators to stick as close as possible to the original. Most phrases in a novel, however, are not as simple as "The sky was blue", so the question is, how far can one go for the sake of fidelity. As Kundera's fellow writer (and a musicologist) Peter Petro puts it - "To be too close to the original as Kundera wants his translators to be, undermines the English poetics of the text, and works against rather than in favour of, the translation." 
Right there, Kundera countered with the following simile: "A translator is comparable to a performer, a pianist, not the composer. If the translator thinks he is a composer, he should get out of the concert hall."
The idea seems to carry inner logic, nevertheless, the core of the parable couldn't be more wrong.
The limitations of interpretation are incomparably more narrow in case of a musical performer than in the case of a literary translator. Talking about music, this is rather an advantage: in the score, the pianist gets served the key, the rhythm, the melody, and a sophisticated system of comments (think all the pianos, fortes, crescendos and ad libitums in any musical score). The pianist has no choice, but to obey. Whereas the translator only gets the original. No footnotes, no stage notes, no instructions of any kind. He must decode all of the above himself, which, inevitably, gives him a way larger authority than the pianist gets from the composer. Moreover, the pianist is very unlikely to change his interpretation of the piece according to the actual audience. It makes no difference to him whether he performs in front of respected musicologists, hip-hop teenagers, or, people who have never heard the sound of a piano before. In any case, he delivers his best - his very same best, regardless of the occasion. The translator, on the other hand, must think of his readers with every hit into the keyboard: he must respect their cultural experience, their language history, their perception of humour, their understanding of metaphors and slang, and about a thousand of other elements of language. Using the performer's terminology, this means that in the interest of fidelity and with all due love and respect to the original, the translator must sometimes change the key, prolong the pauses, and, if necessary, he might even choose to present the piano suite on a harpsichord, because as such, it will better maintain the original quality and meaning.

By the way, if you googletranslate “Happy Birthday” into fifteen random languages, you will get a remarkable mix of expressions bearing a range of cultural and language identity. They will all mean the same, however, only a few of them will translate happy as “happy”. 

3 komentáře:

  1. Odpovědi
    1. Thanks for sharing the link; I skimmed through it and found it interesting (although could not find the said link to Infidelity, but I might have overlooked it).

    2. If you search for "Kundera", it's the first (and only) link in that paragraph: "Within the small world of literary translation, the story was fiercely controversial." https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/94518480/Infidelity.pdf