Translators Conference, Jerusalem Feb 2016 Day Three

The third day of the conference started bright and early -- far too early for me. The early-birds went on a tour of Machne Yehuda Market with a fascinating young man named Guy Sharett who is a linguist, Hebrew teacher, entertainer, and sharp-eyed collector of linguistic graffiti. The rest of us lazybones had to make do with his talk at the post-breakfast plenary: The Israeli Linguistic Landscape: Stuff I Found in the Street. Luckily for all of us, Guy's website is delightfully colorful, insightful, and educational in a lighthearted way. "Everything that happens in the streets can be used to teach Hebrew", says Guy. Go see for yourself. I'll just post a slide of one item that particularly appeals to me; plus one that I saw and liked in Rome:

You got up this morning? Thank the Lord. All else is a bonus.

Treat your life as you would a work of art
The next plenary talk, Translating Hannah, has a subtitle nearly as long as the session itself, so I'll shorten it: Brazilian Author Ronaldo Wrobel discussed the demanding task of translating his work into Hebrew (by Dalit Lahav-Durst) and into German (by Nicolai von Scweder-Schreiner.) Apparently, he wrote his book in Portuguese, so first and foremost it had to be translated into Spanish. I didn't succeed in following everything that was said, but one important point that came up was, that when the author doesn't speak the target language at all, it's difficult for him to extend any help to the translator. Yes, he can explain something which the translator finds perplexing, say. But he cannot help the translator make any informed choices in the target language.

On this day, I chose the Literary Track. The first session was a panel dedicated to translating Jane Austen's work into Hebrew. Panel participants were: Shai SendikLee Evron VakninInga MichaeliInbal Sagiv NakdimonMichal LadanRacheli Lavi. Now, this panel was sure to be an eye-opener, because I'd only ever read Jane Austen in English. And whereas, when reading a current-day English novel, I might find myself wondering, "Gosh, how would this sound in Hebrew?", with Jane Austen the thought had never even crossed my mind. I had a vague feeling that someone, at some point, would probably wrestle with this, and was sort of relieved it wouldn't be me.
Not only did I get a chance to hear several talented translators/editors discuss their choices, read out select passages and compare notes; but I also learnt about Jane Austen's early writing, which I  hadn't heard of before. So I have something new (that is, old, actually) to look forward to! In case you're interested, the Jane Austen Information Page is probably the treasure trove you're looking for. The translators on this panel said that the annotated versions were a great help.
Update: Was delighted to learn that Inbal uploaded to YouTube a video of this panel. Thanks to Inbal, for uploading, and to Victor Flickstein, for calling my attention to it.

I skipped the next slot -- there was nothing of interest to me. I'd planned to listen to Yael Sela Shapiro's talk, even though I'm fairly adept at Googling; but it'd been cancelled.

Last session before the coffee break: The wonderful Roni Gelbish on a Very Touchy subject: Translators as Enemies and How to Protect Your Book from Them. Any writer feels protective of his "baby", his creation; and I'm sure most have misgivings about placing their precious "baby" in the hands of someone else, who's going to "do things" to it. If you're Amos Oz and your novel is translated into English and your own English is not half bad, you can probably afford to have your say, to work hand in hand with the translator, and the two of you can drive each other crazy. But books are also translated into languages the author doesn't know at all. Which is when he/she feels they have no control over the process.
Roni gave an amusing example: Apparently, Constance Garnett (1861-1946), translated about as fast as she typed. From Russian to English! Some 73 volumes! It's easy to poke fun at her translations, which understandably suffer from some shortcomings. But nonetheless, her translations made dozens of good books accessible to readers who wouldn't otherwise have been able to read them. And I assume that later translators must have availed themselves of her work, even if just by "peeking" to see how Garnett had dealt with certain expressions or words. (Er, sometimes she didn't. She just ignored them.)
Roni's talk was followed by Open Mike, where we all had our say on this thorny matter. A translator should find something to love in the book, then give it his all. The writer, according to Margaret Atwood, has got to let go. Let go, trust your translator, and let your work reincarnate in a different language. Yes, it may come out "different", but that doesn't mean it won't be good and won't be loved by your readers in other parts of the world. A case in point is Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is popular in China, despite entire chapters that were left out. Other cases we're familiar with from childhood are Erich Kastner's Das doppelte Lottchen, aka Lottie and Lisa, aka Ora Hakfula, which was quite thoroughly "localized" both in the Israeli-Hebrew book version and in the American movie The Parents' Trap; and Little Women, which, in its Israeli-Hebrew version, was "cleansed" of obvious Christian themes and passages. All of which did not make us love those books any less than they were loved in their original language, by their original audience.

Over to the last plenary on the last day of the conference:
Writer Dror Mishani spoke on The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective: Thoughts about Detectives and Translation. I'm quite sure the first [literary] detective I ever met was Sherlock Holmes, in Hebrew, when I was still in grade school. Because, as Mishani pointed out, for years detective novels were considered "not real literature", and thus relegated to the kids' section in libraries. I remember only too well being home alone on a stormy winter night, reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, and being too scared to go to bed before my parents returned. The first detective I met in English was Nancy Drew; I'll never forget The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion!
I think that next time I'm at my grandkids', I'll finally pick up one of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels that have been beckoning to me for years now. (In Hebrew; my French isn't good enough.)

Despite being in overload, I managed to take notes during Jost Zetzsche's talk, Getting Back into the Driver Seat: What We Can Do to Determine the Future of the Translation Profession. True -- says Zetzsche -- technology can collect tons of data from lots of journals the world over and machine-translate it within seconds. But only human intelligence can prevent hysterically funny (and potentially dangerous) misunderstandings. We professional translators are passionate about our work; we love what we do, and love to complain about it ;)  But are we an industry?
"Everyone" thinks that pretty soon the world will no longer need real, live translators, and our offspring won't need to bother learning a foreign language. Of course, we translators know this is drivel. But it's up to us to affect the discourse and effect a change. We have to "engage", be pro-active, be part of the process. We have the power to influence the way linguistic products are developed, and we should make sure they are developed in a way that will help us do our job better.

C'est tout.
See you next year!


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