In Translation, Fidelity is Infidelity

Oct. 1, 2019, 10:55 p.m.

Around a year ago, I suddenly became interested in a field called “Literary Translation.” It was around the time I was applying to the Columbia School of the Arts. I had noticed their fiction MFA had an optional literary translation concentration, and though I never took up the offer to attend the SoA, my interest in Literary Translation lingered.

Now, I am enrolled in the Journalism program, but find myself stealing over to the SoA building like a fugitive.

Recently I visited award-winning Danish translator Katrine Jensen in her office to ask her how one might get started. Luckily, we are both into journalism, translation, and fiction, and got on like fast friends.

I learned from Katrine that Literary Translation is an unbelievably complex process where you get started publishing short translated works in literary magazines. You then scout authors whose work you are interested in, figure out who has the rights to the piece and ask whoever that is if you have permission to translate. You approach a publisher with a translated sample et voilà: book deal.

We discussed the art of translation, and how a translated work is really the combined from two authors. It ends up being two distinct pieces, she said.

One mistake her students make is sticking too closely to the text. “Here, fidelity is infidelity.” She suggested that I translate short works at first, short stories or flash fiction, and bring them to her for assessment. I couldn’t believe that she had offered to mentor me, because I am not technically enrolled in the SoA.

“I don’t think of it as an obligation, I think of it as paying it forward,” she said. “When I was new to the industry, that’s what so many people did for me.”

We talk salaries, solicitation, getting out from under the dreaded ‘slush’ pile. The importance of having an “in,” an editor on the inside. She said, “Translation is a good way to gain a foothold in the literary world.

“You can highlight works from the African diaspora… highlight promising new literary voices. You make sure diverse voices are heard.”

This caught my interest. “When I was in Europe I always felt that English carried with it a sort of privilege. I would walk into a room of international students, and all of a sudden, we were speaking in English, just because I was there. Translation would be a good way to use this privilege for good, I guess.”

“I think of translation as activism,” she affirmed.

I left her office feeling light. I felt as though a door somewhere had been flung wide open.

MC

 

 

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thingsconsidered

I believe that: (1) language is the most powerful tool we have (2) that bravery is the most admirable quality in a person and (3) that the best is yet to come.

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