Today I am pleased to introduce guest blogger Aleksandra Milcic Radovanovic. I met Aleksandra on Twitter this past spring and was immediately intrigued by her work in comparative stylistics regarding the translations of Ivo Andric‘s novels. She has graciously written not one, but several posts that I will be publishing here over the next few months.
My Translation Philosophy
When we speak about translation, we can consider theoretical and practical aspects of its important issues. In essence, the theory of translation isn’t very useful for interpreters and translators. Translation theory can have aesthetic, literary, linguistic and theoretical significance. Theorists are interested in questions such as: what is literature, what are special characteristics of language in novels and poems, what exactly it means “to understand the text” and so on.
The answers to these questions can be various and can indirectly affect the work of translators. But these answers usually don’t have any practical use. Interpreters often say that the most important impulse when they have actual text in front of them is the one when the brain enters the so-called “translation phase”. At that point they no longer look around, they do not explore, and they stop asking questions. They quickly, sometimes rapidly, respond to the text as vivid, sensuous language matter.
In my opinion, translation is a craft that cannot be learned only from books, but also from experience that comes with years of apprenticeship and practice. I must say I have a little philosophy which appeals to old-fashioned intuition. According to it, there are few things which are essential in the literary translation process: understanding the author’s ideas and feelings, sensitive response and complex language receptivity. I admit that this sounds mystical, but during translation mystique is transformed into real, empirical fact. Knowledge as a craft can sound mysterious, but literary translation is more than an ability to understand text, much more than having a basic knowledge of language and a willingness to use it.
Literary translation provides a good opportunity for a translator to reveal something new, simply by following the author’s thoughts. Working like that can be a great relief because of the release of a creative spasm. The translator should not criticize the writer, should not perform any selection, because every thought must be translated, even if it is nonsense. He need not worry about the stupidity of that thought, even at that point any strange word construction should be taken as seriously as the author himself. During translation, the translator does not judge, he is open to every idea that can cross the author’s mind.
It can be said that a literary translator is in fact an actor. He understands the character, but he has to put aside his private prejudice and attitudes. A good actor must know how to act everything and to make sure that his performance in a poor play looks good. And a good literary translator should be able to improve the weakness of the text, but that’s not his obligation. His goal is to translate the full text, not just what he thinks is enough to translate, neglecting what he may consider as irrelevant. It is not always possible to discover what the author’s intention was: to provide information or to provoke an aesthetic experience. Therefore, the translator must serve the author, stand behind him trying not to miss any of his ideas.
From all this we can conclude that there is no speculation in literary translation. In addition to the language that a translator understands, he must feel the spirit of language. How? For me, simple knowledge of Serbian or any other foreign language is only the beginning. The next thing is capturing the tone of the sentences in the target language. Of course, this requires knowledge of the full scale of possible tones — in literature and everyday language — in order to discover whether it is subtle literary speech that absorbed the vitality of the living language itself or hidden wisdom from national legacy. The translator needs to determine the border between classical literary language and simple everyday expression, the line between artificial and natural.
Therefore, everything I’ve mentioned implies that a translator automatically aligns with the text. Not with what the text tells us, but primarily with how the text “speaks” to us. Therefore, translators are the best readers. Neither song nor story nor book can be translated after only one reading. A text must be read word by word, sentence by sentence, verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, and only by doing that can the translator reveal the full meaning of text which he will restore in another language again word by word, verse by verse and so on.
Do you have your own translation philosophy? How is it different from or similar to mine?