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Translating Sir Vidia; translating actual histories into suppressed ones
Thread poster: Roomy Naqvy

Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:31
English to Hindi
+ ...
Oct 26, 2001

The venerated Nobel Prize for 2001 goes to Sir V S Naipaul. On http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/2001/press.html, the Press Release states that it is awarded to him for “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”. The essential problem here is whether Sir Vidia allows us to see ‘suppressed histories’ or suppresses actual histories. At the ontological level, translating Sir Vidia’s oeuvre is akin to translating Shakespeare’s The Tempest for African students and trying to convince them that Caliban is evil for he is Black. A problematic literary figure like Sir Vidia throws up pivotal questions for the translator. Should the translator foreground his/her cultural identity while translating say India: A Wounded Civilization or A House for Mr. Biswas where despite all his successes and despite getting a house for himself, Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house is still incomplete. Where it is clear that though from a seemingly postcolonial angle, Biswas gets a house, his ‘place’ in this world but it would still remain a flawed place. There are walls which peel in that house for which Biswas strove all his life. These are very problematic ways of seeing and for a translator, it creates an identity crisis.



Comparing these problematic representations found in his magnum opus, A House for Mr. Biswas with the comments in the Press Release should be an interesting exercise. The Release states: “He took a giant stride with A House for Mr. Biswas, one of those singular novels that seem to constitute their own complete universes, in this case a miniature India on the periphery of the British Empire, the scene of his father’s circumscribed existence.” This is exactly where Sir Vidia is problematic. There is no problem with his depiction of Mr. Mohun Biswas and his quest to find a home but there’s a problem when the house itself in the novel is shown as representative of India. This is where a culture is essentially reduced. Moreover, it would be interesting to note that the entire novel is situated in Trinidad and Tobago and not in India. With such an incomplete picture, such a sweeping statement is made.



This is just the tip of the iceberg. I would like fellow translators to shed light on the subject of what would they do if confronted with the choice of translating a literary text which put their identity as translators in question and severely interrogated their cultural positions. India, like any other land, in this world has its share of problems but it also has many facets to exhibit which are unique to its culture. Thus, how would a translator react if faced with such a choice to translate actual histories into suppressed ones?



Warm Regards



Roomy Naqvy

Moderator EnglishGujarati
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mónica alfonso  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:01
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
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Traduttore tradittore Oct 26, 2001

Such was the title of a very interesting essay which dealt with this matter.

Dear Roomy, I have a point of view, and perhaps you won\'t share it: we translators must try to convey as exactly as possible whatever the original author said or wrote. It is not our task to embellish awful texts, to polish styles or to demonstrate the author is lying, is wrong or whatever.

I think many others know the Indian reality and will be able to see what you see in this work, but only if you try to be as faithful as possible with it. Otherwise, you will be depriving others of the possibility of building their own judgment about the work.

Hope this makes something a bit clearer for you!

Regards

Mónica Alfonso





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AndrewBM
Ireland
Local time: 12:01
Spanish to English
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"Translations" by Brian Friel Nov 24, 2001

Has anyone seen or heard of an Irish play by Brian Friel, called \"Translations\"? - the funniest as well as the saddest play on the subject!
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AndrewBM
Ireland
Local time: 12:01
Spanish to English
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by the by, Nov 24, 2001

As a translator, sometimes I do have to embellish awful texts, polish styles, though, I agree, without having to prove anyone right or wrong.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:01
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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Reply to last posting: I think it's moral under reasonable circumstances... Mar 8, 2002

This is something that often happens in conferences and congresses: a highly-respected authority is called upon to speak, he has devoted 50 years of his life to the subject matter and - maybe that\'s too long, he\'s getting old or whatever - he puts his foot in. I\'M NOT GOING TO RUIN 50 YEARS OF TOP-LINE PERFORMANCE WITH FOR A CHEAP LAUGH AT HIS EXPENSE. Well, it\'s food for thought, we can\'t be all that cold.

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xxxAnneM  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:01
Spanish to English
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Mar 8, 2002

The point you bring up Roomy is very interesting. I agree with Mónica that a translator\'s duty is to convey as accurately as possible what the original autor said. That\'s our job and each translator knows where their limit is and how comfortable they feel with the theme they are dealing with.

Fellow Irishman Andrew , I have read Translations and share your view on it and I know that personally I would be very reluctant to translate any text of the British \'Empire\'s\' version of Irish history, or in fact, anything that goes against my principles. But we\'re not here to teach or reteach, we\'re here to \'translate\'. As for transmitting culture-specific concepts, that\'s a whole new ball game.

And fellow-Kudozer Cecilia, I also agree with you! Your example reminds me of the story of the conference interpeter who, when faced with translating a joke which was completely culture-specific, said \'would everyone please laugh now\'.

But interpeting is very different to translating. You have to act on the spur of the moment and this is when each person\'s \'values\' automatically come into play, as in the example you give Cecilia.

In any case, I prefer to stick with the old technical translations so I\'m afraid I haven\'t got much authority to give my opinion on all this.





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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:01
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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Back to the topic Mar 11, 2002

All of us have our ideologies and all of us see through filters; I think it\'s useless for anyone to claim an absolute objectivity, but something can still be done in this situation. You can identify yourself, and identify the other - not in order to impose either one of the two, but to be able to rise above interferences. One thing I don\'t think we can do when translating is to engage in open dialectics, or we\'d end up with texts like the feminist \"Our Father\".



But yes, one of the obscure points I\'ve sometimes seen in literary Nobel translation seems to deal with the translator\'s position vis-a-vis the text. I was told that Hamsun\'s \"Hunger\" was a hilarious work in Danish, for instance, but I failed to see much in the translation I read that was funny. Maybe one coherent approach is to completely disregard the reviews after reading them and try to identify what their focus is for oneself. Shakespeare has been translated several times into hundreds of languages, but he still is very translateable for anyone capable of discovering or rediscovering a new message.


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:31
English to Hindi
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TOPIC STARTER
Very interesting Mar 11, 2002

Well, I think I knew the Marquez example either from Cecilia herself or elsewhere.



Sir Vidia is certainly an extreme example in himself. For most of those who would not know, we had the Indian Council for Cultural Relations which recently organized a three day international writer\'s meet in Neemrana in Rajasthan, where we had the venerable Sir Vidia along with many others.



The friends who were there and have come back, as also the journalists, state a certain habit of making arbitrary statements.



The point was not so much about the \'difficulty\' of translating a literary text a la Conrad\'s Heart of Darkness. By the way, as an aside, I can tell the people here that Frost\'s \"Stopping by woods on a snowy evening\" was very wonderfully translated into Hindi years ago by a very major Hindi poet, Harivanshrai Bachchan. Bachchan was able to capture the essence of the original wonderfully well and this particular translation is too respected as such. By the way, Bachchan had also done a creative rendition of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in Hindi. That was called Madhushala.



Yes, there are Shakespeares and Shakespeares. I recollect once an article by the scholar Susan Sontag about a Shakespeare production and adaptation in the Balkans.



But we were talking about something else. We were trying to see, to quote the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, how one could teach The Tempest to Nigerian students and tell them Caliban was evil because of a particular colour of the skin pigment.



By the way, at least, here in this Forum, there is no aggressiveness.. only a bit of polemics: necessary for the intellectual survival of the human race.



_________________


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:01
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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What about Frost's Rubaiyyat? Mar 19, 2002

Robert Frost set out to \"debug\" Edward Fitzgerald\'s Romantic rendering of the Rubaiyyat and came up with something radically different, perhaps more in tune with our anthropological understanding of what it\'s like to place oneself in the cultural position of the \"other\". People came away with the impression of something like the-Sufi-stripped-of-his-furniture (ascetic, as was probably more in keeping), but to what extent is this not a reflection of Frost\'s own convictions? (Rhetorical question).

I remember a poet laureate who did a masterful rendition of García Lorca\'s \"Verde que te quiero verde\" into English; for years afterwards he had to fight off readers and his own fans who swore up and down that the poem was his!



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