Milan Kundera and translation
Thread poster: Aurora Humarán (X)

Aurora Humarán (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:09
English to Spanish
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Dec 31, 2005

Some very intersting paragraphs about this great Czech writer well known for getting so much involved in his translators' works.

A good opportunity to reflect on translation and its intricacies.


icon_smile.gif Au

Kundera was once criticised in a literary magazine for having a fancy writing style. This was uncomprehensible for me, knowing Kundera’s restricted vocabulary, his use of metaphors and adjectives. Later it turned out that it was the French translator which enriched his vocabulary. After the criticism, Kundera examined the available translations of his books. Milan Kundera, as most of the writers, is obsessed by the meaning of each word, is very precise in intonation, tempo, and rhythm of sentences. Therefore, it was a personal disaster for him when he compared translations. Whole paragraphs were deleted, sentences shuffled, style moved to more emotional level.


After settling for good in France, Kundera was rewriting and supervising French translation of his previous novels for two years. Since the 1987, in all his books published by Gallimard, there is a note: entièrement revue par l’auteur, a la même valeur d’authenticité que le texte tchèque (entirely reviewed by author, having the same value of authenticity as the Czech text).


Kundera fights against the “good French”, good English or German, which is taught at schools. If the translators would translate all the major pieces of literature to a conventional “good” language, they would remove any originality of their art. “...every author of some value transgresses against “good style”... [..] the translator’s primary effort should be to understand that transgression.


In Testaments Betrayed, Kundera focuses directly on the role of translator. He suggests that most of them suffer a “synonymising reflex”. “The need to use another word in place of the more obvious, more simple, more neutral one may be called the synonymising reflex — a reflex of nearly all translators. Having a great stock of synonyms is a feature of “good style” virtuosity; if a word “sadness” appears twice in the same paragraph of the original text, the translator, offended by the repetition (considered an attack on obligatory stylistic elegance) will be tempted to translate the second occurrence as “melancholy”.” TT, p 108.


Wenjer Leuschel (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:09
English to Chinese
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Thanks, Au! Dec 31, 2005

I wish you come well into 2006!

Guten Rutsch!


Local time: 18:09
English to Catalan
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The tireless shepherd... Dec 31, 2005

A phrase from Milan Kundera's "The Art of the Novel":

“The writer who determines to supervise the translations of his books finds himself chasing after hordes of words like a shepherd after a flock of wild sheep - a sorry figure to himself, a laughable one to others”



Chulhyun Ahn
Local time: 18:09
Korean to English
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Kundera on translation Jul 22, 2006

There's a good essay by Kundera called "Testament Betrayed".
Maybe you've read it. It's humorous and quitassential Kundera. He talks in length about how not only Kafka's dying wish was quickly betrayed by the will of his 'admirers', but how his work itself is also being mistranslated by translators all over the world, often bearing ridiculous results--when Kafka is describing disorientation, detachment and uncanny, the translator makes the verse engaging, passionate, and romantic. I mean, Kundera really tears apart these silly translators into pieces. He writes about how NOT to translate. I like this quality of Kundera's writing because I know what it means when he says that there's "heartlessness in styles overflowing with emotion". Our appetite for cheap melodrama and instant emotional gratification drive us to betray the true intension of the writers.


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Milan Kundera and translation

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