The joys and vexations of the translator’s craft (Eliot Weinberger)
Thread poster: Aurora Humarán (X)

Aurora Humarán (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:56
English to Spanish
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Feb 12, 2006

The joys and vexations of the translator’s craft

His formidable literary skills have been responsible for bringing Latin American literature to millions of readers. Yet his name does not appear on the covers of books, and he remains practically unknown.


Inventing a new music. The "problematic" side of translation stems from the question of fidelity, since exact equivalents are often impossible. Weinberger pointed out that every reading, especially of poetry, is actually a translation into one's own experience. The etymological origin of the very word "translation" is "movement," which means "change." Poetry needs that movement to stay alive. "A poem dies when it has no place to go," said Weinberger.


Anonymous sources. Translators remain, as Weinberger put it delicately, the "geeks of literature," virtually invisible, anonymous toilers. For example, 90 percent of reviews of books in translation never mention the translator by name. Weinberger himself is no stranger to this neglect. When his award-winning translation of Borge’s works was reviewed, his name was not even mentioned.


Translation gives a writer critical distance, often pointing out errors or inadequacies. For example, in Weinberger's collaboration with Paz, who was himself a translator, Paz would dialogue with Weinberger about the English translation of his work, but always gave his translator the last word. "Paz knew English well, but knew that I knew it better," said Weinberger.

Weinberger described his work as a translator as "more like a tree surgeon than an oncologist": no disfiguring amputations, but a little trimming, some careful pruning. A translator, he said, "is an actor playing the role of author." Here he echoes another translator of Latin American literature, Suzanne Jill Levine, who wrote The Subversive Scribe–Translating Latin American Fiction. According to Levine, "translation is the most concrete form of the interpretive act performed by all readers, scholars and teachers of foreign literatures."

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Aurora Humarán (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:56
English to Spanish
+ ...
Mexican writer Octavio Paz translated by Weinberger Feb 12, 2006

From "Sunstone" by Octavio Paz
translated by Eliot Weinberger

your skirt of corn ripples
and sings,
your skirt of crystal,
your skirt of water,
your lips, your hair,
your glances rain
all through the night,
and all day long
you open my chest with your fingers of water,
you close my eyes with your mouth of water,
you rain on my bones,
a tree of liquid
sending roots of water
into my chest


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The joys and vexations of the translator’s craft (Eliot Weinberger)

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