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Volume 50 / Humanities


CAROL MAIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University, Ohio

THE BIENNIUM 1986-87 did not suggest significant new trends in translations of Latin American literature into English. There was a notable increase in the number of works published, however, and several trends mentioned in earlier volumes of the Handbook and elsewhere have intensified: political poetry and prose (including the testimonio) continue to account for much work in translation, especially in the case of literature from Central America; a wealth of new translations has resulted from Brazil's singular "reformulation of international literary influences" (see item bi 89011225), a trend anticipated several years ago by Thomas Colchie in The Village Voice (14-20 Oct. 1981); the role of the small presses is greater than ever - as evidenced, for example, by Curbstone's numerous translations of works from Central America, by the splendid edition of Carlos Oquendo de Amat's Five meters of poems published by Turkey Press (item bi 89007772), and by North Point's publication of Julio Cortázar's Around the day in eighty worlds (item bi 89007991). In addition, reviewers and critics have slowly but surely been focusing attention on the performance of translators. Hispania, for instance, has launched a new review section devoted to "Translations", and translation itself is now a frequent topic at annual gatherings such as the MLA or the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference. Many North American journals include translations on a regular basis, and several have devoted special issues to Latin American literature. All of these developments suggest increased vitality for the "flourishing of translation" noted by Margaret Sayers Peden in 1978 when the first Translation section appeared in HLAS 40.

The extent to which more translations can be equated with more - and more thoughtful - readers is of course difficult to ascertain. John Donatich has suggested that readers in the US are attracted by the "urgency" of Latin American literature (see American Book Review, Jan./Feb. 1988), but others like Sara Castro-Klarén and Héctor Campos (see Ideologies and Literature, Sept./Oct. 1983) and Roberto González Echeverría (see Profession 87, New York: Modern Language Assn. of America) remark instead on the ways in which increased dissemination of Latin American literature in translation corresponds to a distortion, both in terms of North Americans' perception of Latin America and the manipulation of reader "preferences" by the media and the publishing industry - think, for example, of the short-lived availability of most translations, despite the relatively large number of new titles issued by a house like Avon or a university press such as Texas. One would happily take issue with this skepticism, as Alfred J. MacAdam does to some extent in Textual confrontations: comparative readings in Latin American literature (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), but an attempt to buy a copy of one of Miguel Angel Asturias' novels in English, the ambivalent reactions of North American critics to work by Manuel Puig, the extensive adaptations made to render certain writers more accessible to North American sensibility, and the often unstated (unacknowledged?) criteria that determine selections for anthologies and special issues of journals make one wonder if Alberto Manguel (item bi 89007694) is not correct to suggest that, for contemporary readers in English, Latin America is a place every bit as imaginary as it was for Spaniards in the 15th century.

Reservations notwithstanding, it is gratifying to note how many fine translations have appeared recently and to mention outstanding titles. Among the many volumes of poetry, it is important to recognize the selection of poems by the late Carlos Drummond de Andrade (item bi 89008011), the bilingual collected poems of Octavio Paz (item bi 89007775), and Kathleen Weaver's striking translations of Nancy Morejón (item bi 89007760). New translations of Ernesto Cardenal and Pablo Neruda by more than one translator confirm the improbability of a single translator's ability to render all of a poet's "voices;" and translations from work of more than one writer, by translators such as Andrew Hurley, Helen Lane, and others, attest to the potential versatility of a single translator, as do Eloah F. Giacomelli's multiple translations of Moacyr Scliar. Several welcome anthologies were published during the period, in particular Ixok Amar.Go (item bi 89007675) and From the threshold (item bi 89007692), although a reader of the latter volume may wonder if there are no women who write short fiction in Peru. Among the few translations of brief fiction and theater annotated below, two outstanding examples are Ronald Christ's translation of Manuel Puig (item bi 89007787) and Margaret Neves' of Antonio Torres (item bi 89010257). In contrast to the small number of publications of translated plays are the numerous performances in translation (e.g., Margaret Sayers Peden's lively version of Emilio Carballido's A rose by any other name performed at the 1987 conference of the American Literary Translators Assn.).

Some of the most creative translations of fiction offer readings worthy of detailed study in themselves. These include Helen Lane's I, the Supreme (item bi 89007955), Suzanne Jill Levine's Maitreya (item bi 89007956), and Andrew Hurley's The princess of the Iron Palace (item bi 88000265). In poetry, the same must be said of Luis Harss' Sor Juana's dream (item bi 89007777) and Stephen Tapscott's versions of Neruda's sonnets (item bi 89007763). Fortunately, some translators and critics recognize the need for such careful reading of translations, as is evident in works annotated in the subsection "Bibliography Theory, and Practice" (Myriam Díaz-Diocaretz's commentary on her poems by Adrienne Rich is one of several highly recommended studies, see item bi 89008081).

As I conclude work for this section of the Handbook, it is with gratitude that I acknowledge the collaboration of the following colleagues who contributed annotations of translations from the Portuguese and who are identified by their initials: Linda Chang (Ohio State Univ.), Charles Cutler (Smith College), Glen F. Dille (Bradley Univ.), K. David Jackson (Univ. of Texas at Austin), Jean R. Longland (formerly of the Hispanic Society of America), Daphne Patai (Univ. of Massachusetts), and Nelson H. Vieira (Brown Univ.).

Several titles published during the period were omitted below because the original version was not available. These titles include Claribel Alegría's Luisa in Realityland (Curbstone Press), Alicia Partnoy's The little school (Cleis Press), Rodrigo Rey Rosa's The beggar's knife (City Lights), and Omar Rivabella's Requiem for a woman's soul (Penguin Books). They will be annotated in the next volume, HLAS 52.

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