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Volume 54 / Humanities

LITERATURE: TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH FROM THE SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE


CAROL MAIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University, Ohio
DAPHNE PATAI, Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
KATHLEEN ROSS, Associate Professor of Spanish, New York University

TRANSLATIONS FROM THE SPANISH

ONCE AGAIN, DURING THE CURRENT PERIOD under review (Aug. 1990-June 1993), a substantial amount of excellent work has appeared in the field of literary translation. The reservation about reception and accessibility expressed in the last volume must certainly be repeated, but it is also possible to note an increased attention to translation as a mediation of which readers should be made fully aware, rather than one from which they should be protected.

This attention to practice can also be considered an attention to theory, if "theory" is used to refer not to a set of abstractions but to an informed deliberate reflection on the principles that guide translation. Although there are undoubtedly many translators who would agree with Eliot Weinberger that "Translation theory . . . is useless for translating," many other translators and scholars apparently believe that the interaction between translation theory and practice must be scrutinized as thoroughly as possible. Evident with respect to both the work of individual translators and the critical study of translation in the larger sense (i.e., metaphorical, cultural, or political), such scrutiny is increasingly evident not only in the commentaries and notes of individual translators but also in the work of reviewers, literary critics, and social scientists. Examples, to cite just a few in addition to the more conventional "theory" entries reviewed below, can be found in José Piedra's comments about "packaging" Latin American culture for North American readers; George Yúdice's request that critics look more closely at "how writers and other cultural workers are inserted into networks of dissemination;" and Ilan Stavan's observation that the US has "limited patience for Hispanic letters," with a "kind of literary I.N.S." that monitors the yearly number of translations.

The anthologies published during the period comprise a highly diverse group. Some of them, such as Columbus's egg (item bi 94004577) or The secret weavers (item bi 94004607) have been assembled around a specific topic; others, like When new flowers bloomed (item bi 94004584) or Gabriela Mistral: a reader (item bi 94004588), bring together selections from the work of a single writer or a particular country or countries. Still others have a much broader focus, and they aim to offer an overview, either of Latin America as a whole or of a particular group of writers; examples would be A hammock beneath the mangoes (item bi 93003689) or Women's writing in Latin America (item bi 92000950).

Although the quality of translation frequently varies within individual anthologies, it is heartening to note that editors seem to be giving increased attention to issues of translation. With a few exceptions, the translations in these anthologies range from good to excellent. Translators are acknowledged in virtually all instances, and they often figure with their own bylines in the list of contributors. Theoretical issues related to translation are also engaged in some of the introductions, such as in Scents of wood and silence (item bi 93000129) or in Tri-Quarterly's New writing from Mexico (item bi 94004608), whose selections were determined in part on the basis of their "translatability."

Somewhat at odds, however, with the care evident in the translation of individual pieces within collections is an apparent reluctance on the part of most editors to account fully for the criteria that guided their selections. Editors often acknowledge the inevitable subjectiveness of "quality" and "taste," but few make explicit their own definitions of those terms. Perhaps more importantly, few editors seem to have considered the extent to which compiling an anthology, as Cary Nelson has pointed out with relation to North American literature is "not only an aesthetic but also a social and political project." It is to be hoped that soon editors of anthologies of Latin American literature in translation will resist even further what Thomas Colchie has referred to as the "faintly addictive nature of anthologies" (item bi 93003689, p. xiii). A more thorough understanding of the role played by anthologies in both the representation of Latin American literature to the North American public and in the North American literary marketplace cannot but affect editorial decisions concerning selections, size, biographical and bibliographical material, etc. These questions, and the closely related question of accessibility urgently needs further work, as indicated recently in essays by Myriam Díaz-Diocaretz and André Lefevere.

Poetry is often considered the most difficult genre to translate, and one continues to find far less Latin American poetry than fiction in English. Somewhat ironically, however, translators who do accept the challenge of poetry are apt not to be praised for the attempt but reprimanded or ignored. Except for a few notable exceptions (e.g., the work of Neruda or Paz), poetry in translation is seldom reviewed, and when the reviews do appear they tend to be harsh. Whether reviewers argue that a translator should aim to duplicate or to thoroughly "recreate" an original, they frequently point to the unfortunate alterations worked by translation; when presented with multiple versions, they tend to compare them against each other in an effort to determine which is the "best."

Not all of the poetry published during the biennium deserves high praise, but the work does indicate that translations of poetry are certainly possible and worthwhile. Cola Franzen's translations of Alicia Borinsky's poems (item bi 94004629), for example, or Clayton Eshleman's reading of César Vallejo's Trilce (item bi 94004704), or Margaret Sayers Peden's collection of Neruda's Odes (item bi 94004616) offer readings that make the work of these poets truly accessible in English. What is more, for those readers willing to entertain multiple translations of poetry by a single poet, highly nuanced readings of texts by Jorge Tellier and Vallejo are possible. In the case of Vallejo, for instance, there are as many as four new versions of some poems - in the books published by Eshleman and Rebecca Seiferle (item bi 93001631) and the selections translated by Próspero Saíz and Magda Bogin. Conventional readings are also challenged by the interaction of photographs and words in several books, of which Cecilia Vicuña's Unraveling words (item bi 94004624) is one example. In addition, translator's comments, such as Annegret Nill's reference to an argument with Gonzalo Millán about "the sex of death" in one of his poems (item bi 92011972), provide insights about reading in either, or both, Spanish and English.

There were few titles in the area of theater during the biennium. One notes that all three of the volumes reviewed here are carefully presented with introductions and bibliographies, reflecting both an intended audience of practical users and student readers, and the academic presses that publish these plays. It must also be said that the volumes devoted to Griselda Gambaro (items bi 94004724 and bi 94005054) and Carlos Solórzano (item bi 93012733) bring difficult authors, well-known in their own countries, to English readers for the first time.

In the area of brief fiction, we note the high quality and richness of the titles on the list. Besides new work by some of the best-known Latin American authors writing today (e.g., Allende, items bi 94004583, bi 94004712, and bi 94004848; Bioy Casares, item bi 94004715; Donoso, items bi 93014186 and bi 94004857; and Mutis, item bi 94004719), translated soon after initial publication in Spanish and published by major commercial houses, we have stories by long-established writers introduced for the first time to the English-language audience in complete volumes through small or academic presses (e.g., Anderson Imbert, item bi 94004713; Coloane, item bi 94004717; Ferré, item bi 94004718; and Peri Rossi, item bi 94004720). Notable also is the publication of short fiction by such writers as Alegría (item bi 94004711), Castellanos (item bi 90012545), and Skármeta (item bi 94004722), better known in English for work in other genres. It is to be hoped that all these trends will be continued, in order that authors may be appreciated individually rather than only through anthologies. We note too the prevalence of women writers, until recently woefully undertranslated, in this list. Finally, the publication of two volumes by excellent young writers (e.g., Barros, item bi 94004714, and Rey Rosa, item bi 94004721) bodes well for the continuation of the strong tradition in Latin American short fiction.

In the translation of fiction, trends in the work of translators are difficult to isolate. This genre is linked most closely to the commercial concerns of the large houses where many of the Latin American novels available in translation are published and marketed - frequently with no word about the translation or translator and with no more information about the author than the few words of hype printed on the cover. One has only to compare, for instance, Magritte's sheet-wrapped faces on the Spanish edition of José Donoso's El jardín de al lado with the naked lovers embracing amidst the flowers on the dust jacket of the English edition (item bi 94004857) to recognize that more than the transfer of words is involved in "producing" a novel in translation. Excellent translations of fiction have appeared during the biennium, however, and it would be possible to mention more than the few examples that follow.

Those examples would include unquestionably work by Andrew Hurley, a highly experienced translator responsible for versions of Abadón el exterminador (item bi 92011989) and El palacio de las blanquísimas mofetas (item bi 92011991). They would also include William I. Neuman's work with the novels of Paco Ignacio Taibo II (items bi 94005065 and bi 94005066) and work by newer translators, such as Kay Prichett's translation of Jonás y la ballena rosada (item bi 94005058) or Betty Ferber's version of 1492: vida y tiempos de Juan Cabezón de Castilla (item bi 94004851). Nina M. Scott's translation of Sab (item bi 93014207) should also be cited, both for its quality and for making the novel and the accompanying "Autobiography" finally available in English. Other novels long "overdue" in English that have appeared as well are Juntacadáveres (item bi 94005058), and two books by Julieta Campos (items bi 93014204 and bi 94004853).

Although they could not be termed trends, two phenomena associated with the translation of fiction should be noted. First, the retranslation of such "classics" as Los de abajo (item bi 93009032) and La muerte de Artemio Cruz (item bi 92012019) makes these novels available in new versions. It also makes them available (through libraries, even if only the most recent translations are in print) in multiple versions, which offer monolingual readers a glimpse beyond the limits inherent in even the best translations. The Pittsburgh Editions of Latin American Literature are to be commended in this regard for the publication of new or revised translations based on critical editions.

A second phenomenon, made possible by university presses and small presses willing to take a chance on work that might enjoy limited commercial success, is the publication of novels eclipsed by the bestsellers of the "boom" writers and others who have become well known to North American readers. These novels include Un mundo para Julius (item bi 93014195), El libro vacío (item bi 94005068), and three Colombian novels that should prompt English-language readers to recognize that fiction from Colombia, as Jonathan Tittler has remarked, "cannot be summed up in the words 'Gabriel García Márquez:'" La casa grande (item bi 94004855); En Chimá nace un santo (item bi 94005069); and Bazar de los idiotas (item bi 94004849).

Titles in the category of essay run a wide gamut from scholarly criticism (Benítez-Rojo, item bi 94005341; Dorfman, items bi 94004858 and bi 94005345; Espinosa, item bi 93005347), to memoir and diary (Borge, item bi 94005342; Glantz, item bi 94005347; Nuñez, item bi 94005354), to indigenous anthropology as in Montejo (item bi 94005348). We also note volumes by Cabrera Infante, a prominent writer on cinema (item bi 94005343), and Eduardo Galeano's book of anecdotes and vignettes, illustrated with his own engravings (item bi 94005346).

Octavio Paz, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize, has been especially well-represented in English translation during the biennium; his work is inscribed within the rich tradition of the Latin American essay as a literary form. Galeano's book transforms that tradition in a blurring of generic boundaries, as does Margo Glantz's memoir of immigration and identity, and it is to be hoped that we will see more such innovative volumes in the future.

It is with great appreciation that I note the collaboration of my new co-editor Kathleen Ross. Unless otherwise noted, she is responsible for the reviews in the sections on "Brief Fiction and Theater" and "Essays, Interviews, and Reportage" and for the paragraphs in this essay that refer to those genres. We have both endeavored to provide information about the translations that will be most helpful to teachers and scholars: our reviews, as well as our definition of "success" within each category, reflect that contingency.

We extend a note of congratulations to Margaret Sayers Peden and Eliot Weinberger, who shared the first biannual translation award established in memory of the late Gregory Kolovakos, and we offer a word of remembrance and loss in honor of Anthony Kerrigan, friend and esteemed translator of work from Spain and Spanish America. [CM with KR]

TRANSLATIONS FROM THE PORTUGUESE

Since 1990, there seems to be a decrease in the number of Brazilian works appearing in English translation. It is unclear why this is occurring. On the other hand, as the listing below indicates, quite a few trade publishers (no longer primarily Knopf) are involved in bringing out individual works from Brazil. Translation is still, however, primarily a labor of love, initiated by the translator (usually an academic), rather than a predominantly commercial matter, but this situation may be in the process of changing, as suggested by the appearance of several new series which will allow translators more ready outlets for their efforts. The Latin American Literary Review Press publishes Latin American creative writing under the series title Discoveries. Several of this crop's translations were published in this series. The University of Nebraska Press has inaugurated a series by Latin American Women Writers, in which some very interesting works, old and new, are being brought out. Oxford University Press (with supplementary funding from the Mellon Foundation) is undertaking the publication of Brazilian classics, a project directed by Alfredo Bosi of the Univ. of Sao Paulo and Richard Graham of the University of Texas. The project will commission new translations (even where old ones exist) of some 19th-century works and hopes to move into the 20th century before long.

Among the translations published since 1990, the vast majority are of contemporary works (including by the indefatigable Jorge Amado). But the appearance of several older works is especially heartening: Alencar's Senhora (item bi 94013765) is long overdue. It is mysterious that a writer of such preeminence is so underrepresented in English. Another welcome translation is of Castro Alves' abolitionist poetry (item bi 94013768). These are only two among the dozens of fascinating 19th-century literary figures whose works are in the public domain and could well appeal to late 20th-century audiences. A new translation of Machado de Assis' Dom Casmurro (item bi 94013771) has also been published in the past few years (at about the same time as the Helen Caldwell translation was reissued, item bi 94013775). Finally - and far more unusual - the appearance of Industrial Park, Patricia Galvao's extraordinary 1933 "proletarian novel" (item bi 94005422), is a welcome addition to the growing number of works available in English by Brazilian women writers. [DP]


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