All Hail the Nobel Translator!

“What is your favorite author?” This is one of the most popular questions which we hear many times. As a Turkish person, if I answer this question like “R. J. J. Tolkien” than I am wrong. Unless we read the original versions of the books of Tolkien, we should know that there is someone between Tolkien and Turkish audience: the translator. Almost everybody ignores this fact; however, translator is the one who rewrites the original texts, filters it and renders it to the target culture. Don’t go further and just compare two different translations of any book, you will see how the interpretation changes from translator to translator. Peter Stothard highlights this subject in his article titled “All Hail the Nobel Translator!” He uses the some parts from the Times Literary Supplement: 

A novelist is not famous today unless internationally famous, not recognized unless recognized everywhere. According to the novelist Tim Parks, writing in the TLS this week, “even the recognition extended to him in his home country is significantly increased if he is recognized abroad. The smaller the country he lives in, the less important his language on the international scene, the more this is the case. So if for the moment the phenomenon is only vaguely felt in Anglophile cultures, it is a formidable reality in countries like Holland or Italy. The inevitable result is that many writers, consciously or otherwise, have begun to think of their audience as international rather than national.”

One might have thought that this trend would raise the often down-trodden status of translators. But Parks argues the opposite is the case. “If a writer is to be projected on to the world stage, his work must be translated into a number of languages. If a certain amount of promotional hype is to be generated around a book, then the publisher will make sure that these translations are commissioned and completed in a number of territories more or less simultaneously and prior to the publication of the book in its country of origin. In this way, the novel can be launched worldwide, something that increases its profile in each separate territory. Translation thus becomes an all-important part of the initial promotion of a novel, which may well find fewer readers in its original language than in its many translations. Yet translators are becoming less rather than more visible. Few readers will be aware who translates their favorite foreign novelist, even though that person will have a huge influence on the tone and feel of every page.”

The problem for translators, as Parks argues, is that readers want a direct connection with those elevated to global status. “In an instant, as when a pope canonizes someone, the chosen writer’s status is transformed and his work transfigured from contemporary to classic. This is done with exactly the same logic, the same authority, as when the Vatican decides who is to be among the elect in heaven: that is to say, with no logic or authority at all. Yet we hunger for such transformations because it is through the attention given to them that literary ambitions of the most extravagant kind are legitimized.”

But “the thought that a work of literature has been mediated by a translator, that it is not the real thing, undermines the notion of the supreme achievement of this Nobel individual, and above all, the idea that the writer and his writing are the same throughout the globe. Readers, wherever they are from, want to feel that they are in direct, unmediated contact with greatness. They are not eager to hear about translators. The writer wants to believe his genius is arriving, pristine, unmediated, to his readers all over the world. So the prize is important, while the translator must disappear.”

Here is ten translated novels you should know.

For the original article, click here.


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