Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Two Lines Call for Submissions

Posted on July 30, 2009, 08:47:40 PM

The seventeenth volume of the TWO LINES World Writing in Translation series?the premiere anthology of literature-in-translation from San Francisco's Center for the Art of Translation?will be edited by translator Natasha Wimmer and poet and translator Jeffrey Wang. Called one of the most impressive anthologies of literature-in-translation today by Open Letter publisher Chad Post, TWO LINES World Writing in Translation has for sixteen years brought readers some of the most acclaimed voices in literary translation. Printed in a bilingual format and rich with contextual material, it offers both everyday readers and industry professionals a one-stop guide to what's new and what's next in the world of international literature.
TWO LINES World Writing in Translation will be accepting poetry and fiction submissions for its seventeenth volume through November 25, 2009. Previously unpublished translations from any language will be considered, and works from outside Europe are especially sought. Submitters are encouraged to read previous volumes in the series, which can be ordered directly from the Center. Full guidelines and ordering information can be found on the Center's website. Publishers interested in submitting manuscripts for serialization should contact Annie Janusch at
About the Editors
Natasha Wimmer received the 2009 PEN Translation Prize for her work on the blockbuster novel 2666 from Roberto Bolaño. She has translated some of the most important voices in Spanish literature, including Mario Vargas Llosa, Rodrigo Fresán, and Gabriel Zaid. In addition to her work as a translator, Wimmer has written widely on Latin American fiction for many leading publications. Jeffery Yang received the 2009 PEN/Osterweil Prize for his debut poetry collection An Aquarium, called “exhilarating by The New York Times. He has also translated a collection of ancient Chinese poems, published as Rhythm 226, and works as an editor at New Directions.
About the Publisher
The Center for the Art of Translation is a not-for-profit organization committed to giving voice to world authors not often published in English-speaking countries. Its books feature work by today's leading translators and are widely looked to by experts in the field. Through literary and education programs that support translation, the Center promotes world literature and offers insight into the cultures that produce it. The Center's publishing program includes the TWO LINES World Writing in Translation series, now in its sixteenth year, and the recently launched TWO LINES World Library, which overviews a single language by bringing together both its distinguished and emerging writers.

How Language Conditions Thought

Posted on July 30, 2009, 05:25:54 PM

Following-up on yesterday's post about translating Yoko Tawada, I noticed this in a recent interview with Bernofsky:

Rail: In an introductory note to Yoko Tawada's The Naked Eye, you say that as she wrote the book certain sentences occurred to her in German and others in Japanese, so that she eventually wound up writing two versions of the same book. Do you have a sense of why this happened?
Bernofsky: Yoko Tawada's very interested in the way our lives look the moment you start talking about them in a foreign language. And she's right?words and experiences in different cultural contexts tend to have a different weight, different implications, and so walking on the border between two cultures as she does means constantly being confronted with one's own experience as the experience of an other. I think that's fascinating, and it's very true to my own experience of living in Germany and traveling to yet other countries. I wish I could read The Naked Eye in Japanese to see how it differs from the German version I read, but I don't speak a word of Japanese. I hope someone translates it into English someday.

They also discuss Bernofsky's new translation of The Tanners by Robert Walser, available from New Directions at the end of the month.

Susan Bernofsky on Yoko Tawada's The Naked Eye

Posted on July 30, 2009, 12:13:51 AM

The Naked Eye, Yoko Tawada's latest novel to be published in English translation (by Susan Bernofsky for New Directions) is about a young Vietnamese woman set adrift in Paris who takes refuge in the films of Catherine Deneuve.
Tawada, who was born in Japan but has spent most of her adult life in Germany, writes in both Japanese and German?and has won prizes in both languages. Her previous books have been written either in one language or the other, but when she sat down to write The Naked Eye she began first in German, then continued in Japanese, alternating languages as the narrative struck her. Ultimately, she wound up with two complete, separate manuscripts.
I asked Susan Bernofsky about what Tawada's writing is like in German and what's challenging about it to translate:

Yoko's writing in German always seems to be teetering on the brink of I don't know how to say that, and this slight built-in alienation is thematically critical to her work. It's tricky to translate, too: as a writer and translator I've learned to write English as fluidly as possible - after all, that's what good style is all about - but too much fluency/fluidity kills these texts. Of course, if they come out sounding awkward and wooden, that would also be deadly! Yoko's texts in German aren't at all awkward - there's a kind of neutral elegance to her writing that seems not quite to belong to German style but rather somehow exists in the space between languages. She uses less figurative language than most other German-language writers I've worked with. It's as if the utterances have been reduced to their bare essentials, but in a way that is at the same time completely beautiful - what emerges from this approach to language is a sense of sparse, scaled-back expression, which makes you notice and savor each word as if seeing it for the first time. I love the way she makes me think about what it means to express oneself in a language in the first place, and the way she makes me actually see the words themselves.

Bernofsky went on to say, I know Yoko's book was also written partly in Japanese, but it makes most sense to me as a German-language book.
The Naked Eye is newly out from New Directions. You can also read a chapter from it, along with a diverse selection of other new international fiction and poetry in the Center's forthcoming anthology Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed.

Two Words' Contributors

Posted on July 28, 2009, 07:09:44 PM

Scott Esposito is Marketing Coordinator for the Center for the Art of Translation.
John Oliver Simon is Artistic Director for the Center's Poetry Inside Out program. His translations include From the Lightning by Gonzalo Rojas (Green Integer Press) and Ghosts of the Palace of Blue Tiles by Jorge Fernández Granados (Tameme).
Annie Janusch manages the Center's TWO LINES World Writing in Translation series.

Three Cuban Writers To Read In Translation

Posted on July 28, 2009, 06:24:00 PM

Jose Manuel Prieto has been busy lately. In addition to chatting about translation and overseeing the publication of his Russian Trilogy into English, he recently penned an introduction to Cuban writer Guillermo Rosales's intense novella, The Halfway House. Reviews of Halfway House are available at The Complete Review and Three Percent.

The Center's anthology, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, features another Cuban writer in addition to Prieto. His name is Rogelio Riveron, and in her translator's introduction Elizabeth Bell uses this short anecdote to describe him:

I write because it's practically the only thing I know how to do, says Rogelio Riveron.
When an interviewer pressed the issue with another Why do you write? query, Riveron said: If I were older I might answer that I do it as a service to culture. For now, I'd chop one syllable off that embarrassing word and say I do it as a vice, or my fate.
Asked another, What do you like to do besides write?
The reply: Write.

At 44, Riveron shows no signs of slowing down. He is the recipient of both the Italo Calvino Award (2008) and the Julio Cortazar Award (2007) for short stories. His contribution to Wherever shows signs of both authors, and though he has been little-translated into English, he is an author I hope we can see a full-length work from (in English) in the future.

Becoming a Translator of Latin American Poetry

Posted on July 27, 2009, 04:52:01 PM

Karen Emmerich on Greek Literature

Posted on July 23, 2009, 05:31:24 PM

We've just posted audio from our Lit&Lunch event with Karen Emmerich reading her translations of Greek literature.
Emmerich reads from four different Greek authors:

  • Amanda Michalopoulou, whose metafictional novel-in-stories I'd Like was published last year in English by Dalkey Archive to great acclaim

  • Eleni Vakalo, whose extensive works of poetry Emmerich will be translating over the next fifteen years

  • Ersi Sotiropoulos, whose short story Rain At the Construction Site appears in the Center's forthcoming anthology, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed (Karen reads another story, Freehand, in our audio)

  • Miltos Sachtouris, whose poetry collection, Poems, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and is available from Archipelago Books

Bay Area residents should keep in mind that they can attend the Center's Lit&Lunch events with Natasha Wimmer and Breon Mitchell this fall.

José Manuel Prieto on Diamond Forgery and Proust

Posted on July 23, 2009,

José Manuel Prieto began his June Lit&Lunch reading in San Francisco by commenting on the light?namely, how the light in San Francisco reminded him of the light in St. Petersburg. This fascination with light?and the illusions it casts?comes to play a remarkable role in his novel Rex, where a diamond's brilliance reveals nothing of its authenticity. One of Rex's main characters is a Russian scientist, living with his wife, their son, and their son's tutor on the Costa Brava, where he has not only managed to manufacture artificial diamonds but also to pass them off as real to Russian Mafiosi. Having heard Prieto discuss Rex on a few occasions now, I've noticed how animatedly he speaks about the subject of diamond forgery, and considering that Prieto studied engineering in Novosibirsk, Russia, this doesn't come entirely as a surprise.
As Prieto went on to explain, and Esther Allen to translate, at their reading with the Center, the history of manufacturing artificial diamonds goes back a couple hundred years. Although there had been many previous attempts throughout the world, the first diamond to be successfully manufactured was in the U.S. in 1953 by General Electric (to be used for industrial purposes like cutting hard materials). Chemists and scientists have always known that diamonds are made of carbon, but a French scientist put a fine point on this once by concentrating the sun's rays on a diamond through a magnifying glass (like a child might do to set fire to ants)?and the diamond went up in flames.
It wasn't until 1981, though, that Japanese scientists produced the first diamond of gem quality, one that replicated the immaculate sparkle and transparency of a real diamond. By the beginning of the 1990s, artificial diamonds that were absolutely indistinguishable from natural diamonds were being manufactured?and in none other than Novosibirsk, where Prieto had studied engineering. Even expert jewelers have been unable to distinguish between real diamonds and artificial diamonds, which, as Prieto has pointed out, is disturbing to a company like De Beers, which buys the entire annual production of diamonds in Russia.
Although Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is an evident motif in Rex, Prieto also makes a deliberate nod to Proust's novella The Lemoine Affair, which just came out last year in English translation by Charlotte Mandell from Melville House. In The Lemoine Affair, a man approaches De Beers, claiming he knows how to manufacture artificial diamonds and threatens to flood the marketplace and destroy DeBeers' monopoly. Proust's own family owned shares in DeBeers and lost money in this famous swindle. As Prieto ironically pointed out, Proust was able to write his great novels in part because of the wealth afforded his family by diamonds.
Prieto, too, has cited inspiration from Jules Verne's 1852 novel The Star of the South, about the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly, South Africa.
As Prieto advised the audience in San Francisco, if you're in the market for a precious stone, don't waste your money; buy the fake diamond.
Annie Janusch manages the Center's TWO LINES World Writing in Translation series, the latest volume of which, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, features extracts from Rex.

On Translating Rex

Posted on July 21, 2009, 05:02:35 PM

In her translator's introduction in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, Esther Allen makes some interesting points about Jose Manuel Prieto's novel Rex and its rather singular relationship with translation:

He began his literary career as a translator from Russian to Spanish, and in this particular novel, even more so than in his two earlier ones, he writes as a translator, to expose the way in which all meaning is temporary and provisional, dependent upon its immediate context, subject to infinite and unpredictable shifts. Language, and the literary texts that are made from it, is not a diamond, its super-hard molecules permanently ordered in a fixed pattern, its great value impervious to the ups and downs of the marketplace; it is, rather, a luminous uproar, inevitably illusory and impermanent, dissolving into an ungraspably fine floating powder when any determined will is brought to bear on it.
The English translation of Rex makes that point in a way its author, who finished writing the novel in 2006, could hardly have dreamed of. Though the book was written to describe the strategies used to overcome the terrible experience of totalitarianism, as Prieto says in the Author's Note, the reader who comes to the English translation in 2009 won't be able to help reading this book, with its depiction of an obscene and ostentatious wealth founded on fakery, supposedly valuable objects that turn out to be of no value whatsoever, as being about a collapse much closer to home than that of the Soviet Union.
Though Rex is undoubtedly enriched by the added dimension that the current global economic crisis has bestowed upon it, its translation into other languages, other contexts, is only a first step on the way to what the text finally demands?translation into other mediums altogether. As I translated Rex, I kept visualizing it all on a stage . . .

Allen's full translator's introduction is available in the Center's forthcoming anthology, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, along with an excerpt from Rex, available this November.
For more on the intersection between translation and Rex, listen the Center's audio of Esther Allen in conversation with Jose Manuel Prieto. That conversation was part of the 2008-09 season of Lit&Lunch. For the 2009-10 season, we've already booked Natasha Wimmer and Breon Mitchell, whose re-translation of The Tin Drum will be published this fall.

The Center's Blog

Posted on July 20, 2009, 08:36:12 PM

This is the blog for the Center for the Art of Translation. We're going to be updating this site, along with the Center's main website, with exclusive interviews with translators of literary fiction and poetry, as well as original articles, news, and more. You can already listen to our audio clips from translator Esther Allen and novelist Jose Manuel Prieto in conversation.
And while you're here, have a look at our forthcoming anthology of literature-in-translation. This is our 16th year for this book, and it's full of great stuff, like excerpts from Breon Mitchell's retranslation of The Tin Drum, Rex, Azorno, and The Naked Eye, as well as a host of texts not available anywhere else in English (these include work by Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, and a special section on Palestinian poetry).