A little more coverage of Some Kind of Beautiful Signal before we close down Two Words for the holidays (don't worry, we'll be back in January with more translation-related blogging). The latest is from the good people over at The Second Pass:
For Natasha Wimmer, the best thing a translator can do is “disappear” behind a text, a strategy that earned her a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009 for her translation of Robert Bolaño’s novel 2666. But the San Francisco-based Center for the Art of Translation is doing everything it can to put the translator front and center.
For the past 17 years, the center has published Two Lines: World Writing in Translation, one of just a handful of publications devoted exclusively to the translation of international literature into English, a sort of translators’ night out where each translator very nearly gets to step out from behind the curtain of the text. Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, this year’s edition — edited by Wimmer and acclaimed poet Jeffrey Yang — continues this worthy tradition by delivering works by poets and fiction writers working in more than a dozen languages.
(Today we have a guest blog post by Dolkun Kamberi, the founding director of Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service, who co-edited the special Uyghur folio in Some Kind of Beautiful Signal. You'll be able to catch both Kamberi and Jeffrey Yang at our celebration of Uyghur culture on February 24. You can also read Kamberi and Yang's Introduction to Uyghur Poetry right here at Two Lines Online.)
My interest on Uyghur poetry goes back at least thirty years, to when I was working as a field archeologist in the regional museum of Ürümchi, Uyghurland’s capital. I excavated medieval documents from the Turpan Basin and other parts of the Uyghur Autonomous Region, and collected manuscripts of classic literature from the Uyghur public to enrich the museum’s collection.
As a result of my research, I became fascinated by Uyghur poetry and its themes: philosophy, respect of knowledge, humanistic love, among others; its complicated rhyme-schemes—Quatrains in early Uyghur poems carry an initial rhyme, a rhyme at the end of each line, or alternately rhyming lines—and its harmony of rhythm and rhyme.
The rich elements of the poetry pushed me to translate my favorite Uyghur love poems for a wider audience. I began by translating for a Chinese readership right after my graduation from the University in Beijing, co-authoring a brief history of Uyghur literature and translated Uyghur love poems into Chinese during 1980s.
Then, in 1988, I published my co-translation into modern Uyghur and Chinese the 27 Acts of a large-scale medieval Uyghur Buddhist drama. The drama, Maitrisimit, written in 767 CE, was unearthed in the Qumul prefecture of the Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1959. I also studied the history and culture of the medieval Uyghurs by looking at a variety of primary documents and archeological finds.
When TWO LINES guest Editor Jeffery Yang asked about the possibility of translating a couple of Uyghur poems for the anthology, I immediately knew what we should include, and even though the focus on Uyghur poetry in the new volume in the TWO LINES series was only able to include a small sample, and there is much so many more excellent classic and contemporary Uyghur poets, our selection is a representative literary drop from the ocean that is Uyghur poetry.
That's one of the things one discovers on this article at The Spectator. Author Philip Hensher argues in favor of spreading the translation love around:
Astonishingly, this is the 20th time Madame Bovary has been translated into English. I say ‘astonishing’ because, as everyone knows, great novels in foreign languages tend to get done once, if at all. Most of Theodore Fontane has never been translated, or Jean-Paul, or Stifter; only in the last few years have the antique H. T. Lowe-Porter translations of Thomas Mann been superseded, and if you want to read most of Balzac’s immense work you will have to resort to 19th-century collected editions. Couldn’t one of those translators or publishers have turned their attention instead to Balzac’s Louis Lambert, a novel Flaubert himself loved?
I like the sound of that, but Hensher's odd fear of even a minor amount of experimentation in punctuation strikes me as off-base:
Not all of Flaubert’s refinements are, it must be said, compatible with what most people regard as good writing. Previous translators have tidied up his punctuation, and in particular the frequent moments when, by omitting an ‘and’, he commits the crime of the ‘splice comma’. It is rather a shock when Lydia Davis exactly preserves his punctuation — ‘all the evidence rose before her at once, her heart leaped.’
Of course Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, to name just one very well-known example, was a huge comma splicer. I'd hardly call it a crime.
Excessive allegiance to punctuation aside, it's an interesting article, and it gives me another chance to remind everyone that you'll find a taste of Lydia Davis's new Bovary in Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, along with over 30 other international authors.
Some Kind of Beautiful Signal co-editor Jeffrey Yang has a poem in today's New York Times. It's a translation from the Chinese of a work by poet Liu Xiaobo, who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this past October.
This poem joins Yang's work on the Uyghur folio in Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, which he co-translated with Dolkun Kamberi. The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority in China's far west, and they have a vivd history of over 2,000 years. The folio Yang worked on includes poems from all over this history, and they're quite beautiful.
On November 17 we celebrated the launch of the new book in our TWO LINES series, Some Kind of Beautiful Signal. Here you can hear the audio from the readings portion of that event, where translators Kurt Beals, Katherine Silver, Rick London, and Joel Streicker reading poetry and prose from Anja Utler, Martin Adan, and Samanta Schweblin, all included in Some Kind of Beautiful Signal.
Publishing Perspectives has an interesting article about the ups and downs of Dedalus Books, one of the U.K.'s longest-standing and best publishers of literary titles.
As the article makes clear, the kinds of books Dedalus publishes are usuallly not going to be huge comercial hits:
I didn’t know it at the time but what had captured my attention was a “new” genre, described by Dedalus as “distorted reality,” “. . . where the bizarre, the unusual, the grotesque and the surreal meld in a kind of intellectual fiction which is very European.” Interviewed via email, publisher Eric Lane explains the origins of the concept: “The credit for the Dedalus genre must go to (novelist and scholar of Islam) Robert Irwin. He recommended the line of books we are now well-known for: Huysmans, Meyrink and Potocki. Our list was inspired above all by Jan Potocki’s The Saragossa Manuscript and indeed we have a French literary fantasy list which we describe as distorted reality… Our editorial policy emerged in 1985 and we have followed it ever since. We are constantly looking to broaden into new areas but only if they connect back to the core distorted reality brief.”
That "European" "intellectual fiction" is usually dead on arrival in the U.S.--interesting to note that there are some similarities in the U.K., even though it is generally considered part of European culture.
Unfortunately, the message of this article is that if you want to publish intellectual books that are not to be found elsewhere, you will need financial help. It is not a matter of if, but when. And then someone must come to your rescue:
“The chief executive of Informa Plc, David Gilbertson, discussed our plight with his colleagues and Jeremy North, the M.D of Routledge Books gave us two years of sponsorship. We were sponsored under their corporate responsibility program. We visited their premises a few times and various people there gave us advice and support. We got a payment each month for £2,500. The only thing we had to do in return was to send Routledge a monthly invoice. Their funding of Dedalus was pure altruism.”
However, Dedalus does note that eventually some of their books pay off rather well, indicating that their model is workable, just that it needs enough support to get over the short-term humps and last long enough to reap those rewards.
That's all part of the process of introducing new literature--you have to be willing (and have enough time and resources) to build up a readership, since usually the public will not "get" your books (if they're good) without aquiring a taste for them. Some would call teaching readers to love books from outside their culture genuine cultural interchange, i.e., the reason many people love books and decide to try and publish them for a living. It's a shame, though, that Dedalus's example shows that this can often be a difficult path, one that is shunned by the powers that be and relies on the goodness of others.
December brings some more great press for the Center's newest anthology, Some Kind of Beautiful Signal.
First up, the website Salonica, which does a great job of covering international lit and is hosted by Best Translated Book Award judge Monica Carter, has named SKBS to its holiday gift guide, saying:
Some Kind of Beautiful Signal~Ed. Natasha Wimmer and Jeffrey Yang~Latino, Russian, Uyghar: Russia, Turkey, Argentina and all points beyond. This gem of an anthology in the TWO LINES series takes a different angle by highlighting the work of the translators as well as the writers. It includes fiction, poetry and essays from the likes of Roberto Bolano and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Eclectic and vibrant, I found the essays by the translators fascinating and adding so much to the works themselves. Also, this is a bilingual anthology so you can peep what the pieces looked like in their original languages. Well worth gifting to the globetrotting polyglot!
And then we have some (semi-)local love from the Sacramento Book Review, which has given SKBS a rave in its December 2010 issue.
This is an impressive collection of translated literature, if you are looking for new voices, this is the place to turn.
If I do say so myself, SKBS makes a wonderful holiday gift (to your loved ones, or as a gift to yourself). Of course you can order the book on our website, or from IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie. But, you can also score a free copy if you donate $100 or more as part of our year-end donation drive, which can be done right here.