We're proud to present audio of renowned author, translator, and MacArthur "Genuis" Lydia Davis, who discussed her acclaimed new translation of Madame Bovary last week as part of the Center's Two Voices events series in San Francisco.
Whereas so many writers seem to fall neatly into categories, Davis's career has more often than not defied categorization. Ranging from an author of short stories, to what might be called flash ficitons, to single-sentence stories, Davis also is one of our most gifted translators, having previously given us an astonishing new view of Proust's Swann's Way.
For those who love the minutia of translation, this is audio for you. Davis the translator is the one from who we heard at this event, a master writer who brings her entire suite of tools and exactitude to the hard work of translation.
For a little context, this is what Davis said about her work on Bovary in her introduction to a selection of that book that we published in the most recent TWO LINES. She writes, "[in translating Madame Bovary] I tried to depart as little as possible from the way the sentences unfolded in the original, and to add and subtract nothing . . . doing my best to compose a piece of writing that was strong, natural, and effective in English." And then, later in the same introduction, "It is surprising, really, how many translators do not take this approach."
During the event, Davis elaborated on that approach:
I've translated works that haven't been translated before. So coming to the Proust and [Madame Bovary] that have been translated before, that's a completely different experience for me.
She also candidly discussed her use of previous translations, saying she wasn't afraid to do a little borrowing from time to time:
When I had a real problem I would look at all of them, always hoping that someone would either have an insight into what it meant or how it should be translated, or just a nice phrase that I could lift. And I wasn't embarrassed to lift. In the process of looking at them, I would see that they lifted from each other.
And she even discussed geeking out over seeing Nabokov's notes on Bovary and his marginalia on a translation of it:
He was quite helpful, but then I trusted him too much. And I found that he wasn't really always right, so I had to back off a little bit from my utter trust. I went to the fanatical extreme for a while, I discovered that the public library at 42nd St. in New York had his annotated copy of Eleanor Marx' translation of Madame Bovary . . . he got very annoyed with her, and he would write in his own preferences.
One last nice thing about this audio is that you can hear event host and TWO LINES Managing Editor CJ Evans read an entire story of Davis' in his introduction. It's only a page long, but it's an excellent one to read aloud, and it fit in very well with the evening. In part it says:
To translate a travel writing, for example, is to read a travel writing, to write a travel writing, to read a writing, to write a writing, and to travel. But if because you are translating you read, and because writing translate, because traveling write, because traveling read, and because translating travel; . . .
It gets even crazier and should be heard aloud.