Dec 2, 2015

ATA 2015: Challenges of Literary Translation: Finding your Voice

ATA 56th Annual Conference Session J-4
Friday, Nov 06, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Session Summary by
Patricia Pringle

Juliet Winters Carpenter shared with us the various types of challenges and choices she faces as she translates Japanese literary works. She gave us some idea of the complexities of translating another's words while expressing a voice that is compelling for English readers and retains the flavor of the original. When is a translation too free? What do you do with specific cultural references? Can you leave things out? Can you add things? What about explanatory notes?

At the beginning of her talk, she said she would offer "some random points that occurred to me," but clearly she had given them quite a bit of thought. She provided a handout containing very specific examples of the types of challenges she encounters.
Here are some points that I found particularly helpful in my work.

Clichés. Kobo Abe describes a futile pursuit as "like chasing the bullet train on a bicycle." What do you do? Call it a "wild goose chase"? Juliet cautions against using clichés, because they weigh down the translation. She chose to keep the bullet train image. Later she discovered that Abe did not actually make up that expression either—but at least it’s not a cliché in English.

Research. In the novel, a teenage girl is working after school at a telephone club. The speech of another character, an older policeman, combines untranslatable Japanese brothel lingo with a reference to the teenager looking through her dictionary while waiting for a customer, tied together by a play on words. Juliet chose to go with a "thumb" image to tie the translation to the original. The character says, "get a thumbs-up or thumb through your homework while you wait your turn." Juliet wondered if “thumbs-up” could be used in this context and discovered through research on brothels in Nevada that indeed a thumbs-up signal is used.

Using a lifeline. When translating a mystery novel containing a character who was a female police officer and also a biker, she wanted an authentic equivalent for a biker expression used by the officer. She was able to contact the brother of one of her colleagues from grad school, who was a biker, to get just the right biker expression.
On the use of words that may be unfamiliar to some readers, Juliet commented, "Using the right word is important. If it is right, people will get it."

Use of explanations. When Karuizawa was the setting of a novel, Juliet added a page of explanation woven into the author's text at the appropriate place, because Karuizawa in itself was so significant to the work. Non-Japanese readers would need to be introduced to it, even though Japanese readers would not. Juliet said, "There is a surprising amount of leeway, more than people think."

Juliet also spoke about working side by side with author Mizumura Minae. Mizumura spent twenty years in the United States, so she knows English well. The two were able to go through the translation line by line, consider all the choices and come together on the feeling of the translation.

I am glad I had the opportunity to spend time with a true master in our field. I came away with a greater appreciation of both the technique and creativity of literary translation.
Juliet was introduced by Lindsay Anderson, who is pursuing a Masters degree in Literary Translation from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Juliet Winters Carpenter, a professor of English at Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts in Kyoto, Japan, has translated more than 50 works of Japanese fiction and poetry by a wide range of authors, including Kobo Abe, Fumiko Enchi, Machi Tawara, Ryotaro Shiba, and, most recently, Minae Mizumura. Juliet is the only double recipient of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, first in 1980 for Kobo Abe's novel Mikkai (Secret Rendezvous), and again in 2015 for Minae Mizumura's novel Honkaku shosetsu (A True Novel), which also received ATA's Lewis Galantiere Prize in 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment