If you can translate that, what can't you translate? by mattsteinglass
March 21, 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Literature, Uncategorized

Jenny Davidson reminds me of Georges Perec’s novel “La Disparition”, translated by Gilbert Adair as “A Void”. The book doesn’t contain the letter “e”. This becomes thematic, with the protagonist trying to figure out what it is that seems to be missing in his life. Beautiful conceit: the reader knows what’s missing in the character’s universe, it’s blindingly obvious to us, but the character  can have no conception of it, and this comes to stand for our own relationship to what’s missing from our spiritual lives, which could be blindingly obvious to some hypothetical outside observer. In that way the audience-protagonist relationship works rather like “Memento”.

But the point here is that Gilbert Adair translated this from French to English. And it’s quite readable. Think of the challenge in every sentence. This gets back to my beef with people who too often claim that words, concepts or works of art are “untranslatable”. Certainly some are, but a lot of the time it’s just laziness and a desire to appear mysterious. I think Paul Bowles has a really good line about that sort of empty exoticism somewhere, but I can’t remember it.


1 Comment so far
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Did you write this on a Monday? Dang.

Comment by citifieddoug

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