What I learned in June 2016

That the free in freelancer means just that. Free to do a test or not. Free to refuse if you feel unwell, have no time, or just don’t like the look of the test (why do some agencies insist on using a cutting from a newspaper that has absolutely nothing to do with the types of texts you will supposedly end up translating for them?). And, of course, as I discussed with Elena Tereschenkova and Dmitry Kornyukov when they kindly invited me to chat with them one Wednesday on their live Blab chat show on translation called “Blabbing Translators“, free to pick and choose the advice we are bombarded with in this profession on social media without worrying about ignoring something often portrayed as essential.

One Blab viewer even asked if we thought we were living in an age of infoxication, and I believe we are. It’s getting increasingly difficult in our profession to wade through the information and advice and decide what’s best for us. However, as I heard a life coach mention on the radio, we are all experts of ourselves. The often contradictory advice that is out there is not necessarily good or bad per se, but it can be good or bad for us. And we also bear the responsibility for any actions we implement or decide not to pursue ourselves. As I mentioned to Elena during the Blab, if your heart is not in something, then perhaps that means you shouldn’t do it. On the other hand, if, like Elena, you want to challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone, then perhaps you should. (You’ll find the links to watch/listen to this conversation in this post.)

Influencing people is actually quite scary. As I also said during the Blab, I’m always extremely flattered to hear that a post I’ve shared on this blog has helped a colleague and motivated them to do something with a positive outcome. But equally, if someone takes my advice and it doesn’t turn out well, I can’t help feeling responsible, almost guilty in a way. After all, I’m just an opinionated blogger throwing ideas out there about what has and hasn’t worked for me. I’m certainly not a premium translator, any kind of “guru” or in any way qualified to give advice.

On the subject of influencing, you might find this video on the Science of Persuasion of interest. I’ve just rewatched it and it gave me an idea for a tweak of my homepage on my website.

In June I came across this LARB article about Ann Goldstein, an Italian to English literary translator and copyeditor. Not only did it remind me of another article on her published earlier in the year on The Wall Street Journal, but also a question I raised in a post on revisionsWhen is a translation not a translation?

Ann Goldstein falls into the camp of translators that follow a text closely and are as true as possible to the original without writing in a stilted fashion in the target language. By doing this, the translator can let the voice of the author shine through rather than taking liberties, rewriting parts and putting their own stamp on the text. This is no easy task, as she explains in this third article published in TIME magazine, since translation is a “balancing act” between readability and meaning.

By contrast, Michael Hofmann, a German to English translator, admits in this Guardian article that his translations are “more egotistical” than most since he’s supplying the words and, therefore, the resulting text is also about him. He goes on to say that translators should “avoid the obvious word, even if it is the literal equivalent”. I’m frankly surprised by an attitude that deliberately tries to find another way of phrasing an author’s words because, IMHO, it can lead to mistranslations. I might be wrong in my assumptions here, but if Kafka (one of the examples given in the article) had wanted to say “Was ist los mit mir?”, then I assume he would have done so. “Was ist mit mir geschehen” is a different slant, some outward thing has done something to me, whereas the former implies that something within has gone wrong.

Personally, although I’m not a literary translator and have no desire to become one, I don’t believe we translators should strive to be non-literal if the literal version is still English (or whatever language you are translating into), understandable and faithful to the original. You only need to stray from the text if a close rendition prevents flow and sounds unnatural. But, of course, it also depends on the type of text we’re working on and who the end user is. That’s why we can sometimes get it wrong if the client is expecting a style other that the one we can/do provide. But out of Ann Goldstein and Michael Hofmann, I know whose translations I’d rather read.

By far the worst thing I learned in June was that the majority of the people who voted in the UK EU referendum don’t feel the same way about Europe as I do. I am incredulous, devastated and extremely worried about the long-term ramifications of this unwise decision inflicted on us mostly by people that have had a knee-jerk reaction to immigration and politics as a whole and thought little about the bigger picture and the consequences of a leave vote.

I believe that as a planet we face grave environmental threats due to climate change, habitat destruction, overuse of pesticides and fertilisers and reckless energy choices (for example fracking), to name but a few, and that we need to tackle the resulting problems they cause (food and water scarcity, plummeting pollinator populations, pollution, migration, decimation of wildlife, and so on) together. Since we need more unity and compassion than divisions, I deeply regret our severing from Europe, and possibly Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. Now is not the time to think only of yourself when your actions can impact on the lives of people on the other side of the earth.

When I was growing up, my parents often repeated the proverb “charity begins at home” as an excuse to ignore others’ needs, especially when these others lived in far flung places they never visited and may never even have heard of. Today, with information at our fingertips online and awareness of the role we play in the world, it is deeply regrettable that the majority of the British people opted for a blinkered approach to our future.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you’ll find all the instalments listed on the Reflections & Resolutions page.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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