Notable Quotable: What is Literary Translation?
August 12, 2014
What is literary translation and why does it matter? The answer to the latter part of that sentence is simple: empathy. As NEA Chairman Jane Chu writes in her preface to the NEA's new publication, The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, "translation fosters [a] sense of empathy—understanding how people from different countries and cultures might feel and act." To that end, since 1981, the NEA has fostered the field of literary translation through more than $8 million in grants. These funds have supported both literary translators and organizations that publish literary works in translation. It should be noted that voices from both categories are amply represented in The Art of Empathy.
As for the first part of the question—what is literary translation?—we turn for answers to several of the literary translators represented in the collection. We hope you'll read their essays—and those of the other contributors—in full in the publication. (Ed. Note: Please click on the hyperlinked names to read or listen to our past Art Works interviews with selected contributors.)
"For me, translation means hearing voices—allowing an author's voice to sing through my own." —Angela Rodel"Translation is a practice of empathy, like choosing a twin, where affinity and kinship is a declarative act and not a passive discovery." —Gregory Pardlo"Translating is a kind of writing, of course, but it's also a kind of reading: a very, very slow kind of reading—possibly the slowest kind of reading in the world." —Natasha Wimmer"I suppose all translators are alchemists at heart." —Philip Boehm"Translation is neither the source language nor the receptor language, but the transformation that takes place in between." —Rainer Schulte"The trick of translation is that the act of it transforms everyone: the original text, the new language, the author, and the translator all." —Kazim Ali"In biblical terms, every translated word works to reverse the confusion of tongues, allowing us to temporarily inhabit a long lost state of unity." —Johanna Warren