Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How will readers deal with emojis a hundred years from now?

On the complexities of translation- over languages and time:
Is “timeless” fiction even theoretically possible? Whether or not you mention brand names, the cultural milieu is going to creep in. Sometimes I wonder why we don’t have more diachronic (across-time) English-to-English translations. Yes, language changes, but often culture changes while language doesn’t: same words, totally different connotations. In a matter of decades, subtleties could be lost. Will our children know about Apple-product snobbery? Must we footnote everything? In the introduction to her new translation of Madame Bovary published in 2010, Lydia Davis notes: 
The novel is full of markers of the culture of Flaubert’s time that we in our time may not recognize as such: La Chaumière dance hall in Paris; Pompadour clocks and statuettes; the poet Béranger; the novelist Walter Scott; fireworks […] It isn’t as clear to us, reading the novel in the twenty-first century, that these were not necessarily thoughtful individual choices but rather symptoms of a blind adherence to conventional—and often questionable—taste. 
These markers are the “frivolous Now” of mid-19th century France; their Pompadour clock is our iPhone.
For every translator, there must come a moment of reckoning, of wondering, What precisely am I translating? Flaubert was famously a stylist, who believed “a good sentence in prose should be like a good line in poetry, unchangeable.” (If unchangeable, then untranslatable.) Odd, then, Davis writes, that “many of the translations do not try to reproduce that style, but simply tell this engrossing story in their own preferred manner.” She cites the “lush, loquacious” 1948 translation by Gerard Hopkins (nephew of the poet), which “added material in almost every sentence.” A text is only made of language, and yet the language seems to generate some other, ineffable, epiphenomenal essence—a spectral text that survives when all the language changes. Infinite translations, infinite texts. 
I read that Kafka’s Metamorphosis is difficult to translate into Japanese because of “insect appreciation”—that is to say, the Japanese do not experience revulsion at the prospect of a man-sized beetle. What to do, then—convert Gregor Samsa into something that the Japanese do find disgusting? Or let it become a new story in a new context? Which is more accurate, more faithful to the original? Imagine reading Metamorphosis without understanding why Gregor’s family is repulsed by him—after all, he has transmutated into something wondrous, something perhaps better!

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