Thursday, January 13, 2005

Edith Grossman and the Translator's Art

Edith Grossman, notable for her translation of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, made an appearance in Washington, D.C. last night. Her appearance was part of a year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote, which is considered the first modern novel. Grossman's recent translation of Don Quixote was published last year.

Grossman said she did not set out to be a translator. In college, her goal was to be a literary critic and scholar. She found herself moonlighting as a translator of Spanish poetry and fiction after a friend asked her to translate a story for publication.

“I agreed out of curiosity,” Grossman said. She found she enjoyed the process, which she described as intriguing, mysterious and endlessly challenging. “It is a strange craft,” she said.

Translators are largely ignored by reviewers and under-appreciated by publishers, Grossman said, while authors tend to value the work of talented translators.

Grossman believes that translators must be faithful to the author and his text, but that faithfulness, she said, has “little to do with literal meaning.” Translators, she said, should not be faithful to lexical pairings, to words and syntax, but to context.

Her belief grows out of the observation that “a living language will not be regulated.” Even a simple language is slippery, paradoxical, ambivalent and explosive, she said.

“I believe the meaning of a passage can almost always be rendered faithfully in a second language,” Grossman said. “The actual words almost never.”

Grossman posed the question: Is a translation an imitation or an original? And then furnished the answer: A translated work, she said, has an existence separate from the first text.


I completed my second book of 2005 late last night— The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. It’s a book I first read several years ago. I thought it was terrific then and, if anything, think more highly of it now.


The mail yesterday brought me a first edition of Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. I didn’t read much science fiction last year, with the exception of Stross’ Iron Sunrise. It’s a space opera, but Stross revives the genre. He’s comparable to William Gibson, although Gibson wrote about cyberspace, not the space between the planets. Similarities emerge in their inventiveness, especially with language; their personal vision of how future technology may transform our lives; the development of strong female characters; and the superb command of narrative to drive their work.

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