Thursday, April 02, 2009

Choices to be made

Iena, of the Saving Ophilia fame, writes about how she chose her favourite translation of Proust:

"Intuitively, I know that translating is an art, not a science. After two years of Latin courses, I knew that even the most precise language is left to interpretation. Phrasing differs, language is prettier, sentences more or less ornate. When I decided to read Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, I took a detailed look at the translations available to me and refused to budge once I had chosen (...) Of the versions available to me, I chose to read the newest one by Lydia Davis. The earliest translation was done by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, a writer in his own right, loosely thought of as one of the best translators of all time. He began translating Proust in the 1920s and is given credit for the sudden popularity of the series. There is also an updated version of his translation which Terence Kilmartin contributed to and D.J. Enright edited. And yet I chose not to read Moncrieff’s translation.

I chose Lydia Davis. From reading her work, I knew she had an intense passion for the French language. She spent three years translating Swann’s Way, carefully deducing from her studies of his past what he meant by the word barrire - gate or fence? A seemingly arbitrary choice means the world in a narrative as detailed and vibrant as Proust’s. In an interview she did with McSweeney’s she goes on to say that she aims to be “so close that a student of Proust’s writing style could study it without losing the beauty or flow.” The Penguin Modern classic series is set up so that each section of the In Search of Lost Time series is translated by a different writer. I fear I will miss Lydia upon reaching the second volume.

It was the little nuances and the flow of Davis’s translation that won me over. Proust’s writing is more detailed then any I’ve ever previously encountered. I felt that Moncrieff’s ornate sentences only convoluted the meaning of the already length, information packed sentences. Though I am more than happy with the choice I’ve made.. I wonder, if one day, it would do me good to try reading Moncrieff’s version, if nothing but to see the difference in overall feeling and meaning."

Oh, I would have read both. And analysed them.

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