Friday, May 08, 2009

Translating Erotica

From the Concordia University Journal:

"On April 24, the Département d'études françaises hosted the Translating Erotica conference, bringing together academics and the public to consider the intricacies of converting the erotic text from one language to another.

"There are specificities of text that travel successfully across language and some that don't," said Études françaises professor and conference organizer Pier-Pascale Boulanger. "You could ask the same questions about humour; it's a cultural, historical and generational thing. We wanted to explore how erotic literature works in translation."

For example, she explains the word for 'hairy' in English may often have off-putting connotations, but the German term behaart merely means 'the presence of follicles on a man’s skin' – in directly translating the word, the effect on the reader may be counterproductive.
"The point of erotica is to, well, turn on the reader or at least catch their attention. If there's any text that isn't clear and slows the reader down, it needs to be taken out," Boulanger said. "It's like the instructions for Ikea furniture; you read them, build, and you have a result at the end.

For Montreal-native Boulanger, who has been at Concordia since 2005, the idea for the conference stemmed from teaching literary translation here at Concordia – a class she's taught for four sessions.

"Generally, students translate the classics, such as Shakespeare, but we don't really get to work on anything that's not considered literary." In an attempt to shake things up, she began her students translating dialogue from authors such as Dan Brown or Nick Hornby to gain practical experience. "But it got me thinking, how would you translate erotica? What would be the problems? Especially regarding with the masculine-feminine designation of objects in French."

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