Monday, March 15, 2010

Literature, translation, globalisation

"The Dull New Global Novel" essay by Parks in the NY Review of Books poses the hypothesis of "boredom" and "dullness".

The new "global" novel, written by someone in country X but intended for audiences from all over the world, will be boring by default because, as Parks says, "From the moment an author perceives his ultimate audience as international rather than national, the nature of his writing is bound to change. In particular one notes a tendency to remove obstacles to international comprehension. Writing in the 1960’s, intensely engaged with his own culture and its complex politics, Hugo Claus apparently did not care that his novels would require a special effort on the reader’s and above all the translator’s part if they were to be understood outside his native Belgium. In sharp contrast, contemporary authors like the Norwegian Per Petterson, the Dutch Gerbrand Bakker, or the Italian Alessandro Baricco, offer us works that require no such knowledge or effort, nor offer the rewards that such effort will bring. More importantly the language is kept simple. Kazuo Ishiguro has spoken of the importance of avoiding word play and allusion to make things easy for the translator. Scandinavian writers I know tell me they avoid character names that would be difficult for an English reader."

Mr Parks is making assumptions not born out by facts: that the "international" readership is dumb, and that translators can't translate literature.

The fact that there is a global market for any novel (witness Dan Brown and Rowlings) is in itself fully dependent on the existence and high skills of literary translators. Parks is saying that if it can be translated it isn’t literary — or the truly literary parts of literature are those parts that can’t be translated.

Except that we cannot ever agree on what is and what is not "truly literary". The way things are going, I am finding lots of post-modern novels in general incomprehensible in my native English, and I don't envy any translator the task of having to convey the already opeque language into another. Meaningless mambo-jumbo in English is not truly literary - it is literary mambo-jumbo. I could give a long list of examples, but I would run out of space, and court defamation lawyers.

That which can be translated is the essence of literature. Every translation is a witness to the unidentifiable beauty of Language.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

No comments: