This Little Art

Disappointing read on one of my favorite topics— the art and difficulties of translation. Kate Briggs muses on the choices made during translation, holds up other translators as examples, gives us a peek inside the kimono of her own translation of Barthes. Throw in a heavy helping of Robinson Crusoe’s table making, a few obligatory references to Virginia Woolf, and an extremely protective stance about Helen Lowe-Porter’s translation of Thomas Mann, and you’ve got your book. Perhaps I was too annoyed by the structure—each thought bundled onto a separate page, sometimes several pages at a stretch with only a sentence on them. It wasn’t all rubbish, I did mark a few spots that were especially poignant. She also got me interested in comparing Lowe-Porter’s translation to James Woods (which I own), so another reading of The Magic Mountain is forthcoming. I’m also nosing around in Goethe’s Faust and have Barthes’ Preparation of the Novel headed my way. If anything, this book was successful in bread-crumbing me into the arms of better writers.

“When I tell you that I have read The Magic Mountain is this a quick small-part-for-the-whole way for me to tell you that I’ve read The Magic Mountain in English translation? The title here standing in for the original — each slightly smaller, reduced part (the title, the translation) pointing to some further, just out of reach and more expansive aesthetic experience (the real one this time, the authentic one)?”

“… How, in fact, the font does matter, or it can — likewise the timing and circumstances of my reading, the books I am reading the book with, the people I am talking to about it, who might make me think differently; the difference between reading a book for the first time and for the third.”

“For Barthes, preparing for the novel also means establishing what he calls a daily practice of notation, a mode of attending to and recording the detail of everyday life. These notes are what his projected novel will be made from. Preparing, then, in the way you might ready your ingredients before making a meal… In this manner, the preparation for the novel starts touching at and partaking in preparation of the novel. In other words, preparing as a means of pracising, exercising, learning—of readying oneself for the writing-to-still-come—and at the same time, preparing as already its own form of writing, as already taking the form of writing.”

Just remembered another good tidbit – apparently Barthes was pretty lax about people translating his work. “Just make it up!” he instructed them if the translators were unable to verify something he had written.