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Marian Schwartz on Faithfulness in Translation

Yesterday’s Boston Globe has a nice interview with Marian Schwartz, one of the great contemporary translators, whose translation of Olga Slavnikova’s 2017 was recently released. (Here’s a link to K.E. Semmel’s review of 2017 that we ran last week.)

Q. What is a good translation?

A. I think a translation is considered “good’’ when the reader likes it, even if it’s tough going. Bulgakov’s “White Guard,” for example, was known for years in the Glenny translation, which was a pleasure to read but had little to do with the original text and omitted crucial bits; everyone but Slavists loved it. I hope that my new translation reproduces the full range of devices and effects of the original. Incidentally, our capacity — and willingness — to appreciate difficult texts seems to have changed, particularly for canonical texts.

Q. In what way?

A. I think we’ve become more receptive to foreign elements. Constance Garnett, whom I will defend to the end of my days, is now criticized for not being faithful to Tolstoy’s text, for setting his books in what feels like an English garden, but in my view it cannot be bad when a translation gives people access to works that they would never otherwise have read. As I was saying, though, our taste for foreignness has increased. A simple example: 50 years ago, names of Chinese characters were translated — “Peach Blossom’’ and the like — whereas now the preference is for the transliterated Chinese names. There is an ongoing debate among translators about “foreignizing’’ and “domestication,’’ but wherever a translator’s choice falls, today it will probably be closer to foreignizing than it would have been 50 years ago.



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