Charlotte Mandell at Art Works

I only found out about this recently, but I’m really impressed with Art Works, the blog of the National Endowment for the Arts. Great way to highlight works of art, artists, and artistic organizations—and the interviews are remarkably perceptive.

The most recent addition is this interview with translator Charlotte Mandell, which focuses on her translation of Mathias Enard’s Zone, the somewhat infamous 517-page, one-sentence novel that we’ll be bringing out in December. (And which will be excerpted in the next issue of N+1.) Zone is absolutely amazing (see this excerpt), and Charlotte’s translation (which was awarded a NEA Translation Fellowship) is equally brilliant.

Anyway, here are a few excerpts from the interview:

NEA: Zone offers a unique challenge with its one-sentence format. Why did you decide to take on this translation?

MANDELL: There’s nothing else like it out there! Especially not in French. One of my favorite novels is Joyce’s Ulysses, and Zone reminds me a little of that, and a little of another of my favorites, Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, with some Apollinaire and Burroughs and Pound thrown in for good measure. Translating a 500-page sentence combines the creativity of translating poetry with the challenge of translating difficult prose. Zone is narrated on a train, and it has the rhythmic, slightly lulling feeling of being on a train, but it also has a sense of urgency and inevitability in French that I wanted to recreate in English. I loved the continuity and flow of the text, and I really loved the experience of translating it—I was always mid-sentence, no matter where I stopped for the day! I never read ahead when I translate, so I was always wondering what was going to happen next in the story. Translating Zone was one of the most enjoyable translation experiences I’ve ever had. [. . .]

NEA: How is the work of the translator and the writer similar; how is it different?

MANDELL: That’s such a good question! No one has ever asked me that before. All translators have to be writers, since we’re basically re-creating the text in another language, and in order for it to be convincing and authentic-sounding the translator has to be a good writer. Conversely, all writers are really translators too, since they’re translating their thoughts and ideas into words on the page. While I think it’s true that all texts lose something in the translation, I think they also gain something in being rendered in a different language: take Baudelaire’s translations of Poe, for instance, which sound so much better in French than the original poems, or Beckett’s translations of his own work, which are masterpieces of English.

Translating is different from writing in that the translator has the text already ready to hand; our task is to recreate that same text in our own language, just as the writer’s task was to create that text in his/her own language. The translator’s challenge is to make sure the translation never sounds like “translationese”—like something that has been translated from another language. It should sound as original and new in the translation as it did in the original.

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