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Interview with Sergio Chejfec

Over at Guernica there’s a fantastic interview with Argentine author Sergio Chejfec, whose My Two Worlds (translated by Margaret Carson) is getting a lot of great publicity, and whose The Planets and The Dark (both translated by Heather Cleary Wolfgang) will be coming out from Open Letter in the next couple years.

Guernica: I only read My Two Worlds in English, and so I don’t have much to compare it to. What did you think of the translation?

Sergio Chejfec: I thought it was excellent. Margaret [B. Carson], the translator, lives in New York, and over many months we would meet up and talk about it. My questions for her were very open because translation is necessarily a flummoxed process, and, really, what’s at stake is so much more than simple, didactic or denotative meaning. The question is how to make the translation not only faithful, you know, because the meaning of the text depends on so many other things. There are other texts that need a denotative, literal, “faithful” translation, sure, if only in order to revive a certain type of tone, or vibe, that permeates the text. There are others that require more originality in order to revive this sort of range, tone. Margaret’s translation really illustrates this—she revives a tone that at times requires some instances of literal deviation from the original. It doesn’t happen very often. But she needed to access certain very difficult, very Spanish ways of saying things, she felt, because there are certain paragraphs that are argumentative, or pointed, and secretive. And she needed to find a way to access this. [. . .]

Guernica: In your reading at McNally-Jackson, you spoke about this idea—the idea that the text “walks.” It meanders a bit, it strolls, it creates the tone in this way.

Sergio Chejfec: Yes, definitely—and I know Margaret at first was a little apprehensive about this. She was wary of standard English, of “literary” English. She wasn’t sure how to use it—with all its stops and starts, and its specific phrasings, to “walk” in the same way the Spanish did. So she worked in anticipation of this idea, realizing that it would be crucial to capture this effect in the translation. She felt that the language had to be at once literary and conversational. But the English narration was so successful thanks to her work, her skill. Because it happens in the original as well—I’m not sure if you can speak of a native, or innate link between walking and narrating. But there’s definitely an idea of flux, right? An idea that the narration functions more than a mere description of a particular action, but as a reflection of it, too. The narration itself can be seen as an instance of a reflection, or a reflection of an instance. The elements of language that work together develop, or provide an illusion, that is partial, sort of like features on a face: at one point it’s superficial, a surface reality, but at the same time they work to convey something of greater depth. Anyway, the idea was to do away with the idea of a fixed “thesis” or “argument” and instead let the argument unfold, meander. There is, again, this idea of flux, of flow.

This is a long, fantastic interview, and it’s definitely worth reading it in its entirety. And if you’re in the Rochester area, Margaret Carson and Sergio Chejfec will be here on campus on December 1st for the next event in our Reading the World Conversation Series.



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