So last month, the day after the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award, the Americas Society hosted an amazing panel to help launch Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel).
This event—which Open Letter executive committee member Hal Glasser helped put together—was loaded with awesome panelists, including Margaret Schwartz, who translated The Museum; Edie Grossman, whose first translation was a short story of Macedonio’s that she did for an Americas Society publication; and Todd Garth (a Macedonio scholar and author of The Self of the City, a book about Macedonio and the Argentine avant-garde.
Overall, this was one of the most interesting panels I’ve ever moderated. We were able to cover a lot of stuff about Macedonio—his eccentricities, his work, his relationship to Borges, his hatred of public transportation (“down with the tyranny of bus routes!”) and his disbelief in all medical knowledge (which, well, was why he ended up toothless . . . ). And I was even able to read the most romantic paragraph ever written (in my opinion), which is something I tend to do when I talk about Macedonio . . .
Anyway, definitely listen to this audio file.. I promise you’ll be enthralled after the first few minutes . . . It was a sort of magical night and event.
Click here to download. Or simply hit the play button below . . .
I know I had a week off (more or less, and thanks again to Edward Gauvin for kicking such ass last week), but all I’ve really got right now is this review I wrote of Edie Grossman’s Why Translation Matters.
Honestly, this is one of the only things I’ve ever written that I’m pretty proud of. (And all props to Scott and Heidi for their support and help—y’all effing rock.) Really curious to hear what people think of this . . .
Back in 2003, the New York Times ran an article entitled “America Yawns at Foreign Fiction” driving home the idea that American publishers don’t publish many books in translation (the commonly cited statistic is that translations make up less than 3 percent of all books published in America), that readers don’t care to read international literature (the opening line of the article is a joke about how Americans had no idea who Imre Kertesz was when he won the Nobel Prize), and that this situation is unlikely to change.
All pretty depressing stuff for anyone interested in works from beyond our borders, but, to be honest, none of this was very surprising. Conversations about literature in translation are ruled by negativity: Translators aren’t paid enough. Publishers don’t support literature in translation. Booksellers ignore these books in favor of Twilight knock-offs and other schlock. No one reads anymore anyway. Translation is impossible.
No wonder Edie Grossman is a bit touchy:
“We read translations all the time, but of all the interpretive arts, it is fascinating and puzzling to realize that only translation has to fend off the insidious, damaging question of whether or not it is, can be, or should be possible. It would never occur to anyone to ask whether it is feasible for an actor to perform a dramatic role or a musician to interpret a piece of music. Of course it is feasible, just as it is possible for a translator to rewrite a work of literature in another language. Can it be done well? I think so, as do my translating colleagues, but there are other, more antipathetic opinions.”
The whole review can be found at The Quarterly Conversation.
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