17 July 08 | Chad W. Post

So at times I take a bit of pride in my Canadian heritage and think about how cool parts of Canada are, about all the interesting publishers up there, about how nice everyone is, etc. And I make an internal promise to pay more attention to Canadian publications, presses, and the like. But for whatever reason, although I’m living only a small Great Lake away from the largest Canadian city, there’s still a sort of cultural wall between the U.S. and Canada that’s difficult to break through.

A case in point is the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries which is dedicated to translation. If it wasn’t for Jack Kirchhoff from the Toronto Globe & Mail mailing me a copy, I probably never would’ve come across this.

But this issue—which arrived yesterday with a slew of packages I suspect mail services has been hoarding for weeks—is remarkable and definitely worth spending some time with.

The intro piece by Mike Barnes is cool in part because it’s all about Celine, and tangentially relates to Michael Orthofer’s recent diss of Ralph Manheim’s translations.

The two translation [John Marks’s and Ralph Manheim’s translation of Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night] are so different, line by line, word by word, that it is obviously extremely difficult, requiring much ingenuity, judgement and (presumably) compromise, to render Celine’s language into English. More interestingly, though, the distinctive lineaments of Celine’s creation emerge so unmistakably from both translations that, though made of words, they seem impervious to words. The ideas are too cool not to make it across. (Within limits, obviously; they are immune to the fluctuations of skilled translators doing their level best by the work.) This, and not premature senility or recollected mania, was why I’d felt such ennui reading Manheim’s new translation: I was expecting a revelation, but I’d already had it. Manheim’s new version was more smoothly readable while more sharply particular, grittier, earthier, an improveme in most (not all) ways over Marks’s fifty-year-old, and now a little fusty and clunky by comparison, original. But —

He then goes on to make some line by line comparisons, which are fantastic in the way that Celine’s writing is fantastic, especially when taken totally out of context. First the Manheim, who shies away from nothing, followed in brackets by the Marks.

Upstairs the woman’s ass was still bleeding. [The woman on the third floor was still bleeding profusely.]

The day when those motherfucking wagons would be shattered to the axles . . . [The day those swine and their waggons were smashed to splinters . . .]

. . . the unforgettable depth of her fucking, her way of coming like a continent! [. . . her gift for tremendous delights, for enjoyment to her innermost depth.]

Personally, the Manheim is the one I prefer. Possibly because that’s the one I’m familiar with, the Celine I know, but I think it goes beyond that. Manheim is more direct, vulgar, and vivid. His translation leaps and crackles in a jangly, almost out-of-control way that I find captivating . . .

Anyway, this is so getting away from the issue of CNQ . . . Almost nothing is available online, which is really unfortunate, since so many of the pieces are worth reading:

  • Stephen Henighan’s “The Translation Gap” addresses some of the issues related to teaching literature in translation;
  • Robyn Sarah’s “Delivered to Chance” is about the experience of having her poems translated into French;
  • Alberto Manguel has a short piece on “Translating Borges”;
  • Goran Simic’s essay “To Be Exiled Writer . . . Or Not to Be at All” echoes some of the sentiments found in Dubrakva Ugresic’s Nobody’s Home;
  • Sheila Fischman writes about “A Life in Translation”;
  • And Heather Spears writes about “The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Translating Danish into English.”

There’s even more to this issue—including a nice book review section covering translated poetry and books that came out a few years back—but this post is already way, way too long.

This issue can be ordered online (I think, once again, it’s the same old publisher-website problem and the site isn’t very sophisticated) or by contacting the publisher at 519-256-7367 or biblioasis@yahoo.com.

Comments are disabled for this article.
Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >