16 November 11 | Chad W. Post |

Russell Valentino is a superstar in the world of literary translation. Just look at his bio from the University of Iowa:

Russell Scott Valentino is professor of Slavic and comparative literature and chair of the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature. He has published a monograph on nineteenth-century Russian literature and seven book-length literary translations from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. His essays, translated fiction, and poetry have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review, Two Lines, POROI, Circumference, Asia, Modern Fiction Studies, Slavic Review, and 91st Meridian. He is the recipient of a 2002 NEA Literature Fellowship and a 2004 Howard Foundation fellowship, both for literary translation, as well as two Fulbright research awards to Croatia.

And if that’s not enough, he’s also the founder and publisher of Autumn Hill Books (a few months back we reviewed Becka McKay’s translation of Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which was published by Autumn Hill), and was recently named the editor of the Iowa Review, replacing David Hamilton, who has been editing the journal for the past 2 years. (And yes, Russell has plans for bringing more translation to the pages of the Iowa Review. And launching an online review section that may even cover some books not yet translated into English.)

Unfortunately, we interviewed Russell before coming up with the “favorite word in any language question” (Russell: maybe you could add something in the comments?), but here are the rest of his responses with my comments in italics:

Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter

As you might have noticed, Russell rephrased our question from “best thing you’ve ever translated” to “most difficult,” pointing out that it took him ten years to complete this book, which was published by Yale University Press in 2004 and is available (in part) via Google Books. I don’t know much about the book itself, but this brief description from Amazon.com sounds intriguing . . . and a bit depressing:

Ostensibly a commentary on Plato’s and Aristotle’s relation to the pre-Socratic philosophers, Michelstaedter’s deeply personal book is an extraordinary rhetorical feat that reflects the author’s struggle to make sense of modern life. This edition includes an introduction discussing his life and work, an extensive bibliography, notes to introduce each chapter, and critical notes illuminating the text.

hours of completing Persuasion and Rhetoric, his doctoral thesis, 23-year-old Michelstaedter shot himself to death. The text he left behind has proved to be one of the most trenchant and influential studies in modern rhetoric, a work that develops Nietzschean themes and anticipates the conclusions of, among others, Martin Heidegger.

Books You Think Need to Be Published in English: La Langue maternelle and Apres J.C. by Vassilis Alexakis

One of the joys of asking a lot of translators what books should be published in English is finding out about authors you’ve never heard of . . . although maybe you should have. Alexakis isn’t exactly unknown, having won the Prix de l´Académie Française in 2007 for Apres J.C. Of course, there’s not much info available on him in English, but according to Wikipedia (World’s Favorite Go To Source for Quick Info), he “is a Greek-French writer of numerous novels in Greek, his mother tongue, and French. His works, drawn from two cultures, are full of tender irony; his style gives the reader an intimate and personal perspective on his stories.” Although neither of these two books are available in English, Autumn Hill published Alyson Waters’s translation of “Foreign Words“http://www.autumnhillbooks.com/foreign_words/foreign_words.htm a few years back. Here’s the AHB description:

Foreign Words is a book that takes us on a journey through time and space with the story teller as he travels from Paris where he lives as the book opens, to Greece where he grew up, and where his father has just died, to the Central African Republic as he undertakes the study of Sango.

Why learn Sango is a question the book’s narrator himself has trouble answering. His ruminations on the surprising decision to study it are both humorous and penetrating.

9 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Although I can’t say that I love the edgy capitalization in the journal’s name, I can say that I am a big fan of eXchanges and all of the super-brilliant people who work on this. For those not familiar, eXchanges (OK, last time I’m typing that) is the online journal of literary translation that comes out of the University of Iowa. Iowa’s program and all who are in it are fantastic (tomorrow I promise to get back to the Making the Translator Visible posts, starting with Erica Mena, who is at Iowa . . .), and it’s exciting to see what happens when you give people like this a space to create.

Anyway, the winter issue (“Exocity” or “eXocity”) just went online last week and is worth checking out. There’s a very playful and interesting set of letters to and from the editors, some interesting poetry selections (including Ewa Chruscial & Elzbieta Kotkowska’s translations from the Polish of six poems by Agniewszka Kuciak), and a great interview with translator/poet/publisher Johannes Goransson. Here’s a fun clip from the interview:

eX: Do you feel like when you set out translating, that the work points you in a direction as far as how it should be translated? Or do you think you approach things more or less consistently?

JG: No, no . . . I totally approach things based on the way the work is. Like I said, in Aase’s case the writing encourages you to move toward excess and sort of deforming the language, but I also did the book Ideals Clearance by Henry Parland. That’s also about translation but a different kind of translation. The book—it’s a Dadaist collection and it has this idea that everything is already translatable—that everything is very translatable— it’s so simple. And so it seems like it has something to do with capitalism, mass culture, and the general equivalences between words.

So, they’re two models of translation. In Parland’s work, I absolutely was not going for noise or anything like that. They’re very, very simple translations. I was actually at a conference about his work where a person talked about my translations—which was really weird to have somebody give a paper and a 45-minute talk about my translations. He had read Lawrence Venuti—he was a Finnish scholar—and he thought I could have translated it, there’s a way…what is Lawrence Venuti’s term for what translation does? Estranging?

eX: Oh gosh . . . I should know this. Domesticizing?

JG: Yeah, the opposite of domesticizing.

[Blank silence on our part. Can’t believe we didn’t remember this. –ed.]

JG: Well, whatever . . .

eX: We can put it in, we can write it in later.

[The word is “foreignizing.” –ed.]

JG: Let’s call it estranging. Well, the Finnish scholar said you could have estranged it, you know, like Lawrence Venuti says, and then he showed an example of how it could look in English. And it was a very strange poem. But it was a strange poem that, one, really seemed to me to have nothing to do with Parland’s work. And, second of all, it was a very strange poem in a way that was very domesticated. To an American it would have been a translatese text, and the reader would be like, oh wow, this is a really foreign text. So actually to me, it seemed like the weirder move was to do this very simple language. Parland was weirder to a contemporary American obviously than contemporary American poetry—which was what the “Venutian” translation made it into.

So, I would say I take very different attitudes. But, you know, I have reading habits that influence all my translations. It’s not like I erase myself. I can’t do it.

15 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of eXchanges, the online literary translation journal from the University of Iowa is now available online.

Few interesting pieces included in this issue, especially Martha Tennent’s translation of Merce Rodoreda’s On the Train, a short story from Twenty-Two Stories, in which “we overhear one side of a conversation, that of an elderly woman returning to Barcelona after the Civil War.”

Rodoreda’s a fascinating figure, and considered to be one of Catalan’s greatest writers. She passed away in 1983, and a few of her titles are available in English. Graywolf Press has published The Time of the Doves, and Camilla Street, and University of Nebraska brought out A Broken Mirror, which we reviewed here. It’s more than a year off in the future, but we will be bringing out her surreal last novel, Death and Springtime.

10 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Boston Globe has an excerpt from Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, which is:

a collection of 22 poems by 17 detainees at the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay. Edited by Marc Falkoff, each poem had to be cleared by the Pentagon.

I think this book—which also features an afterword by Ariel Dorfman —is quite a coup for the University of Iowa Press. The University of Iowa, in addition to the U of I Press, also supports the intriguing Autumn Hill Books, who seek to make “fine translations of primarily contemporary literature from around the world more widely available in English.”

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