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Mastadge
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 01:58 pm:   

Hello, all. There are several books I've been meaning to read for a while, and I'm trying to decide which translations to pick up. I know that it can make a great deal of difference -- when I was reading WAR & PEACE, for example, I found the first translation I tried utterly impenetrable, and the second wonderfully absorbing. So I was just wondering if anyone would recommend any particular translation of any of the following: Milton's PARADISE LOST, Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, Goethe's FAUST.

After I'm done those, I'll be back with more titles, but that's enough to start me off, I think.

Thank you!
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Huh?
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 02:35 pm:   

Milton??
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John Langan
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 02:36 pm:   

Hi Mastadge,

Milton's Paradise Lost was written in English, so I can't recommend a translation, but if you can lay your hands on the Norton Critical Edition of the poem, you'll find some helpful footnotes. I'd also absolutely recommend getting ahold of C.S. Lewis's short introductory book on Paradise Lost: I can't remember the title off the top of my head, but it may be something like Paradise Lost or Milton's Paradise Lost. Though there's a certain amount in the book I no longer agree with, I found it indispensable to understanding Milton the first time through.

For Dante, I like John Ciardi's translations, which also had some killer footnotes (conveniently placed after each canto).

As for Goethe, you could do worse than the Norton Critical Edition of Faust, which was translated, I believe, by Walter Arndt.

I hope these are some help. I envy you reading these for the first time: they're all about as good as lit gets.


Good reading!




John
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Mastadge
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 06:06 pm:   

Ugh. I feel stupid. I knew and know Milton is in English. I just haven't slept in several days now. And on that note, goodnight, folks. I'll check back after I've gotten a good five or six hours of sleep.

Thanks for the recommendations.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 03:13 am:   

I don't know. I am not sure that it is really possible to read Dante in English. One thing is certain: Avoid the Dorothy L. Sayers edition because it sucks big time. I would try and avoid any version that gives a rhyming translation, because then the meaning is usually sacrificed for some pathetic attempt at versification.
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des
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 04:07 am:   

There is more debate about the various translations of the Marcel Proust mammoth work than anything else. You can compare Proust's longest sentence (!) translated into English by Scott Moncrieff (the classic translation with which I grew up) with the original French - at the tail end of this thread here:
http://www.nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/8/788.html?1069701275

Since then there have been various translations (some collaborations) which cause much debate on the Proust discussion forum at Yahoogroups.
As for me, I once used to be a purist and eschewed foreign books as I thought translations were only second best; and there were enough books originally in English I needed to read.
But then I would have missed Proust (and Musil, Kafka, Mann...)
I now don't worry about translations or which translations.
Des

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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 05:32 am:   

Well, with prose, the translation is not quite as important--but with poetry it really is.
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des
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 06:07 am:   

Yes, but there is some prose more poetic than other prose. There is world of difference between translating Proust and Simenon (sp?), I suggest. Des
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:06 am:   

Well, naturally some prose is more poetic than other prose, but generally speaking prose pieces are 1) longer than works of poetry so each individual word or phrase is less important and 2) do not use rhymes and meters, so they can be rendered into another language much more easily.

Also, writing good or decent prose is much easier than writing good or decent poetry. I can name hundreds and hundreds of good prose writers, while I can only think of three or four dozen really good poets.

Another factor that makes prose easier to translate is that the writer’s original intent is almost always clearer than in poetry.

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des
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:12 am:   

I once read Milan Kundera's THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING. Full of strangenesses and multi-eroticisms. But that's not what is most interesting about it. Originally written in Czech, then effectively translated by author himself into French, then author approves someone else's English translation from the French version. It made me lose my customary 'purist' concerns about the essential text! Also helps with my latest passion for deintentionalising. But maybe I'm in danger of what is the literary equivalent of aqua-planing in a car.

All this above, Brendan, *despite* thinking it is just as hard to translate some prose as it is poetry: taking into account the prose's phonemes, morphemes, sememes, word sculptures, interweaving clause structures etc. (all contributing to the 'meaning').
Des
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Mastadge
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:14 am:   

With poetry, for example Beowulf, I often find that I prefer prose translations, because they're generally, it seems to me, more faithful to the originals.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:37 am:   

But. . . how would you know?
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Rhys
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:38 am:   

That's often true, but I want to make an exception for The Epic of Gilgamesh. I read the Penguin Classics prose translation years ago, but recently I read the new poetry translation. The poetry version has a lot more drive and pulse about it, and the frequent repetitions work as rhythmic devices, whereas in the prose version they come over in a clumsy fashion.

I still haven't read b{Beowulf}, believe it or not... ["Beowulf, Beowulf / All the World / Loves a Wulf..."]

As for Des's point, I'm not sure that an author's original intentions (whatever those might be) have necessarily anthing to do with purity. The text i{as it is} is the only 'pure' element in the equation, whether it has been translated or not. It must be regarded as it is, not how it might have changed or from what it might have changed from.

That's my view anyway. I like being translated and I hope it happens more often! I fervently desire to be translted into French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese...
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Rhys
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:39 am:   

Eh! How did Mr Liu jump in there before me?
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Rhys
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:41 am:   

And... goddamit! I keep messing up the formatting codes!
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:42 am:   

Well, I am just speaking from my experience: Since I know Italian I can tell how good a translation of Dante is. I have also translated both poetry and prose so I have a bit of experience in this field. Can you imagine Shakespeare's sonnets in another language? They really can't be well translated. But a writer like Hemmingway can be very well translated.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:44 am:   

How did Rhys jump in there before me!
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des
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:52 am:   

Rhys,
3 discrete equations.


(1) Fiction = Original Text

(2) What can be taken from (or given to) the text = reader's 'opinion' or 'reaction' (manifold opinions and reactions, all different).

(3) The nearer one is able to reach towards the noumenon of the text, the more one can shuffle off the variably misleading and unknowable historical, biographical, critical, academic extrapolations from the text = my opinion.

Noumenymity, all that.

Where does translation fit in? Into (2), I guess, and it *is* second best. Without it, though, I may not have met Proust (even if we shook hands through a veil of mis-language as well as time!).
Des
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Mastadge
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:52 am:   

But. . . how would you know?

Because I have professors who know old English and Icelandic and German and so when it comes to those old epic poems I can sit down with them and actually compare the translations.
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Mastadge
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:53 am:   

Not just the poems, either. Also the sagas.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 09:39 am:   

Des,

I am not saying that one should not read translations. I am just saying that some are better than others, and it is surely better to read a good translation than a bad one.
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des
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 09:52 am:   

Quite agree, Brendan. Didn't know we were disagreeing.
Best, Des
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 01:22 pm:   

No, we weren't. I just did not want to give the impression that I am against reading translations or anything. Actually, probably most of what I read is translations!
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2003 - 02:51 am:   

I suppose reading a book originally in a language you can 'understand' is, in itself, a translation: from symbols to meaning.
So a single text is subject to millions upon millions of individual and differing translations??
des
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2003 - 04:17 am:   

In a sense yes. But I want my own interpretation of the text—not an incompetant translator's. For instance, when I read Dante, I would prefer to have my own interpretation of his work rather than Sayers’. . . . The closer a reader is to the actual words of the writer, the better. For instance, in the Sayers translation of Dante I was referring to, there are words that are completely incorrectly translated—so the result is just nonsense. . . . After all, the purpose of writing is to express an idea to someone. When I say: “He wore a red sweater” I really want the person reading this to think of a person in a red sweater, not a person in a blue t-shirt. . . . So, to a certain degree individual interpretation is acceptable, but the fundamental ideas I think should still be perceived correctly.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2003 - 04:24 am:   

Brendan: The closer a reader is to the actual words of the writer, the better.
*******
Couldn't agree more. Which also means knowing nothing about that writer to spoil that 'direct current' with the words. But that is taking this thread elsewhere. ;-) des
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Rhys
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 06:59 am:   

By the time they are read in a proper book, words don't belong to the writer: they belong to the reader. So the 'actual words' are the reader's, not the writer's.

That could be another way of looking at it...

Let's have a (probably inappropriate but nice) analogy: if a beautiful Spanish, Indian or Chinese girl said to you (Des), "I want you to kiss me all over!" would you stop to wonder what her essential meaning was? Or would you just accept the invitation as quickly as possible?
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des
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 07:28 am:   

Rhys, I'd indeed want to know about her noumenon.

Also depends partly on the amount of pause she gives between 'kiss me' and 'all over'. And any misunderstandings could be disastrous.... Des
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Brendan
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 08:34 am:   

Yes Rhys, but if Des had a bad interpreter, he might tell him that the beautiful Chinese girl said, "I want you to be my grandma's lover" in which case his response might be slightly different. . . .
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Rhys
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 09:48 am:   

Or even that she wanted him to "bite the wax tadpole!"
...I'm beginning to see your point, Brendan!


What if a writer translates himself???

I'm thinking in particular of Nabokov and (to a lesser extent) Calvino.

What then?
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Brendan
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 11:00 am:   

I think Beckett also translated himself. . . . Of course, that is the ideal. . . . But really any good translation is cool. Right now I am reading a really good version of Azevedo's "The Slum". A very cool Brazilian book.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 04:33 pm:   

I think I heard the "bite the wax tadpole" thing is in part a legend. Several shops in China did call Coca-Cola under that label before they'd figured a proper transliteration. However I don't think it was an official thing.

As for translations I put Borges on my Christmas list, but I'm not sure which translation is best. I put the recent one, Collected Fictions I think it's called, because I thought it'd be easier to find. Is there a better one out there I should try?

Also what's good in Chinese translations? I'd heard Story of the Stone had a good new translation, but I'm embarrassed to admit I know little about the book itself. Has anyone here tried it?
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 07:35 pm:   

I don't think it matters a whole lot which translation of Borges you read. It's all roughly the same.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 08:02 pm:   

Well that's good to know. Thanks.
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 02:34 am:   

I (gently) disagree with that. I'd go for the Collected Fictions translated by Andrew Hurley. It's more in tune with the contexts of the stories (especially the 'regional' tales).

For instance the famous Borges story, 'El Hombre de la Esquina Rosada' is translated by Hurley not as 'Streetcorner Man' (the way it has often been translated) but as 'Man on Pink Corner'. That's just one example among many. Hurley is more accurate than his predecessors and he uses lots and lots of footnotes and end-notes to explain references which non-Argentine readers can't be expected to know.

Labyrinths was good -- it introduced me to Borges -- but the Collected Fictions is even better. I'd rather read about a 'bright' labyrinth than a 'nitid' one.

That's just my own opinion, of course!
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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 02:40 am:   

Well still okay as that's the one I had on my list.
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 04:56 am:   

I've just made the pitfalls of translations the main theme of my contribution to Jeff VanderMeer's House of 87 Cabinets project...

http://www.nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/15/1267.html?1070542309
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 05:47 am:   

Rhys: >> "I (gently) disagree with that. I'd go for the Collected Fictions translated by Andrew Hurley. It's more in tune with the contexts of the stories (especially the 'regional' tales)."

I'm personally much less interested in his 'regional' tales than things like "The Library of Babel", so perhaps that explains my indifference to the variations in translation--I know I've read a few different versions of the stuff in Labyrinths, but I couldn't tell you how many because I can barely tell them apart when they're in front of me!
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 06:53 am:   

Yes, Borges's 'abstract' work (the famous and best stuff) has been served well by many different translators -- it is international in theme and treatment anyway.

But some of his regional tales are worth reading too, especially 'The South', and for those I again recommend the Hurley translation (with his notes).
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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 06:26 pm:   

One book that I've found myself particularly interested in the translations of is the Bible. For the Tanakh, I've found that I prefer the JPS translation, but between that I haven't read many translations of the New Testament, and that I don't know enough Greek to be able to compare them to the original text, I'm stuck wondering which translation of the New Testament is the best. Any preferences or recommendations?
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 11:53 pm:   

I like the King James version because the language is excellent. Also, almost any other version you read will be 'based' on that anyhow - but not necessarily more acurate. Truthfully, it would be hard to match the scholarship that went into the KJB.
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Cornelius Kappabani
Posted on Saturday, October 08, 2005 - 04:52 am:   

Hi!
This is Cornelius Kappabani writing.
I'm looking for somebody who can translate german into english.
It's for two projects:
1.a new homepage which I want to have in both languages and
2.a musical project that Leo Grin from the Cimmerian Magazin called "ambitious".
If you can do this or know somebody who can and likes too - please contact me.
Cordially,
Cornelius.

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