- Evelyn Waugh, speaking of stories written by Flannery O'Connor
If I were really professional, I’d probably have postponed beginning my translation of Norge i Vikingtid until I had a signed contract, but phooey. Most of my novels were written before I had a contract, or even the promise of one. And I’m excited about this project. It vitalizes me.
Translation can be a disorienting process. I suspect it’s extremely complex, neurologically. There’s a sort of mental dance that goes on between the original text and the translator’s thoughts. You can get a semi-passable (sometimes) translation of a text by running it through something like Babelfish, but the results testify to the very complex and subtle nature of language. There are nuances in the text that have to be caught, music you need to transpose. Sometimes an accurate translation takes you a moderate distance from the precise words of the original, because the original language is accustomed to taking different paths to the meaning than English is.
I read somewhere that the Italians have a joke, based on the fact that the words “translator” and “traitor” are very similar in that language. I think it’s also the Italians who say (my apologies to anyone who might be offended), “A translation is like a wife. If she is faithful, she is probably not beautiful, and if she is beautiful, she is probably not faithful.”
I have an ambition – and I don’t think it’s entirely arrogant – to make this translation both beautiful and faithful. I honestly think I can do that, or something pretty close.
One of the weird aspects of the process, at least for me, is what I think of as “losing my English.” I’m reading along in the Norwegian, and understanding it just fine, and then when I turn to my laptop to render it my native language, I can’t for the life of me remember the English word I want. It’s there, I know, but I just can’t put my hand on it. It’s very similar to the experience we’ve all had where we search for a word we know perfectly well, but temporarily can’t find it for some reason. Only when I’m translating this happens constantly, again and again. I generally put in a not-as-good word, highlight it, and move on. If I ignore it, it’ll come wandering back eventually, like Little Bo Peep’s flock.
I suspect (I haven’t researched it) that different languages occupy different parts of the brain, and that I’m in the process of running new data lines from the Norwegian section to the English. Perhaps the problem will diminish as I spend time at it.
I bet you I’ll still stink at understanding spoken Norwegian, though.