*Performing Without a Stage* is a lively and comprehensive introduction to the art of literary translation for readers of foreign fiction and poetry who wonder what it takes to translate, how the art of literary translation has changed over the centuries, what problems translators face in bringing foreign works into English and how they go about solving these problems.
*Performing Without a Stage* will also be of interest to translators, writers, editors, critics, and literature students, dealing as it does with such matters as the translator's fidelity to the author, the publishing, reviewing, and teaching of translations, the nearly nonexistent public image of the stageless translator, and the value for writers and scholars of studying and practicing translation.
Translation is a truly multicultural event without all the balloons and noisemakers. It enriches not only our personal knowledge and taste, but also our culture's literature, language, and thought. The goal of *Performing Without a Stage* is to give American readers access to the art that gives us access to world literature. And to do it with passion and humor.
Here's a short excerpt from the book's introduction:
Literary translation is an odd art. It consists of a person sitting at a desk, writing literature that is not his, that has someone else's name on it, that has already been written. The translator's work appears to define derivativeness. Would anyone write a book about people who sit in a museum copying paintings? Copiers aren't artists, they're students, wannabes, or crooks.
Yet literary translation is an art. What makes i! t so odd an art is the fact that physically a translator does exactly the same thing as a writer. If an actor did the same thing as a playwright, a dancer did the same thing as a composer, or a singer did the same thing as a songwriter, no one would think much of what they do either.
Like a musician, a literary translator takes someone else's composition and performs it in his own special way. Just as a musician embodies someone else's notes by moving his body or throat, a translator embodies someone else's thoughts and images by writing in another language. The biggest difference isn't really that the musician produces air movements while the translator produces yet more words; it is that a musical composition is intended to be translated into body and throat movements, while a work of literature is not intended to be translated into another language. Thus, although it is practically invisible, the translator's art is the more problematic one. And it is also the more responsible one, because while every musician knows that his performance is simply one of many, often one of thousands, by that musician and by others, the translator knows that his performance may be the only one, at least the only one of his generation, and that he will not have the opportunity either to improve on it or to try a different approach.
And while the translator is shouldering this responsibility and forcing literary works into forms they were never intended to take, he also lacks a stage to do it on. No one can see his difficult performance, except where he slips up. In fact, unlike all other performers, he is praised primarily for not being seen, for having successfully created a palimpsest, two works, one on top of the other, an original and a performance, difficult to tell apart.
We tend to think of the literary translator as someone who's good with languages. Which is like saying a musician is someone who's good with notes. Of course he is, but being good with notes won't make you a good musician; its just one of the ! requirements. To play music, you have to be able to play an instrument, and you have to be sensitive to nuances and understand what combinations of notes mean and are. Similarly, a translator has to be able to read as well as a critic and write as well as a writer. John Dryden said it best back in the seventeenth century: "the true reason why we have so few versions which are tolerable [is that] there are so few who have all the talents which are requisite for translation, and that there is so little praise and so small encouragement for so considerable a part of learning." Not much has changed.