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Performing without a Stage: The Art of Literary Translation [Hardcover]

Robert Wechsler

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This is the first overview of literary translation, including its history and its practice, as well as publishing, teaching, and reviewing translations. It is a selection of the Reader's Subscription Book Club.

From the Author

The first book for general readers on literary translation
Every performing art - acting, singing, dancing, playing an instrument - places the performer on a stage in front of an audience. Every one, that is, except literary translation, the performing of a literary work in a different language. Every performing art has hundreds of books about the people who do it, about its history, its pains and its joys. Every one, that is, except literary translation.

*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.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cautionary: Weighted heavily in favor of poetry! 14 Oct 2000
By Bruce Humes - Published on
I bought the book and have read 1/3 of it. While the author is unquestionably qualified and writes well, I do have a beef: Many, perhaps most of the examples cited in the first third of the book relate to poetry. This is a personal disappointment, because I translate prose and frankly find it hard to relate to the technical issues he focuses on, e.g., rhyme, meter, etc. As long as you are aware of this, the book is a good read and arguably of interest to those who dabble in literary translation, as well as professionals.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book for translators and readers alike 9 Jun 2000
By Kirk McElhearn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One of the most interesting books on literary translation. Explains why and how translators translate, and gives a thorough analysis of the craft of literary translation.
This book will help readers understand what translation is all about, and will help translators put into words many of their deepest feelings.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appreciating translation and translators 23 Jun 2007
By Marta M. Bianchi - Published on
Robert Wechsler's appreciation of Translation and the translator's work is clearly evidenced throughout this wonderfully written book.
The book provides wonderful references, resources and magnificent examples of all that involved in translation and I highly recommend this book for both translators and students who want to truly understand the meaning and value of this literary art.
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