Trans­la­tors need to strike a bal­ance

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By HAN BING­BIN han­bing­bin@chi­

Cul­tural iden­tity, the spirit of in­tro­spec­tion and writ­ers’ mis­sion are among the top­ics that Syr­i­an­born poet Ado­nis ex­plored with No­bel Prize win­ner Mo Yan and other Chi­nese writ­ers, in a re­cent talk or­ga­nized by Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity In­ter­na­tional Writ­ing Cen­ter.

Both Ado­nis and Mo Yan, who have an in­creas­ing in­ter­na­tional read­er­ship, con­cluded that the one fac­tor which fa­cil­i­tates and hin­ders their ef­forts is trans­la­tion.

Hav­ing nearly all his nov­els pub­lished in French and at least six in English, Mo Yan says he ad­mires Ado­nis, a flu­ent speaker of Ara­bic and French, be­cause he is in­volved in the trans­la­tion him­self, guar­an­tee­ing pre­ci­sion.

Mo Yan says to­day, Chi­nese writ­ers’ writ­ing is fre­quently in­flu­enced by the in­creas­ing pos­si­bil­ity of over­seas pub­li­ca­tion.

It of­ten leads to the sub­con­scious sac­ri­fice of the di­ver­sity of di­alects, the unique­ness of cul­tural ex­pres­sions and the smooth­ness of writ­ing it­self, sim­ply to fa­cil­i­tate the trans­la­tion, he adds.

“From the per­spec­tive of lit­er­a­ture and art, it’s un­doubt­edly a huge loss. My at­ti­tude is, for­get the trans­la­tors when you write. Care not about whether they feel happy to trans­late. The real tal­ented trans­la­tors aren’t afraid of dif­fi­cul­ties,” he says.

“It’s not right ei­ther to re­quire trans­la­tors to be com­pletely faith­ful be­cause the search of a lin­guis­tic coun­ter­part is a cre­ation it­self, full of imag­i­na­tion. I tend to be open­minded with the trans­la­tors. I think we should al­low them to trim the book ap­pro­pri­ately on con­di­tion that it doesn’t af­fect the gist as a whole.”

Ado­nis agrees, adding it’s even more dif­fi­cult to trans­late a poem.

Po­etry is more than a struc­ture of lan­guage, he says, but also that of think­ing and emo­tions. In terms of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween con­cept, lan­guage and ob­ject, he adds, no two lan­guages are on an equal foot­ing.

“There­fore, trans­la­tors of po­ems must break the orig­i­nal re­la­tion­ship be­tween lan­guage and ob­ject, and es­tab­lish a sim­i­lar re­la­tion­ship and struc­ture ap­pli­ca­ble to the trans­la­tor’s mother lan­guage,” he says.

“In this case, trans­lat­ing po­ems means be­trayal. But some­times the trans­la­tor has to be­tray (the orig­i­nal lan­guage) to be faith­ful to read­ers of his mother tongue. In other words, be­trayal is part of loy­alty.”

As dif­fi­cult as it is, trans­la­tion of for­eign lit­er­a­ture and po­etry, in Ado­nis’ opin­ion, is a way to ex­plore the men­tal­ity of “the oth­ers” at a deep level. The im­por­tance of trans­la­tion is, he says, to serve as “the most fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment of world cul­ture in the fu­ture”.

“The im­por­tance also lies in the lan­guage that a trans­la­tor uses, es­pe­cially one that he uses while trans­lat­ing po­ems. It can en­rich his mother tongue. To some ex­tent, it can change the struc­ture of his mother lan­guage,” Ado­nis says.


No­bel Prize lau­re­ate Mo Yan ex­plores with Syr­ian-born poet Ado­nis the sig­nif­i­cant role of trans­la­tion in to­day’s lit­er­ary world.

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