Category Archives: English Scorned, Betrayed, and Abused
Setting: An Italian literary agent contacts a translator regarding the translation of a book. The agent represents an author who wants to sell his work in the U.S. Long discussions ensue about the contract, but the agent refuses to sign any agreement that doesn’t give him and the author the power to modify the translation in any way they want before publishing it, “in case you make a mistake.” The translator isn’t having it.
Yes, the translator says. I can’t exclude the possibility that I might make a mistake. But if I did, I would obviously want to fix it. It’s in my own self-interest not to have mistakes in a translation with my name on it. Still, I’m the author of the translation, and I need to make sure that my work isn’t changed without my consent.
Agent: But what if we don’t agree with your interpretation of something?
Translator: Well, a translation is an interpretation, and reasonable people might disagree about interpretation. A difference of opinion, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the translator has warped the meaning. But if you mean what would happen if I completely misinterpreted a sentence or missed a double entendre, then of course I would want to know that. For reasons that are obvious, I would never want to publish a translation that contained those kinds of mistakes. In the end, it’s got my name on it. But, no, I’m not inclined to grant you the right to change the translation without my permission just because you, who are not a native English speaker, would write it differently. Translations should always be revised, but by professionals who are native in the language of the translation.
Agent: Both the author and I are fluent English speakers.
Translator: Yes, but neither of you is either a native English speaker or an Italian-to-English translator. Still, if you think your English is that good, shouldn’t you probably just translate the book yourselves?
Agent: I appreciate your passionate defense of your profession, and I understand the idea that the “translator is an author,” but you have to admit that my client is more of an author than you are.
Translator: Let me ask you this. Suppose I read your client’s book, and I find that he’s been unclear or excessively verbose, or he’s botched a description, or there’s an inconsistency in the story line, or I just don’t like his interpretation of some social or historical event, and I insist that he fix it before I translate, will he do it?
Agent: I’m shocked. I’ve never encountered an attitude like this in all my years of dealing with translators.
Translator: I’m not surprised. A lot of my colleagues are incurable idiots.
Ambientazione: Un agente letterario italiano contatta un traduttore per parlare della traduzione di un libro. L’agente rappresenta l’autore, uno scrittore che vorrebbe vendere la sua opera negli Stati Uniti. Seguono lunghe trattative sull’accordo, ma l’agente rifiuta di firmare qualsiasi contratto che non conceda a lui e al suo cliente il potere di modificare la traduzione prima della pubblicazione in qualsiasi modo pare loro appropriato, “nel caso in cui Lei dovesse prendere una cantonata.” Ma il traduttore non si fa battere così facilmente.
Sì, dice il traduttore, non posso escludere la possibilità di commetere qualche errore. Ma se lo facessi, è ovvio che vorrei poter subito rimediare il problema. Anche se agisco solo per interesse, non mi conviene pubblicare una traduzione, firmata con il mio nome, che contenga degli errori. Ma essendo io l’autore della traduzione, ho bisogno di essere sicuro che la mia opera non venga modificata senza il mio permesso.
Agente: Ma cosa succede se non siamo d’accordo sulla sua interpretazione di una frase?
Traduttore: Bene, una traduzione è un’inter
pretazione, e persone di buona volontà possono anche dissentire su questioni di interpretazione. Ma differenze di opinione non necessariamente equivalgono a forzature da parte del traduttore. Se invece intende dire, cosa succederebbe se dovessi fraintendere completamente il senso di una frase o di un doppio senso, allora naturalmente ci terrei a saperlo. Per ovvi motivi, non vorrei mai pubblicare una traduzione che contenesse questo tipo di errori. Alla fine, c’è il mio nome sulla traduzione. Detto ciò, però, no, non sono comunque disposto a concedere il diritto di modificare la traduzione senza il mio permesso solo perché voi, che non siete di madrelingua inglese, l’avreste scritto in modo diverso. Sono d’accordo che le traduzioni editoriali debbano essere sempre revisionate, ma da professionisti per cui la lingua della traduzione corrisponda alla loro lingua madre.
Agente: Ma qui c’è di mezzo l’autore che conosce bene l’inglese così come me.
Traduttore: D’accordo, ma nessuno dei due è di madrelingua inglese, e non siete nemmeno traduttori dall’italiano all’inglese. D’altronde, se pensate che il vostro inglese sia di così alto livello, non avrebbe forse più senso che siate voi a tradurre direttamente il libro?
Agente: Ammiro la difesa della sua categoria, e capisco perfettamente il concetto che “il traduttore è autore,” ma si deve ammettere che il mio cliente lo è un po’ di più.
Traduttore: Le faccio una domanda. Poniamo che io legga il libro del suo cliente, e trovi che non sia stato chiaro, o che sia ecessivamente prolisso, o che abbia storpiato una descrizione, o che nella trama stessa ci sia un’ incongruenza, o semplicemente non mi aggrada il suo modo di interpretare un evento storico o una realtà sociale, e quindi insista che l’autore modifichi il testo prima che io possa accettare di tradurre il libro, lui lo farà?
Agente: Sono allibito. Mai in tutti i miei anni di trattare con traduttori ho incontrato un atteggiamento simile.
Traduttore: Non mi sorprende affatto. Spesso i miei colleghi sono inguaribili idioti.
This silly little meme (if that’s not redundant) has begun showing up on Facebook and elsewhere:
Well, that is a fun fact.
But here’s a funner one.
People who insist on using plural pronouns with singular referents, especially when there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of accidentally offending a transperson, narrowly miss being murdered by me.
English. Learn it. Use it. Stop citing the “evolution” of language as an excuse for your decision to sign up for the New Illiteracy.
I had of course heard and read enough fluff (so to say) about Full Service to know that I was in for trash before I’d even cracked the covers. But there’s trash and then there’s rubbish. This is rubbish, especially in the British sense of the word.
Whether or not there is “truth” in Bowers’ claims about the “secret sex lives of the stars” (and isn’t that a phrase that just makes you know you’re about to hear gospel?) is immaterial. There’s no particular reason to disbelieve Bowers, but there’s not the slightest reason to believe him either. Not one single paragraph in his book contains what any reasonable person could call the “ring of truth.” Even when Bowers is describing people to whom he was supposedly very close (and to whom was he NOT very close, among the rich and famous?), his so-called memories betray all the intimacy of a Wikipedia entry. In other words, Bowers has nothing interesting or revealing to say about anyone; all his information is warmed-over and leftover.
To wit: Had you heard that J. Edgar Hoover liked to cross-dress? Well, Bowers was once at a party that Hoover attended and – guess what!?!?! – Hoover actually dressed up in drag. Try to imagine the serendipity. Had you read that John Holmes had both a massive dick and a massive drug problem and, late in his life, was implicated in the unsolved Wonderland murders? Yeah, so has Bowers. But he doesn’t mind repeating this squib as though he actually possesses some information that didn’t come from Google.
Particularly repellent is Bowers’ discussion of Tennessee Williams, who supposedly wrote a tell-all play about Bowers’ life but then, at Bowers’ request, destroyed it (how convenient!); it is not only crass and feeble, it is blatantly cribbed from other people’s biographies.
Attempts like these are merely pathetic. More than that, they reflect precisely what little someone in Bowers’ position could logically be expected to know. Logically, that is, unless you’re willing to believe that Bowers was bosom buddies with the glitterati, the Hollywood A-List, the wealthiest producers, and the biggest celebrities — a group of individuals who we can easily believe were dying, in the years of McCarthy, the Hays Code, and morals clauses, to confide deeply in gas station attendants and bartenders before folding them permanently into their swank and cliquish coteries.
But that is evidently what Bowers does want his audience to believe, a pretension that leads to many passages in which he asks the reader not only to suspend disbelief, but to murder any neuron that attempts to traffic in reason. Thus, we’re meant to take as revealed light not only that Walter Pidgeon was a horny, middle-aged homo, but that he picked up Bowers (who, at the time, was a barely legal little piece of street hustler meat), took him to his mansion for sex, and immediately told him exactly who he was, including introducing him, by name, to another closeted H’wood celebrity. How much of a closet can it have been if Pidgeon blabbed his most carefully guarded secrets to some completely unknown boy whore five minutes after doing him?
Then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone about whom Bowers writes is conveniently dead. I don’t mention this as any sort of allusion to the legalities of defamation, but simply to clarify a point: It’s one thing to have the guts to make claims about people who are still around to say you’re full of shit. It’s quite another thing to write Full Service, which may just have defined a new genre: Necrophiliac Soft Porn Fan Fic.
I could go on, but just talking about Bowers makes me tired. I’ll close by saying that it’s difficult to know how much control Lionel Friedberg had over Bowers’ writing, but the result of their collaboration is dreck: repetitive, dull, boilerplate reportage of the breathless, tedious sort one normally finds on the E! Network. Spoiler: Bowers’ (and, evidently Friedberg’s) favorite adverb is “happily.” After reading the umpteenth sentence in which someone does something “happily,” I could have murdered them both. Happily.
My meager consolation is that I borrowed this book from the library and never actually had to pay for it. But that doesn’t mean, when I’d finished reading, that I didn’t (let’s say it with Bette) WIPE MY MOUTH!
The thing is odd, I will admit, but I’ve gone and reviewed a book review.
I had no choice really. First, because I’m just sick up to here with the dogged refusal of gay magazines to find, cultivate, and publish decent writers, and the review in question demonstrates that the relatively new Polari Magazine is no exception.
Yes, I know. The only purpose that writing has historically served in gay publications is to frame the, um, art work. By which I mean pictures of three-quarters-naked men, sprinkled across the pages like sunflower seeds on an everything bagel. But those policies were largely dictated by the quest for advertising revenue, an issue that online mags and ‘zines like Polari do not face. They don’t have to seek advertising from Delbert Botts, DDS, and they don’t have to print his display ad featuring Jeff Stryker wearing porcelain veneers and nothing else.
I deduce, however, that Polari still does have the issue of not paying its writers a pfennig, a winsome and nostalgic throwback to the early days of gay publishing that is unarguably related to the question of quality. But that’s a polemic for another day.
And second: I had no choice because the book review in question is a fawning tribute to Alan Hollinghurst’s newest novel, The Stranger’s Child. To be clear, I have no problem with anyone’s fawning over Hollinghurst. I have a problem with someone fawning over Hollinghurst and failing to mention that the man desperately needs some new material.
After The Swimming Pool Library, The Folding Star, The Spell, and The Line of Beauty, I’d have been tempted to say that Hollinghurst’s treatment of homosex and the British class system was fairly complete. Not to say to encyclopedic.
On this point, of course, reasonable minds may differ. But reviewers like Tim Bennett-Goodman cannot escape unscathed. At least not on my watch.
Herewith, then, my review of Polari’s review of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, which is more apostrophes than any single sentence has a right to possess.
In all honesty, I cannot tell whether I might be interested in Mr. Hollinghurst’s new novel because I am too vexed by the irritating style of the reviewer to care about much else. In Tim Bennett-Goodman, Polari has found a writer who does not merely subordinate clauses, he chains them together ankle to ankle and sends them on a forced march through the killing fields. He has never met a pronoun antecedent he couldn’t render impenetrable or a modifier he couldn’t muddle.
Let us begin with the opening lines: “Just when one might have thought it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Alan Hollinghurst to top his existing magnificent literary offerings, along comes a monumental new novel which proves one wrong by easily matching, if not exceeding, everything he has offered previously.”
First of all, I wonder whether it is possible to “top” an “offering.” Perhaps it is, assuming the offering is versatile.
Second, might one possibly write, if not pen, a sentence that was a bit more straightforward, if not clearer, to one who is reading, if not following, this tortured syntax?
Third, how about a nice, simple “Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel is a monumental addition to his previous body of fiction.” Because I’ll just be honest: I have not been pondering, not even for a single second, Alan Hollinghurst’s potential difficulties in “matching, topping, or exceeding” his previous “magnificent literary offerings.” Call me provincial, but I always seem to have other things on my mind.
Moving on: “There are some excruciating moments during dinner parties for this dazzling guest, who has landed in the midst of a quiet, respectable suburban middle-class family setting unused to such excitements.” Wait. What or who is unused to excitements? The guest? The suburban family? The setting? And what excitements is the reviewer talking about, since none is mentioned?
And then there is this sentence: “However that may be, this formidable work enhances his already towering canon, and his literary reputation, exponentially.” Why use a specific and well-defined concept from mathematics when the reviewer does not literally mean that Hollinghurst’s “towering canon” will increase by an exponential factor but simply that it will grow? Or think of it this way: If Hollinghurst has written 10 novels, he’d need to write 100 in order for his output to increase “exponentially” by the lowest meaningful factor (10 to the zero power is one; 10 to the first power is 10). Moreover, if Hollinghurst publishes so much as a letter to the editor, his “canon” necessarily increases just by the logic of the thing. So perhaps we could just say that, eh?
As a syntactical matter, meanwhile, does no one worry about the mental state of that poor adverb, moored miles from the verb it intends to modify?
One final comment: I fervently pray that Tim Bennett-Goodman will learn to murder his “its.”
- “Are they drinking to forget? Almost certainly, but whether the past or the present IT is difficult to tell, although IT is in all probability both.”
- “In the opening section of The Stranger’s Child there are many similarities with other literature of the same period, which is not to say that IT is in any sense derivative….. Hollinghurst’s mordant ‘take’ on IT is fresh, original and incredibly penetrating.”
- “Whereas in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited … the issue of homosexuality is compounded by class differences, even in Hartley’s The Go-Between, where the love is heterosexual, IT is still forbidden on account of the class divide.
In all cases, the question is the same: it WHAT, darling?
Well, all right. There is another question. How does a take (the scare quotes are optional here, truly they are) manage to be “incredibly” penetrating? In other words, is the reviewer attempting to communicate that the penetration elicited disbelief? Now, trust me, I am not trying to bring us back ’round to Jeff Stryker, but that is what “incredible” means: that which beggars (mind the vowels) belief, that which cannot be taken for truth. So what is the reviewer saying?
Here’s some homework for Tim Bennett-Goodman: Declarative sentences and lots of them. Screw your courage to the sticking place and write real, unqualified affirmations; and no turning back to insert parenthetical comments just because you’ve lost your nerve. No ifs, ands, or buts—and I mean that literally. And for God’s sake, stop trying to sound like Tennyson. It’s only a novel, for crying out loud. Off you go, then. There’s a good lad.