The role of intuition in translation | Daily News

The role of intuition in translation

After translating more than two hundred titles into Spanish and Catalan, Carles Andreu focuses on his translations of Jennifer Egan’s work to consider the role of intuition, that “invaluable resource that occasionally can also turn into a double-edged sword.”

In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to translate four books by Jennifer Egan into Spanish for the Spanish publishing market: A Visit from the Goon Squad (El tiempo es un canalla, Minúscula, 2012), followed by The Keep (La torre del homenaje, Minúscula, 2013), Emerald City (Ciudad Esmeralda, Minúscula, 2016) and, more recently, Manhattan Beach (Salamandra, 2019). Translating Egan is a joy. While usually a translator is eager to forge ahead with the highest pages-per-day ratio she can honestly produce, with Egan’s books you don’t ever want to get to the last page, because you know you will miss everything about it once you are done. After translating two hundred titles from English and German into Spanish and Catalan, I am painfully aware of how uncommon an experience that can be.

Forward feeling

Egan is a rara avis, always keen on exploring new formats, trying on new voices and styles. “I wanted to avoid centrality. I wanted polyphony. I wanted a lateral feeling, not a forward feeling,” said Egan about her writing of A Visit from the Goon Squad. She is a highly versatile author indeed: in the short span of ten years, she published a neogothic novel, then a rather experimental volume of short stories in which characters and plots are intertwined to the point of blurring the limits between short story and chapter, resulting in a sort of composite novel and including one story written in PowerPoint format—a book that, incidentally, earned her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction—then a Twitter novel, and, finally, a surprisingly genre-tight historical novel about wartime New York with a feminist twist.

The pleasure of the task at hand lies partly in the fact that the original is animated by the energy of logic (a concept favored by Egan), both at the level of the sentence and as a whole.

Such stylistic variance can create an additional difficulty, as finding the voice and tone in a text is one of the first hurdles for a translator. If an author keeps changing everything about her work as a principle, the challenges of translating her increase. As it turns out, though, the best-written books tend also to be “easier” to translate: the pleasure of the task at hand lies partly in the fact that the original is animated by the energy of logic (a concept favored by Egan), both at the level of the sentence and as a whole. When everything in the original clicks, a translation flows beautifully and the translator can ideally focus on other relevant details.

Invaluable resource

The decision about the level of engagement required in a given translation challenge depends greatly on a translator’s intuition, an invaluable resource that occasionally can also turn into a double-edged sword. Intuition is your experience making more or less conscious decisions. A translator’s baggage, together with her familiarity with the text, subject, author, style, or medium, will increase the potential role of intuition, ultimately speeding the process of translation, a desired outcome in most scenarios, but certainly a must in markets that underpay translators, such as the literary translation market in Spain (where, if translation is your only source of income, you will need to produce at least ten pages a day, every day of the week, every month, for years, just to get by). I have used the verb “produce,” but that is an understatement. When talking about his stint as a translator during his early years as an aspiring writer in Paris, Paul Auster is bolder: “I translated half a dozen books with my wife, Lydia Davis. These translations were our primary source of income . . . and even though our rate kept increasing from book to book, we were scarcely a penny or two ahead of the minimum wage. The key was to work fast, to crank out the translations as quickly as we could and never stop for breath.”1 Anyone translating literature in Spain for a living will relate to that feeling.- World Literature Today


 

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