Monday, July 27, 2009

Basque Self-translators

The most known Basque self-translator is Bernardo Atxaga. But if you take a look at the translation database published at the Basque Literature Portal, you can see that self-translation is quite common amongst Basque writers, as often the name of the author and the name of the translator are identical. Interesting is for example the case of Arantxa Urretabizkaia, who went from self-translation (Zergatik panbox) to collaboration translation (Saturno) and was not involved in the next translation (Koaderno gorria) at all - at least she is no longer mentioned as translator.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Milan Kundera

I just started reading Translating Milan Kundera by Michelle Woods and would like to share a passage: "Also in the mid 1980s, Kundera revised all the French translations of the novels written in Czech and declared these, rather than the Czech versions, to be the definitive and authentic versions of the novels. The translations in other words became the originals. Later, to produce new Czech versions, he would use three ‘originals’: the Czech manuscript, the first published Czech versions (in Toronto, Canada) and the French definitive translations." (Woods 2006:ix)

So if the translations became the new originals, can one then speak of the new Czech versions as translations? Is Kundera becoming a self-translator when re-writing the Czech original?

For further reading:
Woods, Michelle (2006): Translating Milan Kundera. Topics in Translation: 30.

Note: After writing this post, I read a good summary of this book at another blog.

Author-translator collaboration

Some consider Milan Kundera or Isaac Bashevis Singer as self-translators because they were actively involved in the translation process done by professional translators. The case of Milan Kundera is of particular interest because he revised every single translation of his work before it was published and "added a note to all revised French translations granting the 'same level of authority as the original'." (Vanderschelden 1998:25)
In her article "Authority in literary translation. Collaborating with the author" Vanderschelden discusses different forms of collaborations - they mainly differ in the form of intensity, the degree of influence of the author on the translated text: "The notion of 'authority' conveys the power and legitimacy of the author in relation with the text. In this context, translation collaboration can sometimes shift the decision process from translator to author". (Vanderschelden 1998:26) Despite the proclaimed "death of the author" by Roland Barthes, the translation practice shows that the author is still seen as the ultimative decision instance regarding the meaning of the original. This leads to "an element of subordination on the part of the translator" (Vanderschelden 1998:25).
Other collaborations she discusses include:
- Umberto Eco with William Weaver
- Jorge Luis Borges with Norman Thomas di Giovanni
- Cortázar with Laure Bataillon
- Cabrera Infante with Suzanne Jill Levine

For further reading:
Vanderschelden, Isabelle (1998): Authority in literary translation. Collaborating with the author. In: Translation Review 56, pp. 22-31.

Woods, Michelle (2006): Translating Milan Kundera. Topics in Translation: 30.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960 and has been living in Hamburg (Germany) since 1982. She writes in Japanese and German but usually does not self-translate. She has established quite an interesting writing system how to choose the language for a certain text as she explains in an interview: If the sound is important she writes the text in German, if it is more important how the text looks like, she writes it in Japanese. When writing her book "Das nackte Auge" she decided to write it in Japanese and German simultaneously, writing one passage in one language and then translating it into the other. For her it was a quite disturbing experiment and she is not convinced that she is a good translator:

"Ich habe in meinem neuen Buch „Das nackte Auge“ auf Japanisch geschrieben und es dann ins Deutsche übersetzt, dann auf Deutsch weiter geschrieben, das wieder ins Japanische übersetzt und so weiter – ich bin immer hin und her gesprungen. Das war das erste Mal, dass ich so etwas gemacht habe. Das bringt alles durcheinander - genau das wollte ich aber. Das kann man nur als Experiment betreiben. Die Übersetzung als Tätigkeit ist aber sehr faszinierend. Man erfährt dabei sehr viel über die Sprachen. Das ist sehr wertvoll. Das Ergebnis ist aber schwierig. Ich bin keine gute Übersetzerin." (Interview on

Self-translation as a regular practice is not an option for her.

For further reading:

Interview (in German):

Brand, Bettina (2006): Ein Wort, ein Ort, or how words create places. Interview with Yoko Tawada. In: Helga W. Kraft (ed.): Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture. University of Nebraska Press, pp. 1-15.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Conference: Les écrivains du sud-est européen en quête d'identité

Self-translation will be a subject on the conference: "Les écrivains du sud-est européen en quête d'identité" which will take place at Bucharest, University Spiru Haret, from 6 - 7 november 2009.

Abstracts of the contributions are already available online. The conference language is French.

Interesting concerning self-translation is especially the contribution by Najib Redouane:
"Crise identitaire et bilinguisme littéraire chez Vassilis Alexakis". But there are also contributions about Ciroan, Tsepeng, Panait Istrati and Luca.

If anybody attends this conference I would be grateful for more information. The contributions will be published after the conference.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Samar Attar

Samar Attar was born in Damascus (Syria). She has studied Comparative Literature in Syria, Canada and the United States, worked in Algeria, West Germany and Australia and is married to a German. Samar explains that being surrounded by so many different languages, makes it hard to tell which is your mother tongue (see Attar 2005, p. 132).
Attar started to self-translate because she had a hard time to get her novel Lina: A Portrait Of A Damascene Girl - written in Arabic - published. (see Attar 2005, p. 133). She sees the act of self-translation as a "response to continuous attempts to stifle and silence my voice as a novelist.The act of self-translation has made me visible and has given me a voice which I was denied as a writer in Arabic". (Attar 2005, p. 134) Self-translation also helps her to keep her Arabic language alive but overall "censorship was and still is the reason that forced me to use translation as a strategy to assert my voice as a writer". (Attar 2005, p. 141).
Concerning the discussion of the terms orginal/translation she states:
"Self translators cannot reproduce in one language what they have created in another. Ultimately, what they produce through self translation is a complementary literary text which does not simply echo the original, but has its own echo and effect in the target language and culture. Unlike conventional translation contexts, self translators do not usually engage in the two-stage process of reading-writing activity (their reading activity is of a different nature), but rather in a double writing process. Thus, their translated text becomes a version or a variant of the original text, indeed an original work in its own right." (Attar 2005, p. 139)

For further reading:
Attar, Samar (2005): Translating the exiled self. Reflections on translation and censorship. In: Intercultural Communication Studies XIV:4, p. 131–147. >> A longer version of this article appeared in Translation Review (special issue on Arabic), 65 (2003), p. 35-46.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ryoko Sekiguchi

I just read in another blog about the lecture "Ryoko Sekiguchi: Ecrire entre deux langues : en français, en japonais" that will take place 13th July at the University of Osaka (Japan). Sekiguchi will be present. I quote an interesting note:

"Chacun de ses livres existe en version française et japonaise, mais avec de subtiles différences : le titre est parfois identique, parfois non ; il ne s’agit pas simplement d’ une auto-traduction, mais plutôt d’un rapport de transfert, de transposition, puisque la transparence totale entre les deux langues est impossible. Il n’y a ainsi ni original, ni copie, mais une « écriture double », un « entre-deux langues » mouvant qui se nourrit de leur décalage, mais aussi de leur continuel frottement."

This quote underlines the difficulty to find an adequate term for the process of self-translation. Is it more translation or more writing? The suggested term "écriture double" prefers to accentuate the writing aspect. The quote also stresses that established terms like "original" don't seem to be applicable when talking about self-translation.

During my research on Sekiguchi I found a summary of another discussion with her, which took place in 2006: Blurring Boundaries: A Conversation on the Art of Translation with Rosa Alcalá, Ryoko Sekiguchi, and Cole Swensen (Poets House, 11/17/06). I hope somebody will also be so kind to sum up the lecture in Japan.

For further reading:
Sekiguchi, Ryōko (2002): L'auto-traduction ou l'artifice de la contrainte. In: Poésie 100, p. 260-261, Berlin.

New study of Molloy

As already stated, self-translation is an issue researchers on Beckett are more and more aware of. In her new study of Molloy: Modalités po(ï)étiques de configuration textuelle: le cas de Molloy de Samuel Beckett, Carla Taban dedicates the fourth chapter to the issue of self-translation:
Chapitre 4. Molloy/Molloy : (auto-)traduction et po(ï)éticité intra-inter-textuelle

For more information on the book, visit the presentation by Rodopi.

For furter reading:
Taban, Carla (2009): Modalités po(ï)étiques de configuration textuelle: le cas de Molloy de Samuel Beckett. Amsterdam/New York, 360 pp. Pb: 978-90-420-2587-5

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

André Brink

André Brink is one of the most consistent self-translators. He writes his books both in Afrikaans and English. He does not refer to one version as translation, so one can't tell which one is the translation and which one is the original. Because both versions influence each other he prefers to call the process "rewriting" instead of "translating: "However, I do not ‚translate‘ my books. I rewrite them in English or Afrikaans, sometimes alternating chapters and in the process reworking the original in the light of the changes made in the other language. This cross-pollination continues until I say ‚that is enough‘, otherwise I'd never finish a book.“ (Maree 1999, S. 43) André Brink started self-translation because his book Kennis van die Aand was banned in South Africa: „With my work banned, I suddenly found that I had lost my audience, because I only wrote in Afrikaans. So I decided to push things further by translating the novel into English, so it could reach a public outside South Africa.“ (UNESCO 1993).
Research on self-translations by André Brink is rare as far as I know. There is one article by Alet Kruger (2008) and a very interesting master thesis by Ehrlich Shlomit (2007) on André Brink and Dalene Mathee.

For further reading:
Eder, Richard (1980): An Interview with André Brink. In: New York Times, 23.03.1980.

Kruger, Alex (2008): Translation, self-translation and apartheid-imposed conflict. To be published in Language and Politics 2008. Available online.

Maree, Cathy (1999): ‚We can only manage the world once it has been storified‘ – Interview with André Brink. In: Unisa Latin American Report 15:1, S. 43.

Ehrlich, Shlomit "(2007): The Status and Production of Self-Translated Texts: Afrikaans-English as a Case in Point. Master thesis Bar-Ilan University. Available online.

UNESCO (1993): André Brinks talks to Bahgat Elnadi and Adel Rifaat. In: UNESCO Courrier, Sept. 1993,, 20. Dec. 2007.

Wheatcroft, Geoffrey (1982): A talk with André Brink. In: New York Times, 13.06.1982.