Literary Translation is an Art, Not a Science

All reading is, in a sense, a kind of translation, a search for meanings in a text written by someone else. We realise the impossibility of ever pinning down ‘an original meaning’ whilst enjoying our own interpretations. – LiterarytranslationThe owners of the website, literarytranslation, have a wonderful take on literary translations – they believe that it is an art in itself and wholly undervalued and under-rated in modern society. And while they don’t dispute the value of academia in literary translation, they argue that an academic background in translation is not necessary in order to be a good translator.This is a point of view to which I subscribe, but I have always held that tertiary education is not necessarily indicative of ability or capability, regardless of the profession (except perhaps medicine). Having a feel for writing and being able to convey an original author’s intent is perhaps more important in literary translation than grammatical correctness and puritanical style. To be able to successfully convey another’s story to a new audience, it is necessary to have an understanding of the author’s culture, his or her country, traditions, and circumstances at the time. It is important to feel where to place emphasis in relation to structure, italics and the like, as opposed to blindly copying the structure of the original text.This not something that can be easily taught, which is why, way back in the 19th century, established authors were primarily responsible for translating literary works. And they did so not because they were under contractual obligations or because it was a job and they needed the money, but because they had a passion for the work in question and an undying desire to share it with the rest of the world. Literarytranslation says that translating other works was a right of passage for aspiring authors, as it taught them about different styles, opened them up to different cultures and broadened their views. Translating the works of others helped writers to find their voices in their own writing.These days the focus is on standardisation and exactness as opposed to accuracy. Translated works are deemed to be good only if they resemble the original as closely as possible in structure and form and this is not always a good thing. The website laments the fact that more importance is given to “formal linguistic equivalence” and not “literary savvy”. As one quotation on the site says, ‘more correct doesn’t mean better loved’.Reference: