Monday, August 28


This is a topic that I had been kicking around in my head last week. When Louis suggested subtly that the translation of Murakami's prose may have stunted them, the topic jumped back into my thoughts.

I have an old, used copy of Swann's Way that I have been thinking about reading. The other day I was in the book store when I noticed that each volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time is now available in a new translation. Not only a new translation, an award-winning translation that has received robust praise for numerous sources. The little staff recommendation note hanging below the new Swann's Way dismissed my poor old copy as anachronistic. I ventured to the library in the hope that I would find the updated version in their collection. Alas, their volumes of Proust are even more elderly than my own.

I suppose now is the time to ask, Has anyone read any Proust? Was it the updated translation or the 1922 translation? What did you think?

According to the blurbs, updated translations usually offer things like new life and improved fluidity of prose and access to subtle humor. For example, the 1996 translation of Magic Mountain is supposed to read far more easily than its predecessors, improving on their "stiff and forbidding" language.

The effectiveness of a translation is something that is apt to bother me so much while I am reading a book that I'll attempt to expel it from my thoughts and just pretend that it was originally written in English. But it's a HUGE factor for any book that one reads in translation. Thankfully most translators are amazingly talented. Any good writer will say that each and every word within all of their stories has been meticulously selected. Every word that sits on the page sits their actively, with purpose, they do not reside simply to fill some quota. To take each of the words, and the strings of words that they produce, and bring them into a new language is nearly as meticulous as writing the book in the first place. I just don't know how they do it. Bravo, translators.

Has anyone had an experience where they read a book they simply could not make it through, only to find themselves reading a different translation of that same book later on and enjoying it? My hunch is that many of the differences would be too subtle to swing one's appreciation so wildly from one pole to the other. As an amateur in the world of letters I would guess that updated translations are best suited for those who wish to expand an existing appreciation for a work. But odds are I am wrong. In fact, I know I am wrong. So wrong that I don't think I'll ever read my 1922 translation of Swann's Way. If a better translation exists, why bother?

Another thought, Why are the new translations always found in super deluxe editions? Yeah, the words are new, but why must that require paper of the highest quality and snazzy design work? Damn publishers.


LTS said...

Why super-deluxe editions? Well, why minimum credit card charges?

It's probably safe to assume that the infamous profit-motive is to blame. (I assume you reached that this conclusion independently, though, and that it is in fact implicit in any complaint of this kind.)

Actually, when I get especially frustrated by something like that, I find I can at least amuse myself by imagining a world in which some other motive is ascendant--for instance, a beer-drinking-motive, or for that matter, a book-reading motive.

In fact, while I'm all for boozing up and watching the game, why no bars catering to the more literarily inclined? Have a Scotch and read F. Scott! Well, I'll tell you why there are no such bars: the profit-motive.

I agree with you about translations, too. I have definitely had similar experiences. But what can we do but be patient for the library to catch up with our rapidly changing needs? Learn French, I guess. Are you good with languages, Ben, because I am not. I've accepted that for the rest of my life I'll be doing all my thinking, speaking, and reading in English. A serviceable enough language, I suppose, but if only life weren't so relatively short. I'd learn 'em all, I tell you! And after that, David Mitchell, I'd be right there with you and with bells on.

Good luck finding the copy of Proust you want.

Ben said...

Yes, the last sentence originally read, "Damn greedy publishers," but I thought it redundant.

I'm pretty good with Spanish, but my experience working on Navegando has made me block much of the language out entirely. One can only do so many rounds of quality assurance testing on all the vocabulary audio in three volumes of Spanish texts before the language devolves into little more than static. I kid, I love the Spanish language. I only wish I knew it better. But in general, no, I'm not good with languages.

Bryan said...

If you want a literary bar, try Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap, 55th Street at Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

Ben said...

Book-Loop member Nick just moved to Chicago and he was an English major. But he's attending med school, so books and booze might find little time in his schedule. However, if he ever checked this blog he would certainly make note of the bar's name and location. Since he doesn't check this blog, I will pass the bar's name and location along to him.