PART FOUR. A Sentence
The need to use another word in place of the more obvious, more simple, more neutral one (have-experience; go-walk; sweep-whip) may be called the synonymizing reflex - a reflex of nearly all translators. Having a great stock of synonyms is a feature of "good style" virtuosity; if the word "sadness" appears twice in the same paragraph of the original text, the translator, offended by the repetition (considered an attack on obligatory stylistic elegance), will be tempted to translate the second occurrence as "melancholy." But there's more: this need to synonymize is so deeply embedded in the translators soul that he will choose a synonym first off: he'll say "melancholy" if the original text has "sadness" and "sadness" if the original has "melancholy."
We concede with no irony whatever: the translator's situation is extremely delicate: he must keep faith with the author and at the same time remain himself; what to do? He wants (consciously or unconsciously) to invest the text with his own creativity; as if to give himself heart, he chooses a word that does not obviously betray the author but still arises from his own initiative. I am noticing this right now as I look over the translation of a small text of mine: I write "author," and the translator translates it "writer"; I write "writer," and he translates it "novelist"; I write "novelist," and he translates it "author"; where I say "verse," he says "poetry"; where I say "poetry," he says "poems." Kafka says "go," the translators, "walk." Kafka says "no element," the translators: "none of the elements," "no longer anything," "not a single element." This practice of synonymization seems innocent, but its systematic quality inevitably smudges the original idea. And besides, what the hell for? Why not say "go" when the author says "gehen"? O ye translators, do not sodonymize us!
Translators tend to enrich the vocabulary: "never ceased to experience" (for "have"); "thrust," "advance," "go a long way" (for "be"); "walk" (for "go"); "find" (for "have").
(What terror the words "be" and "have" strike in all the translators in the world! They'll do anything to replace them with words they consider less routine.)
Kafka insisted that his books be printed in very large type. These days that is recalled with the indulgent smile prompted by great men's whims. Yet nothing about it warrants a smile; Kafka's wish was justified, logical, serious, related to his aesthetic, or, more specifically, to his way of articulating prose.
An author who divides his text into many short paragraphs will not insist so on large type: a lavishly articulated page can be read rather easily.
By contrast, a text that flows out in an endless paragraph is very much less legible. The eye finds no place to stop or rest, the lines are easily "lost track of." To be read with pleasure (that is, without eye fatigue), such a text requires relatively large type that makes reading easy and allows one to stop anytime to savor the beauty of the sentences.
I look through the German paperback edition of The Castle: on a small page, thirty-nine appallingly cramped lines of an "endless paragraphe": it's illegible; or it's legible only as information; or as a document; in any case not as a text meant for aesthetic perception. In an appendix, on some forty pages: all the passages Kafka deleted from his manuscript. They disregard Kafka's desire (for thoroughly justified aesthetic reasons) to have his text printed in large type; they fish out all the sentences he decided (for thoroughly justified aesthetic reasons) to destroy. In that indifference to the author's aesthetic wishes is reflected all the sadness of the posthumous fate of Kafka's work.
Testaments Betrayed (1993) - An Essay in Nine Parts By Milan Kundera
Translated by Linda Asher
Sunday, July 10, 2016
PART FOUR. A Sentence