Translation, literature and Atari emulation

Waggish writes about the translation of Proust and the emulation of computer games. I enjoyed his put-down of Hofstadter’s version of Eugene Onegin:

bq. I’d also direct true believers to Douglas Hofstadter’s translation of Eugene Onegin, which begins:

My uncle, matchless moral model,
When deathly ill, learned to make,
His friends respect him, bow and coddle–
Of all his ploys, that takes the cake.

bq. Whatever has survived, I doubt it’s Pushkin. Maybe you could amend the phrasing to be, “a great writer survives any faithful, competent translation,” but that introduces two subjective adjectives into the equation, of the “I know it when I see it” category.

Waggish links to an article by Wyatt Mason in The New Republic, comparing translations of Proust, but with a short history of translation tacked on the front. I liked the reference to Nabokov writing ‘better’ translations into an English version of Kafka’s Die Verwandlung:

bq. Look at his copy, for example, of an early translation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Nabokov has very nearly interlineated the entirety of the text with alternate wordings of the translator’s lines. One can file the corrections neatly into the three classes of evil he would enumerate in his sermon from this magazine. He amends errors of ignorance: “The old charwoman calls him ‘dung beetle’ (not ‘cockroach’ as in this idiotic translation).” He restitutes words the translator has skipped (“rain could be heard falling on the panes” becomes “rain drops could be heard striking the tin of the sill’s outer border”). And he explains the motive behind homely renovations he makes to vilely beautified phrases: “There is a wonderful flowing rhythm here in these dreamy sequences of sentences. He is half-awake–he realizes his plight without surprise, with a childish acceptance of it, and at the same time he still clings to human memories, human experiences.”

Waggish quotes Jeff Vavosour’s cry of despair when the emulations of Atari games were criticized for quirks that were in the originals.

bq. Do I hear an echo of Nabokov’s famously stringent attitudes toward translation here? There is no tolerance for variation in emulation, and this is because any competent game player’s experience is located in details as small as the ones that Nabokov finds in the rhythms and sounds of words.

(Via wood s lot, who inter alia reposts some material on translation)

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