Notable Past and Present Translators
Translators are almost invisible to the eye of the reader: when picking up a translated book, rarely do we pay attention to the artist who has made it possible for us to enjoy that particular work. Translation, however, not only is an act of art, just as important as the act of imagining a new world and putting pen to paper, but it can also be an act of rebellion: Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible in German not only created mass-produced publishing, creating a base for our modern Publishing World, but also meant that people could finally access information that had been withheld from them. Today there are many literary prizes, including the International Booker Prize, that recognize the hard work of translators and the incredible effort it takes to translate the nuances of a language into another one. We hope you enjoy this amazing selection of translators!
Detecting Untruths: Primo Levi and Translation
Italian Holocaust survivor and writer Primo Levi was exceptionally drawn to the art of translation. In a crucial passage of If This Is a Man, the account of his time in Auschwitz, Levi famously translated Dante’s Inferno for fellow prisoner Jean in order to survive the concentration camp’s dehumanising process.
Levi translated works such as Kafka’s The Trial and wrote extensively about the profession of the translator, which comes with linguistic losses and frustrations, but also with the great privilege of being able to “detect untruths.” A translator’s best tool, according to Levi, is her sensitivity, which cannot be taught in school and enables her “to take on the personality of the author, identify with the author.” In other words, her empathy. Reading Levi now can help us reconnect with our empathy and unmask untruths in a time of social distance and divisions.
Transformation Over Transference: Jorge Luis Borges
Borges translated many works, being himself a polyglot, and considered there to be two universal types of translations:
a literal one and a paraphrasing one. Cautiously never siding with either he instead saw translations, as he writes in The Homeric Versions, as “partial and precious documentation of the changes the text suffers.” As Efrain Kristal notes in her book, Invisible Work, he borrowed from “the history of translation and its theoretical positions those elements which most helped him construct his ideas and especially his practices as a reader and writer.” What’s perhaps most appealing about Borges’ perspective on translation is his linking of it to the reader, and in the way that he saw reading itself, as a translation within the same language. As he argues that, “just as there are endless interpretations by diverse readers of any given text, there is no one way to translate.”
The Victorian Pioneer: Constance Garnett
Translating over 70 volumes of Russian literature in her lifetime, Constance Garnett’s tireless efforts introduced Victorian England to the immortal works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and many other classic Russian writers. Born in Brighton in 1861, Garnett began learning Russian in the 1890s after meeting recently exiled Russian Jews. Beginning with Turgenev, Garnett’s translating endeavours were further fuelled by her first visit to Russia in 1894, during which time she met with Tolstoy and received the author’s blessing to translate his works.
Garnett’s husband, notable literary editor Edward Garnett, introduced Constance to many writers whose works he had championed – authors such as Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence, who praised Garnett’s translations and helped ensure that her translations remained in print well into the 20th century.
While Garnett’s translations are distinctly and appropriately Victorian in tone, her work undoubtedly served as a gateway to Russian literature, introducing the Anglosphere to authors of immeasurable significance for the very first time.
Giving Italian Life to Spanish Titles: Ilide Carmignani
Ilide Carmignani graduated first from Università di Pisa in Spanish and Hispanic-American Literature, and then from Brown University in literary translation. She began working as a translator immediately after university, and today she is one of the best known and most experienced translators in Italy. For about thirty years she has been carrying out consultancy, editing and translation from Spanish for some of the most important Italian publishing houses.
Her pen has given voice to writers such as Luìs Sepulveda, MT Andruetto, R. Bolaño, JL Borges, L. Cernuda, R. Fogwill, C. Fuentes, A. Grandes, G. García Márquez, P. Neruda, JC Onetti, O Paz. In 2000 she won the Literary Translation Award from the Cervantes Institute in 2013 she won the “Premio Nazionale per la Traduzione” (The National Prize for Translation) and in 2018 the prize “Vittorio Bodini.”