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'I wanted to preserve the farmyard connotations.'
May 27, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

On translating Roberto Bolaño's sex scenes.
posted by shakespeherian (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still don't want to pick up and start trudging through the rest of 2666.
posted by sanka at 8:38 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


grupa
posted by unliteral at 8:50 AM on May 27, 2010


This struck me as odd:

If you could have met Bolaño, what single thing would you have asked him?

That’s a hard one. There are so many little things I’d like to ask him: what did you mean here, what did this word mean in Mexico City in 1970, how should this sentence read?


Surely, there's lots of people who could tell her what that word meant in Mexico City in 1970! Are translators supposed to work alone, consulting nobody?
posted by vacapinta at 8:51 AM on May 27, 2010


Metió los dedos hasta el fondo, la chica gimió y alzó la grupa, sintió que sus yemas palpaban algo que instantáneamente nombró con la palabra estalagmita.

He pushed his fingers all the way in, the girl moaned and raised her haunches, he felt the tips of his fingers brush something to which he instantly gave the name stalagmite.
does 'gurpa' that sentence really have the same connotation as 'haunches'? Google translate uses the word "rump"
posted by delmoi at 8:57 AM on May 27, 2010


delmoi, from the interview: The word that gave me most trouble was ‘grupa’, which literally means a horse’s hindquarters. I wanted to preserve the farmyard connotations, which give the sentence an extra jolt of dirtiness. Another possibility might have been ‘rump’, but there’s something more suggestive and sexual about ‘haunches’.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:59 AM on May 27, 2010


Delmoi, you should definitely go with what Google Translate says over the professional translator selected to work on Bolaño.
posted by CRM114 at 9:00 AM on May 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


Yup, "haunches" is miles more appropriate than "rump" here. As translation, I mean.
posted by Skeptic at 9:09 AM on May 27, 2010


Surely, there's lots of people who could tell her what that word meant in Mexico City in 1970! Are translators supposed to work alone, consulting nobody?

I would assume consulting people is one of the things she did during her trip to Mexico City.
posted by twirlip at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2010


I would assume consulting people is one of the things she did during her trip to Mexico City.

So would I! Its just that the sentence after that: "Many times I had to make decisions based on context and consultation and ultimately my own best guess.." sounds like consulting others is a last resort.

If she had worked with anybody with any kind of Mexican cultural knowledge she would never have written down "El Santo?" since any random Mexican on the street could tell you that one. So, perhaps I mean a collaborator not just a consultant.
posted by vacapinta at 9:23 AM on May 27, 2010


Awesome, thanks for posting this. I am just finishing Savage Detectives, great read.
posted by cell divide at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2010


Surely, there's lots of people who could tell her what that word meant in Mexico City in 1970!

Interesting thought, actually. Anyone you ask now who was alive and aware in Mexico City in 1970 might very well be willing to tell you what they remember that word to have meant. But what people remember and what actually was the case are usually quite different things.

Bolaño, OTOH, had a specific thing he meant by it at the time. Whether it's what "people" meant or not, who knows, but he should be able to tell you for sure what he meant by it.

Related observation by Eric Nielsen: "With self-reporting surveys you get what people think they remember about what they thnk they did." Similarly, when you ask people what a word meant in a particular time and place 40 years ago, you get what they think they remember (but could be making up) about what they think the word meant at the time (but could have totally had no clue how other people used it).

For example, I was alive in upstate NY in 1970. Does that mean I know what 'fragging' meant at the time?

I totally respect what translators have to do. Their contribution is very underappreciated, AFAICS. It's full of scholarship and judgement calls and probably a fair amount of flipping coins (though one hopes not too much).
posted by lodurr at 9:27 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I too read about half of 2666 and sort of forgot to finish it. It wasn't bad, but somehow just failed to connect with me.
posted by rusty at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I totally respect what translators have to do. Their contribution is very underappreciated, AFAICS. It's full of scholarship and judgement calls and probably a fair amount of flipping coins (though one hopes not too much).

Lydia Davis has a pretty great discussion on the various responsibilities of the literary translator in the introduction for her translation of Proust's Swann's Way.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:31 AM on May 27, 2010


2666 is an amazing book -- so far, the best I've read all year -- but I refuse to read any of this thread until I'm finished reading it.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:32 AM on May 27, 2010


Awesome link, thanks
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:52 AM on May 27, 2010


Well, I think she succeeded. The Savage Detectives was awesomely sexy in English.
posted by sunnichka at 10:37 AM on May 27, 2010


2666 was exasperating, depressing, and ultimately cathartic. Presumably that's why they decided to publish the English translation in three volumes...
posted by blacksmithtb at 10:39 AM on May 27, 2010


Brings to mind the French expression: Books which are read translated with one hand.
posted by Danf at 11:16 AM on May 27, 2010


I still don't want to pick up and start trudging through the rest of 2666.
posted by sanka


I hear this alot. Strangely, I couldn't put the book down. It really kicked my ass in places but I just couldn't stop reading it. One of my favorite books. Everyone is different I guess.
posted by nola at 12:15 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Moreover, Bolaño didn't solely write novels. Some of his short stories are brilliant.
posted by ersatz at 12:42 PM on May 27, 2010


Between parts 3 & 4 of 2666, there is an abrupt and disorienting switch in time and locale of several decades and several thousand miles. I wasn't sure what the author's intentions were, but by the time I got to the end, I felt like punching my fist into the air - A giant is coming... It approaches genius.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 3:02 PM on May 27, 2010


Finally finished my own slow trudge through reams and reams of critical theory and related grad school academic texts and have time for fiction again- which means being able to pick 2666 back up where I left off (in the middle) and it's kept me up reading the past few nights.

Slog is an interesting word: certainly the intricate descriptions of murder scenes and descriptions of rape victims that begin to pummel the reader page after page after page halfway through the book(s) have made it seem like that. However, the never-ending descriptions of brutality aren't desensitizing, rather they build another level of repulsion and an emotional response for me through their repetition. Bolano creates a relentless and unforgiving world not just for his characters, but for the reader, and yet, for the last four months I've been promising myself the first thing I'd do when I graduated was pick that book back up again and soldier on, because somehow he made me look forward to the abuse.
posted by stagewhisper at 5:58 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard a lot of good things about 2666, but the one thing that gives me pause about picking it up is that it was published posthumously from a first draft. So apparently only 4.5 out of 5 parts were finished by Bolano. Who finished the last 0.5? Was it ever finished? Also, this article suggests there may have been a part six as well. So does the novel have an ending? Or will it leave me hanging if I read it?

Also great post. I have always been really curious about what it's like to translate works and what makes a good and bad translation. This was a good little window into that discipline.
posted by bluefly at 6:15 AM on May 28, 2010


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