Translating Myself and Others

In the mid-2000s, American writer Jhumpa Lahiri moved to Rome and began writing exclusively in Italian, a language she had long learned and loved.

In 2016, she published a short book called In altre parole, translated into English as In Other Words, explaining the benefits of writing in the new language. It was translated into English by Ann Goldstein, best known for her translation of Neapolitan novels by author Elena Ferrante. At the time, Lahiri wrote in the introduction to her new collection of essays, Translating Myself and Others, “She devoted all my energy to writing in Italian, without translating anyone into my most Familiar language, let alone my own.”

But when she returned to the United States, Lahiri was “immediately and instinctively drawn to the world of translation.” Translating myself and others is a guide to the world. In it, Lahiri combines a detailed exploration of craftsmanship with a broader reflection on her own artistic life and the “basic aesthetic and political mission” of translation. She’s excellent in all three modes — so good, in fact, that I’m a translator myself and can barely read the book. I’ve been putting it aside, forced to sit at my desk and translate by Lahiri’s text.
One of Lahiri’s great gifts as an essayist is her ability to weave together multiple ways of thinking in astonishing ways. In one of the best works in the series, Echoes of Praise, she combines literary and cultural analysis with her own experience as a language frontier. “I was born with a temperament to translate,” Lahiri’s author writes, “so my main desire was to connect different worlds. I spent a lot of my life absorbing the languages ​​and cultures of others: my parents’ Bengali Language, and then… Italian, I have now adopted a language creatively.” Her ability and freedom to do the latter is key not only to their artistic life, but also to our collective capacity for cultural change and development.

Intellectual and artistic freedom are Lahiri’s main concerns. She studies the former in (additional) ordinary translation, perusing Italian communist Antonio Gramsci’s prison letters, while the latter studies the former in Ode to a Mighty Choice, which draws from an understanding of ancient poetry and writings A technical analysis of the translation verb dilemma begins to celebrate the “unlimited potential” of the infinite art. According to Lahiri, literature needs to be uncommitted: it cannot achieve its “true purpose, which is to explore… the phenomena and consequences of change” unless the writer has “the means, the power, the capacity to permit, the power, and most importantly, The freedom to fill the page.”

Of course, translators need the same freedom. To outsiders, translation appears to be “a restrictive act of copying,” so obsessed with the original that little thought is required. This is never true. Lahiri writes that “translators restore the meaning of texts through a complex alchemical process that requires imagination, ingenuity and freedom”. Like many other translators — and their critics — she relies heavily on metaphors and similes to describe this alchemy. In fact, this trust is so common that you can often tell how they feel about a translation by looking at their idioms. In his excellent and controversial book The Translator, scholar and translator Douglas Robinson takes aim at many pernicious, common metaphors that reduce the translator to “a knife or a screwdriver.” tool”. A medium such as windows (for viewing) such as air (for sound). Vehicles such as wheelbarrows or trucks. no one. “

Not surprisingly, Lahiri never makes such comparisons. Her descriptions of translation are far stranger and more illuminating, especially in her personal essays. She writes that her “focus” oscillates between English and Italian. Translates to “Look in the mirror and see someone other than yourself”. In Why Italian?, the first article in the series, Lahiri first describes learning and writing Italian as a passage through a series of doors. Then as a surrender to a pictorial, voluntary form of blindness; finally grafting itself into language like a branch on a branch. But the best description of the show is that she barely details. “Reading, writing and living in Italian,” she writes, “makes me feel like a reader, a writer, a more observant, active and curious person.” Of course, Lahiri is both a reader and a writer, but always It is rare and precious to have such a feeling, as the phrase rightly implies. Both fiction writing and language acquisition require alertness and concentration, and the routines and stress of everyday life can easily become dull. Now that Lahiri no longer lives primarily in Italian, she writes, the translation “changed my relationship with writing” by providing her with a path to that emphasis. It “goes deep into your skin and shakes the system” to come alive.

Regardless of your relationship with translation, translating myself and others reminds us how dynamic language itself is. In her prose and in her novels, Lahiri is a great and quiet elegant writer. Your sentences look simple, even if they are complicated. Her beauty and clarity alone are enough to awaken readers. “Look,” her article seemed to say: See how much we need to wake up.

Lily Meyer is a writer and translator based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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