Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

class English speakers’?). This is a general argument, it seems to me, and specifying which works we are missing and by whom they should be translated, as Moser demands, is not necessary to it or even particularly useful at this point. Thus we have one motivation for translating: because a work or an author provides something not available to us in English.

Briggs goes on to ask: ‘What are the features of this practice of translating?’ and thus leads us into an exploration of those features, partly by means of discussing her own experience in translating Barthes in all its material and intellectual distinctiveness. She discusses the work of Helen Loewe Porter and Dorothy Bussy, in particular, but also – as her translator-defenders wrote in their letter to the NYTBR – an ‘impressively wide range of writers, thinkers and theorists’. Her placing of women translators in their economic, domestic and sentimental contexts was for me a very welcome story of writing/ translating lives that I could recognise.

Throughout her essay she refers to the translator as ‘she’, and I must admit that I found this warming to the same degree, I suspect, as Moser found it – at some level – very irritating. The Editor’s conclusion to his opening paragraph is either mischievous or unnecessary in drawing attention to the gender of translators of Camus he simply liked or disliked. He later expresses annoyance at the charge of ‘misogynistic sniping’ levelled at Moser, so why underline gender differences at the outset of his editorial? I think that this is part of the misunderstanding of Briggs’s writing in general, and that it is related to the concept of écriture feminine, a concept neither the editor nor Moser might care for, but which seems very useful here: a fluidity of expression that also tends to transgress accepted forms – as does Lispector, at least in the translations by Giovanni Pontiero (which I edited for Carcanet).

The Editor suggests that Briggs’s ‘lyrical essay mode lets her off a range of scholarly and critical responsibilities… it would seem that she was writing poetry, or a sonata, or creating a collage’, he writes, ‘but not a critical meditation’. (Why shouldn’t an essay take sonata form, though? Exposition, development and recapitulation do not seem inimical to critical responsibilities.) He and

Moser suggest that her way of writing cannot answer to the demands – as they conceive them – of the essay form. I think differently. It is the form of this meditation that is innovative, illuminating and thought provoking. It is a form that gives us insight into the process of thinking about and making a translation. The requirement to be ‘critical’ is less obvious than the requirement to be intelligently discriminating about the experience of reading and writing translations, which Briggs simply is.

She understands the importance of the pleasure taken by the translator in the original text as key to motivation, and as accounting for ‘what otherwise looks like the strikingly haphazard history of literature in translation: a factor, along with all the other powerful and determining forces of economics, status, chance and circumstance, that works to determine what gets translated, and when, and by whom’. And – speaking of responsibilities: ‘To be clear: it is not my intention to downplay the knowledge that is involved in translating’, but – asking the critical question: ‘Tell me, really: when could anyone, any reader or writer, consider themselves adequately pre-qualified to undertake the translation of, say, a 730page novel set in a sanatorium? One of Germany’s most formative contributions to European literature?’ Her answer is that translators undertake their work not to demonstrate their expertise ‘but precisely because they know, without yet knowing exactly how or in what particular ways, doing so will be productive of new knowledge’, of the world and of writing.

Moser’s tone and his aim were directed towards a book he profoundly misunderstood. This Little Art is, I believe, intended as a conversation: the author with herself as she constantly questions her own practice and assumptions; and the conversation she opens up with her readers, inviting them to consider the texts and ideas she lays side by side, developing or even discarding them as she goes along. It is an intelligent, open book, and perhaps that very openness was what disconcerted Moser, and could not be appreciated by someone who has not read it from cover to cover. I urge readers of PNR, a publication which has brought us many and varied translations, to read This Little Art with the attention it merits.

Cover Story

MarcAtkins,‘Orfordness’

arc Atkins is best known for his photographs of urban space, especially of London. But he has created an equally large number of landscape studies. As with the cityscapes, the environment in these images has been shaped twice over – once by the cumulative history of its use, and then by the artist’s response based on his reading of that use. In this image, the marshy foreground is supplied by Orford Ness, while the ghostly structure in the background has been transplanted from elsewhere. This spectral architecture is hauntingly beautiful but it also resembles a stylised mushroom cloud, looming over a vulnerable ecosystem used for over seventy years as a key site for military experimentation, including the testing of nuclear weapons. In all of Atkins’s photographic works, a mysterious intensity is achieved by subjecting the visible terrain to the pressure of an artistic vision. Few artists in any medium have rendered a critique of land use as powerfully and palpably as Atkins does with his camera.

od Mengham cover  story 3

Skip to main content