The Role of Mindset in Literary Translation
How do you learn the mastery of literary translation? By translating.
The more you translate the better you get. But there is a side effect and I'm just going to call it what it is – over-confidence.
In real life, confidence helps us to move up the professional ladder, to get more friends or to achieve the boldest dreams we could only have. And yet, according to the law of the balance, good things are good in a right amount. Overdose of any good can be a cause of the most surprising in scale disasters.
Over-confidence in literary translation is like driving Bugatti through the streets of London in a doped state. In other words, not a good idea. But I’ll try to keep metaphors aside and get straight to the business.
Being a literary translator means being willing to learn constantly. There’s no line reaching which a literary translator can be considered a professional god. Of course the more you translate the more experienced you get but each project, each text will always put you face to face with new dilemmas, complications, and doubts.
There are some kind of ‘rules’ that each literary translator has to remember. Those are simple and pretty concrete:
- Don’t exaggerate the meaning of the words.
- Follow the tone/style of writing.
- Don’t ignore cultural differences.
- Be careful about the context of a word.
- Avoid translation word for word.
But literary translation is much more than that. Its quality also depends on research, knowledge of how the target (TL) and the source (SL) languages are structured, and of course on the ability of a literary translator to take right decisions and keep the body of a work authentic.
So, over time as a literary translator gets more experienced and therefore becomes more and more confident about what he/she is doing, following the rules stops being as important as before. Little by little, literary translation takes on a very dangerous form. Dangerous because it’s not possible to track this moment for clients, readers, and even literary translator him/herself. And even though translated text may still look pretty to TL readers, it loses the most important thing - the voice of its Author.
The role of a literary translator is in being as neat, precise and close to the source idea as possible. And the most important thing to remember is that a literary translator's job is not to rewrite but to transfer what is written from one culture to another, preferably wihtout losses.
In order to prevent this issue, both sides, a literary translator and a client, need to understand this one crucial thing:
Literary translation is a creative work, a voyage in length of life where nothing ever gets clear. And only those who are willing to learn, daily, are going to stay afloat during these stormy days of work. There is no one right way but many and the ability correctly to choose between them is what makes a good translation.
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