Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Up Again

I've decided to restart my blog on translation, originally established as part of the "Translate This!" workshop at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's last fall. Alas, my decision was not influenced by popular demand (ha, ha!), but by that I think it's an interesting (at least to me) topic. I'd love it if my fellow translation travellers, particularly the people in the workshop, chimed in once in a while if they've continued any forays into other languages.

My latest translation news is publishing the first page of "The Earth's Horizons" in The Nation. I've been working on translating this text for at least five years. Les horizons du sol is by Michèle Métail, one of the few (if not the only) female members of Oulipo and was published by the cipM, a fantastic poetry center in France that is actually in danger of losing its space due to bureaucratic machinations. The text is a "history" (a term used extremely loosely) of the geological formation of Marseille, which is where the cipM is based, and written 48 characters to a line, 24 lines to a page, with accompanying illustrations.

To translate this text, I've had to discover equivalent geological terms in English, particularly in that many of the terms she uses are specific to the geology of Marseille. I've often thought I should probably have a geologist review my translation to make sure I've gotten all the terms right! My most reliable source has been an old French-English dictionary for chemists--it actually has contained definitions for many of the scientific terms that Métail uses. I then doublecheck the definitions in an English-only dictionary of geological terms. I've found the Larousse to be extremely stilted, and have found the Harrap's online much more useful.

The other challenge has been to preserve the form, and thereby the length of the original. English is a much more concise and compressed language than French, so I've often had to pad out my translation in order to achieve the 48/24 form. Also, Métail did not use any punctuation--the text is basically one long sentence with continuous geological "action," one thing (such as a mountain eroding into a valley) leading to another so I've had to try to fold in many, many "thats" linking sequences together without making the repetition too obvious.

The first page, the one published in The Nation, is the first completed page (with many more to go). I was only able to complete that page, plus page 2 and half of page 3, thanks to a mini-residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Swing Space program, which had no Internet access, so I was literally forced to translate. My dad, Michel Durand, and Olivier Brossard have been my primary native speaker help on the project, letting me know when I've made grievous errors...

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