Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation

Linda Jaivin, Found in Translation: In praise of a plural world (Quarterly Essay N° 52)

QE52Every now and then the Quarterly Essay series leaves aside the world of party politics and the headlines. The last time it did that was in N°41, David Malouf’s The Happy Life. In this one, Linda Jaivin, professional translator from Chinese to English, entertains, informs and advocates on a number of fronts, all to do with her profession, which is also clearly a major passion.

I’ve been interested to the point of fascination in reading about translation ever since Brother Gerard, my high school Latin teacher, explained that when he said my unseen exercise was a very good attempt he was offering high praise, because all one could ever do was attempt to translate, the thing itself being impossible. And I remember how thrilling it was in first year university when our lecturer spent a good ten minutes exploring the nuances of a single word (it was ‘serratum’) in a passage of Virgil. This essay feeds that fascination beautifully, with a wealth of personal anecdotes and snippets from the public record that range from hilarious to frankly chilling. It also has an urgent, cogent point to make about the importance of learning languages other than English as a significant and necessary counter to domination of politically weaker cultures by the stronger.

Having recently re-read Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate and been sent back by it to a translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, and of course inspired to my own dabbling with the Onegin stanza, I loved reading about a chain of creations and translations involving the Seth novel:

Stirred by Seth’s brilliant homage, the Israeli writer Maya Arad read Pushkin in the original Russian and then wrote her own verse novel in Hebrew in 2003, translated into English by Adriana Jacobs as Another Place, Another City. … David Bellos marvels at how ‘the very diluted version of the Onegin stanza in Adriana Jacob’s translation of Maya Arad’s imitation of Vikram Seth’s imitation of Charles Johnson’s verse translation of Pushkin resurrects something of the lightness and joy of Onegin’s youth.’ Babel can never be recovered; it never existed. Yet translation allows the construction of great towers, in which each brick may be laid by someone speaking a different language but sharing a common vision.

And up the back is an excellent selection of correspondence on QE51, David Marr’s The Prince, which dealt with Cardinal George Pell’s response to clerical child abuse. I particularly appreciated the responses from four Catholics: Geraldine Doogue, Michael Cooney, Frank Bongiorno and Paul Collins.

awwbadge_2013This is another title in my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013.

5 responses to “Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation

  1. Reading your sentence “And I remember how thrilling it was in first year university when our lecturer spent a good ten minutes exploring the nuances of a single word (it was ‘serratum’) in a passage of Virgil.” reminded me of my first year at uni watching Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud and being thrilled by understanding how black and white imagery, scenery and costuming contributed to the mood, telling and understanding of the story.

  2. Linda JAIVIN – fabulous – not a stone on the translation plane/plain left unturned – I look forward to the follow-up letters next edition responding to her insights! One of the things I loved especially was her point about the essential invisibility of translators and interpreters (how often do we take note of the person crouching behind the shoulders of world leaders in their meetings with counterparts – or even think of the person who translated the literary work we are reading – indeed) – except in the case of those signing for hearing impaired – where in the example she gives – a signing interpreter having to cope with some very interesting/amusing commentary on matters sexual – becoming the star of the conference session. In fact immediately to my mind was last week’s ABC TV program with Adam Hills – Stand Up Comic – made in the UK post-London Olympics – with someone signing – who in some senses became the star – of course with Adam’s connivance!

  3. And now the poor out-of-mind-chap “signing” on the world stage at MANDELA’s memorial during the week – at least alerting the same entire world that such a role is important – if first – in future – vetted for appropriate qualifications!

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