March 25, 2016

Cervantes: A collective translation


Portrait of Cervantes by Juan de Jauregui

Portrait of Cervantes by Juan de Jauregui

On Tuesday, April 6, the Hispanic Institute and the Consulate General of Spain will host an event at Columbia University’s Casa Hispánica to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’s death. The translator Edith Grossman, who took on Don Quixote in 2003 and is currently tackling Novelas ejemplares, will be present.

While putting together the event, Hernán Díaz, the managing editor of RHM and associate director of the Hispanic Institute, came up with a playful translation exercise for Cervantes lovers. He found a passage in the Prologue of Exemplary Stories that tongue-in-cheekly references translation and the question of originality, and put out a call for a collective translation of it. Here’s the passage in question:

[Y]o soy el primero que he novelado en lengua castellana, que las muchas novelas que en ella andan impresas todas son traducidas de lenguas extranjeras, y éstas son mías propias, no imitadas ni hurtadas: mi ingenio las engendró, y las parió mi pluma, y van creciendo en los brazos de la estampa.

His only requirement is this: “We encourage both literal and irreverent translations into any language. Translations of translations are accepted. Translations based on a free translation of the term ‘translation’ are also welcome.”

Given that Cervantes was obsessed with forgeries (this Prologue inspired a fake Don Quixote sequel, which in turn inspired Cervantes to finish up his own sequel, in which the fake sequel is mocked), Díaz’s game is most apt and welcome.

So far Díaz has received about 50 of these translations (and counting). To his delight, a few appear in unexpected forms, such as poetry, video, slang, and idiolects. “Some try hard to be literal and faithful,” he says, “while others are outrageous and experimental. Some translations are in wonderfully foul-mouthed English, and some are clever in contemporary Spanish. We also got Latin, Welsh, Norwegian, Basque, Hungarian, among other languages. And a bunch of conlangs, which are incredible; they are all very Nordic (Scando)-sounding, very believable. My first language is Swedish, and some passages sound like a forgotten dialect.”

The deadline to submit your own translation of the Exemplary Stories passage is Tuesday, March 29. Send to [email protected].

Meanwhile, below is a collection of translations from some of my colleagues and fellow word lovers, which will be included in a chapbook that Díaz is putting together of all the pieces submitted to him. Let’s start with Lesley Lipson, whose translation of Exemplary Stories was published by Oxford University Press in 1998. Following hers is Díaz’s own translation, which, he explains, was generated when he became obsessed with Morse code.

Lesley Lipson:

I am the first to write short stories in Castilian. For the many examples that are already in print in Spanish are all translated from foreign languages, while these are my very own, neither imitated nor stolen. They were conceived in my imagination, brought into the world by my pen, and are now growing up in the arms of the printing press.

Hernan Díaz:

-.– — / … — -.– / . .-.. / .–. .-. .. — . .-. — / –.- ..- . / …. . / -. — …- . .-.. .- -.. — / . -. / .-.. . -. –. ..- .- / -.-. .- … – . .-.. .-.. .- -. .- / –.- ..- . / .-.. .- … / — ..- -.-. …. .- … / -. — …- . .-.. .- … / –.- ..- . / . -. / . .-.. .-.. .- / .- -. -.. .- -. / .. — .–. .-. . … .- … / – — -.. .- … / … — -. / – .-. .- -.. ..- -.-. .. -.. .- … / -.. . / .-.. . -. –. ..- .- … / . … – .-. .- -. .— . .-. .- … / -.– / . … – .- … / … — -. / — .. .- … / .–. .-. — .–. .. .- … / -. — / .. — .. – .- -.. .- … / -. .. / …. ..- .-. – .- -.. .- … / — .. / .. -. –. . -. .. — / .-.. .- … / . -. –. . -. -.. .-. — / -.– / .-.. .- … / .–. .- .-. .. — / — .. / .–. .-.. ..- — .- / -.– / …- .- -. / -.-. .-. . -.-. .. . -. -.. — / . -. / .-.. — … / -… .-. .- –.. — … / -.. . / .-.. .- / . … – .- — .–. .-

Liam O’Brien, Melville House’s Sales and Marketing Manager and Breadmaker:

I am the first of the novelists with Paul Castellano’s tongue, and the big novels that seem impressive are all translated from dumb languages, like Walloon; and that’s my story, no imitators or haters need comment; I’m a genius of gender, and the top of my umbrella, and my sweet van are the river of stamps.

Simon Reichley, Melville House’s Everything and Nothing:

I am the first novelist of the Spanish language, and though the many tales which walk among these pages are all translated from alien tongues, that which is my own can neither be imitated nor surpassed. It is the child of my mind, the progeny of my pen, and it will grow old in the arms of a picture.

Marina Drukman, Melville House’s Art Director and Dog Whisperer (from Russian):

Я первый, кто написал короткие рассказы на Кастильском. Множество примеров на Испанском, существующие в печати—это переводы с иностранных языков, в то время как эти—мои собственные, они не имитированы, и не украдены . Они были зачаты в моем воображении, рождены на свет моим пером, и сейчас растут в руках печатного станка.

Mark Krotov I, Melville House’s Senior Editor and Psychogeographer (from Drukman’s Russian):

I was the first to write short stories in Castilian. Many of the stories in print in Spanish are translations from foreign languages, while these—my own—aren’t imitations, aren’t thefts. They were conceived in my own imagination, brought into the light by my own pen, and now they’re growing in the arms of a printing press.

Mark Krotov II (from the original Spanish, using Drukman’s Russian as reference):

I’m the first to have written in Castilian. Many of the stories printed today are translated from foreign languages, but mine aren’t imitations or thefts: my ingenuity begot them, my pen gave birth to them, and they will grow in the arms of the printing press.

Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine:

I am the first in the Castilian language to write novels—novels which are my own, not translated from another language, neither imitated nor stolen, but springing from my own genius and inscribed by own pen, born as they are printed.

Jonathan Tel, author of The Beijing of Possibilities:

It is a matter of astonishment that this language that I speak, that I write, call it “Spanish,” call it “English,” call it “Me-ish,” is also spoken and written by others—by others! what grounds do I have to believe that their brutish “You-ish,” their “They-ish,” their stolen tongue, is incomprehensible even to themselves, they might as well be reciting the scratched symbols in Minoan Linear A, in Martian, in “castellaño” (a made-up word if ever I saw one, some mad knight twiddling his tilde and his moustachios), well I shall stride off on my journey, along the lanes and byways of my Me-ish, my anacephalic amanuensis trotting behind me on the donkey, and I shall denominate what I write a “novel,” for it is novel—hah! poor pun, poor punster, what care I if nobody else gets it, here comes the only being in the universe to possess language, babbling a work of genius because I say so.

Celina Su, author of Landia (forthcoming):

You, beloved land, are a product of my imaginary; you cannot exist without your subjects. I am the first who has written in this tongue, this Castilian that you read as Spanish; of the many novels that are out there and printed in it, all of them are translated from foreign tongues, and these, these are my own, not imitated nor stolen: my ingenuity begot them, and bore my pen, and will grow in the long, bloody arms of the lead stamps marking language and nation on paper, letter by letter. I will come to define you and, ambiguously, your conquest.

Carrie Cooperider, writer and artist:

Until now, all novels on my native soil have been tourists from other lands, twisting language into the familiar shapes of their foreign dreams. But now, I will walk among them speaking the language granted to my tongue at birth, with words forged by the wit thus engendered, borrowed from no one either through thievery or imitation, and will commit these lines from my pen to the printed page that they may grow through the ages.

Kola Tubosun, writer (from Yoruba):

Èmi ni mo kọ́kọ́ kọ ìtàn ní Kastilánì. Nítorípé púpọ̀ lára àwọn tí ó ti wà ní títẹ̀jáde ni èdè Sípánishì ni a ṣe ògbifọ̀ wọn láti àwọn èdè òkèèrè míràn wá, àwọn èyí jẹ́ ti tèmi tí a kò ṣe ẹ̀dà tàbí jímú. Nínú orí mi ni a ti mú wọn wa, gègé mi ni a sì fi ṣẹ̀dá wọn wá s’áyé, wọ́n sì ti ń dàgbà báyìí ní apá àwọn òntẹwé.

Florian Duijsens, editor and writer (from Dutch):

Ik ben de eerste die romans heeft geschreven in het Spaans. Alhoewel hier al vele romans gedrukt zijn, allemaal zijn ze vertaald uit andere talen, en dit is mijn eigen, geïmiteerd noch gestolen: voorgebracht uit mijn verstand, geboren uit mijn pen, opgegroeid in de armen van mijn drukpers.

Echezonachukwu Nduka, poet (from Igbo):

Mu onwem bu onye mbu dere akuko nke nta na asusu Castilian. N’ihi na ndi niile nke ebiputara na asusu Spanish bu ndi atughariri site na asusu di iche iche, ebe ndia bu nke m dere, onweghi ebe m si lere anya we dee ha ma o bu zute ha na ori. Ha niile bu ihe m cheputara na echiche nkem, webata ha n’uwa site na mkpisi odee nkem, ugbua ha na agbasa site na aka ulo oru ndi na ebiputa akwukwo.

NOTE: While the Igbo language lacks uniformity in terms of speech as a result of its complexity and multiplicity of dialects and subdialects (as the case may be), the widely accepted and commonly used written form of the language is the Igbo Izugbe (Central Igbo). The Igbo Izugbe can be found in the Igbo translation of the Holy Bible, which was translated for the Christian Missionary Society by a panel led by Archdeacon Dennis. In a bid to accommodate as many Igbo dialects as possible, the panel made use of words and expressions from many dialects and subdialects in order to come up with a central translation that would in turn give all Igbo-speaking Christians a sense of belonging. While the Igbo Izugbe is hardly ever spoken, it remains one of the widely and acceptable written forms of the Igbo language to date. This translation has been made in Igbo Izugbe (Central Igbo).



Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.