Translator Relay: Danuta Borchardt

By Danuta Borchardt

What is your connection to the language(s) you translate from and/or the place(s) where the books you translate are written?

I translate from the Polish, which is my native tongue. The books were written in Poland and Argentina.

Can you give us an example of an "untranslateable" word or phrase, and tell us how you brought it into English?

The most difficult phrase I found was when I was translating Witold Gombrwicz’s first novel Ferdydurke. It was dzieckiem podszyty. It does not exist in Polish, but Gombrowicz derived it from the Polish idiom wiatrem podszyty, a coat that is, literally, lined with the wind. In Ferdydurke it refers to someone who is “lined” with the child. Gombrowicz’s innovation conveyed energy, and I was determined to do likewise. To render it as “the child within” would be too weak. Since Gombrowicz’s idea originated from an idiom, I was determined to find an English idiom that would correspond to it as closely as possible. The French has a good translation: cousu or doublé d’enfant, as in Georges Sédir’s French translation. So does the Spanish: forrado de niňo, as in the Spanish translation. But not the English. Finally, I came up with “the child runs deep” in someone.

Do you have any translating rituals?

In a way yes, though this is not really a ritual but rather a routine. It applies equally to my creative writing “ritual”: to start my work in the morning, avoid distractions such as phone calls, etc., continue at least till lunch, Monday through Friday. I don’t do this work on weekends to avoid burnout. Reading aloud is essential to convey rhythm from the Polish into English. Since I am not a native speaker of English, besides using various dictionaries, I tend to buttonhole my American friends for the correct words, expressions, colloquialisms, etc. Is this a ritual, a routine? Almost. 

Do you have a metaphor you use to explain the translation process and the role of the translator in bringing a piece from one language into another?

I might use the metaphor of transporting a group of people across a river, safely and soundly, in a shape they were to begin with, including their beauty, sans changes or embellishments. This metaphor brings the river, with it speed, color, undercurrents, etc. into play. What I mean by this are the cultural, social, political, etc. undercurrents that a native speaker of the source language would know while the non-native might not. It would perhaps be what is lost in translation.

Tell us about a current, or future, translation project that you're excited about.

One possibility might be to continue translating the 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid, his epic 100-page poem Quidam in particular. Except for an excerpt in a literary journal in the States, it has never been translated in its entirety. Yet it is considered to be one of the most important works in Polish literature.   

Andrea's Q: Under what circumstances, if any, would you agree to translate a work whose ideological or ethical content was repugnant to you?

As long as a work had major literary merit, repugnancy would be irrelevant. I would be fascinated by a proponent’s thinking along what I would consider unethical lines, though this would not be the purview of my translation. I am more likely to decline a translation of a work that does not stir me with its beauty than one that I find ideologically repugnant.


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