In working through my own ideas of how I approach texts to be translated, a persistent issue that may never be resolved is that of the author’s role. As much as I tell myself that I should have a clear idea of my position — or at least know what I think — the more I’m convinced that there can’t be an overarching theory of the author’s place and that each text should be approached differently. Literary theorists can talk about the death of the author all they want, but when it comes to translation, this supposed spectre is a vital reality that won’t be rendered obsolete so easily.
Although it’s true that an author’s intention can never be assumed and that a text should be considered on its own merits, the translator usually works from an interpretation of the author’s intention, whether this is openly acknowledged or not. And here’s where it gets even trickier: the subtle distinction between the implied author vs. the inferred author. The former is derived from what the text actually does, while the latter is the reader/translator’s interpretation of an author’s decisions (In other words, what the text can’t do for you). The translator has to reconstruct an author from evidence in the text and then differentiate between textual implication (logical things that a text implies) and textual implicature (aspects taken to be intentionally implied by the author). Nevermind that the translator also has to decide whether to be loyal to an author’s perceived intent or to the inner workings of the actual text.
Obviously, these issues are further complicated when the author is living. There are wonderful stories of authors supporting the work of their translators (Kurt Vonnegut) and authors that choose to leave their translators alone to do their own thing (Pablo Neruda). But for every one of these, there are also the horror stories (which are infamous enough to remain nameless here). Sometimes, the translator has no choice but to be in contact with the author. But for many, authorial involvement is left up to the translator.
In considering my own decision to contact the author of a volume of poetry I’m currently translating, my big dilemma boils down to motive. Will I write to him out of respect in a desire to have my translation accurately mirror his view of his work, or is this simply insecurity disguised as deference? Am I unconsciously looking for a way to justify or feel right about certain translation decisions, or am I honestly seeking further illumination into the text? It will be interesting to see what winds up happening over the next several months. In the meantime, I plan on spending as much time with the text as possible, delving into the meanings of words and the significance they take on in each line.
A.M. Correa is working toward her masters in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. You will also find occasional updates on her litblog, “Out of the Woods Now.”