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Rejection, the Lot of the Translator

I enjoyed reading Lawrence Venuti’s article in the most recent issue of Translation Review, though I found myself at odds with its academic jargon at times, its incessant referring to “the global circulation of texts,” “the global hegemony of English,” and what I take to be other abstractions.

Recounting his experience of translating J.V. Foix’s Daybook 1918 and seeking a publisher for it, Venuti makes the claim — in no way contentious, I do not think — that the work in translation of authors writing in a minority language (as Foix in Catalan) faces an additional hurdle to earning the attention of readers, especially that special class of readers: editors and publishers.

I took bittersweet consolation in reading of Venuti’s bootless attempts to publish his translations of Foix’s prose poems, which met with a “succession of rejections” from publishers “unable to appreciate Foix in English (or perhaps my English).” A bittersweet consolation, because as a translator I too have received a “succession of rejections” from publishers, and because I learned that the difficulties I face there are faced equally by the likes of someone as accomplished as Venuti. Of course that latter point could just as soon be reason for discouragement as for consolation: if Venuti in his laurels can’t get a contract for his Foix book, I’m not likely to fare much better, lowly upstart I am.

But what struck me most is that Venuti names names and quotes a number of prominent publishers in their rejection letters to him. (Whether he obtained their permission to do so was something I asked myself about; his commentary on their remarks I found subtly barbed, but perhaps I was projecting.) This is a lovely thing but far too specialized for our list, wrote Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I cannot get close to this work, said  Jack Shoemaker, editorial director of Counterpoint Press. Nor did the project seem a good fit to Jill Schoolman, editor-in-chief of Archipelago Books, despite her appreciation of certain qualities of the work.

So the struggle that is literary translation goes on. This is just how it is.

Venuti, Lawrence. “Translation, Publishing, and World Literature: J.V. Foix’s Daybook 1918 and the Strangeness of Minority.” Translation Review 95: 8-24. 2016.

November reading log

Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1590s) – Thomas Nashe (stuck)

“The Avenger” (1838) – Thomas De Quincey

Erik Satie (1930) – Pierre-Daniel Templier (trans. E.L. French & D.S French, 1969)

The Man in the High Castle (1962) – Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Erdritch (1964) – Philip K. Dick

Nothing Like the Sun (1964) – Anthony Burgess

Peace (1975) – Gene Wolfe

The Mechanic Muse (1987) – Hugh Kenner

by the same author (2014) – jack robinson

“France tolerates extremes of heterodoxy and outrageous behavior because it knows that ultimately no one will be harmed: the life of the nation will scarcely be touched. The avant-garde formed first in France because there was an artistic tradition of defiance, and it has lasted longer there because the country as a whole has only reluctantly taken to heart the lessons of its own most venturesome talents. France is innoculated against itself. In the United States, any active avant-garde is so rapidly absorbed by the cultural market that it scarcely has time to form and find a name. Like the profound stability of the ocean beneath its waves and storms, there is a great reservoir of indifference and conservatism in the French which has sustained a dynamic culture.”

– Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I: Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire (Vintage, 1968), pp. 42

(Whether this is true anymore today, who knows; I doubt it. Roger Shattuck’s excellent book appeared in 1955. I have resumed work on a reflection on Satie which I began long ago and found this in my notes, and I thought of you.)

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Statistics reveal that Caucasians in the United States are dying earlier, I recall reading some months back in a national newspaper. Alcoholism, addiction, and suicide play no small part there, it said. Southern Ohio, where I grew up, is no exception. Stories reach me now of the early deaths of my former associates: a cousin of mine, a chronic alcoholic who survived numerous car crashes, once severed his carotid artery, and was saved by doctors. Years later he dove into shallow water and was paralyzed; he died two years later from meningitis. The neighbor-boy down the street from where I grew up died last year of an overdose (opiates, I presume). My one-time tennis teacher drank himself to death, my parents factually inform me. (He was 41; he might have had a new liver, but refused to abjure alcohol.) The Daubenmire boy is dead too (opiates or heroin). The younger brother of one of my classmates, a Navy cryptographer, took his own life. There is no end to these stories.

NEPEAN, ONTARIO. It is snowing now, and I feel more caught-off guard than ever before. Why would that be, when I have lived in Québec, then Ontario, for over eight years already? Why does the arrival of the first snowfall leave me feeling unprepared, threatened even? I cannot say. Better to live in this clime than in a nation to the south that is teetering now on the brink of fascism. And yet I do not feel entirely at home.

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