Saturday, October 24, 2009

the subversive scribe

On Words Without Borders, María Constanza Guzmán interviews Suzanne Jill Levine, whose The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction has recently been published by Dalkey Archive.

MCG: North American translators are subject to what Lawrence Venuti has called the "canon of fluency," i.e., to certain standards and norms of English writing. How do you negotiate market demands, translation demands, and publishing demands, in the English in which you render your works, how do you deal with questions of readability and smoothness? What would or wouldn’t you compromise?

SJL: That is a complex matter. With all my books, including the biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman, and in general with any book that anybody writes, there is someone who mediates between you and the reader, and that’s the editor. Depending on the editor’s culture and the culture of the publishing house itself many things can happen. I have worked with publishers accustomed to dealing with experimental fiction, but nonetheless sometimes they had questions or they wanted to use a solution for something that seemed to me like a conventional compromise. It was a back and forth. And you accept some compromises and not others, but you definitely want to get the book out there. One of the most interesting experiences I had in that regard was when I worked with Simon and Schuster, a big commercial house. I was doing the last novel of Puig’s. My editor at that time said to me, "there is a problem because we don’t know who is talking." I explained that this was part of the style, but she said "Well, can’t we put names?" I said: "Definitely not," and there was a huge battle, but I won. Because part of the point is that in the novel Puig is using film script format but without the names. It is very important how he plays with that, and it is up to the reader to find out who the speakers are. In a way you are what you speak. So that was the story, and I thought it was rather interesting; it was quite invasive of the editor; I had never encountered that before. Then again, the book wasn’t exactly a runaway bestseller either. I think that sometimes I’ve really taken control of the text and sometimes the editor might have been right.

(Much, much more in this extremely interesting interview, the rest here)

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