Posts filed under 'portuguese'

In Conversation with Adam Morris

I regard one of the functions of literature as social interaction, of reaching and challenging other minds. Otherwise, why write at all?

Adam Morris and I emailed over the course of July about his translation of João Gilberto Noll’s novel Quiet Creature on the Corner from Two Lines Press. The novel follows a young, freshly unemployed poet-drifter in Porto Alegre, Brazil who lands himself in jail after committing rape. Then, without explanation, he is taken to a country house owned by German immigrants Kurt and Gerda where the world suddenly turns irrational. As the protagonists’ world turns surreal, the real world churns on around him, as Lula runs for president for the first time, and the Landless Workers’ Movement stages protests on the street.

                                    –Ryan Mihaly

Ryan Mihaly (RM): I want to start with a grammarian’s query as you say. Some of Noll’s sentences are relentlessly long and often change tense. They almost read like transcriptions of a casual conversation. Was there ever a temptation to break up Noll’s comma splices with something like a semicolon or em-dash instead of a comma?

Adam Morris (AM): You are really taking a risk with this question. I have worked as an editor for many years and am opinionated about grammar and punctuation. I’ll try to be brief.

Semicolons are not used in Brazilian Portuguese and are falling into disuse in English, except among the most pedantic writers. So I discarded that option out of hand. The narrator in Quiet Creature is not a pedant and is, as you say, speaking in a conversational tone. The em-dash was another available option, and unlike the semicolon, its prevalence is increasing. I often find it to be the signature of juvenile or lazy writing, which seemed suitable for the adolescent narrator of Quiet Creature. So I tried using it for some of the more blunt comma splices in Quiet Creature. But when I reread what I’d done, I discovered I’d lost the narrator’s voice. In English, the em-dash commands more of a pause than I heard in his wandering drift. His narration is not choppy or staccato, but a sort of numbed fugue of uneven pace. So the em-dash had to go. A few of them remained, and some turned into commas, but I got rid of most.

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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Translation is really something other than a striving for vague perfection.

Our resident translation expert, writer, and jack-of-all-trades, Daniel Hahn, is back to respond to reader questions on the fine art of translation. Today’s question comes from Lin Chia Wei, a reader in Taiwan. Anddon’t miss our first-ever “Ask a Translator” live event with Daniel Hahn in London on Wednesday, July 20 (RSVP at or invite your friends to the Facebook event page here).

Is there anything that is completely untranslatable, in your opinion?

Everything is untranslatable, that’s what I think.

Or alternatively, I think that nothing is.

And honestly, I’m perfectly comfortable with either of those ideas; both make sense to me. I’m not altogether comfortable, however, with the idea behind the question itself.

There are certain components to a text that are likely to present particular challenges to a translator (I talked about these in last month’s column), things that feel like absolute impossibilities. And conversely there are moments when you’re translating and a clever solution presents itself, or when a new voice you’re creating comes into focus, and the sheer rightness seems miraculous, the fact of it being so very possible feels exhilarating. But these experiences, and the question, would seem to suggest a simple binarytranslatable / not translatablewhich is misleading. Translation is all failure, because it’s never “perfect”; and it is all also, simultaneously, a triumph, because however imperfectly something living has been created out of the most unlikely circumstances.

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What’s New in Translation? December 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own.

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

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Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s  short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.

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Channeling The Language (And Spirit) Of Clarice Lispector: An Interview with Katrina Dodson

"I don’t think she wants to be completely understood, and she wouldn’t have understood herself."

“Clarice inspires big feelings. As with the ‘rare thing herself’ from ‘The Smallest Woman in the World,’ those who love her want her for their very own. But no one can claim the key to her entirely, not even in Portuguese. She haunts us each in different ways. I have presented you the Clarice that I hear best.”

By spending the last two years translating nearly four decades of Clarice Lispector’s work in what she calls “a one-woman vaudeville act,” Katrina Dodson has joined a club of translators (trumpeted by Lispector’s biographer and de facto proselytizer, Benjamin Moser), whose interpretations of the Brazilian writer have now generated a skyscraping tidal wave. Though recognized by Brazilians as their greatest modern writer, Lispector was little-known among English-speaking readers until the beginning of this decade. Today, she is the first Brazilian writer to appear on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Book Review (July 2015). For the first time in English, Complete Stories brings together all the short stories that established her legacy in Portuguese.

Lispector gives the impression of a woman looking from the outside in, always taking notes. Like Borges, she expects you to follow her fantastic trains of thought, but she is unconcerned as to whether you enjoy the ride or not. In Complete Stories, eggs become infinite metaphoric permutations (interestingly, Lispector would die of ovarian cancer, on the eve of her 57th birthday), a lonely, red-headed girl and a red-headed basset hound discover they are soulmates, but destined never to be together, and a woman has a face.

Because in Lispector’s world—and Dodson’s translation—it must be asserted that a woman has a face, as if such a characteristic is not naturally of this world. These familiar details, made new —especially during fevered sequences when geography reflects a character’s unraveling—are what end up grinding our faces into the pavement as Lispector gazes on, coolly, but not unkindly, with great curiosity from above.

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MB: When did you first encounter Clarice Lispector, and did you have a form of epiphany moment when you discovered her?

KD: I first started reading her in 2003. I was living in Rio de Janeiro and teaching English at a private English school called Britannia, and I had moved to Brazil that year speaking some Portuguese but, but it was—I spoke French, and then I was listening to these cassette tapes. That’s how long ago it was [laughs]. I would listen to cassette tapes that they would use to teach the Foreign Service how to learn a foreign language. I would listen to these Portuguese tapes before going.  READ MORE…

The Waters of March

Writer and musician Lívia Lakomy reflects on Tom Jobim's songwriting in translation.

At one point in his career, in the late 1960’s, Antônio Carlos Brasileiro Jobim (known universally as Tom Jobim) was the second most recorded artist in the world, second only to the Beatles. “But take note that there are four of them in English and only one of me in Portuguese!” he would joke. He was then, and still is, even twenty years after his death, arguably Brazil’s greatest popular composer.

Think of Rio de Janeiro, the view of the Christ statue in the distance, the bay of Copacabana, the beautiful women walking on the beach, their skin glistening under the sun. If you can feel the breeze of the ocean, you can hear the bossa nova beat that Tom Jobim and his contemporaries helped export to the world. Though somewhat out of fashion now, this genre—started in the late 1950s—helped influence jazz and pop music, and (unfortunately) became synonymous with muzak. You have certainly heard it in some office-building elevator. You might even know it as “Brazilian lounge music.”

This sophisticated style introduced a completely new way of playing the classical guitar and managed to be a pop fusion of African-inspired styles like samba with contemporary influences such as American experimentations in jazz. Musicians and lyricists leading the movement were at the very top of their game, and Jobim himself was referred to as the maestro. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Five poems by Ana Luísa Amaral

and thank you for the thread of perfume you brought me, / waxing a rough wooden floor / or the veins of a plant eager for leaves

Testament

 

I’m about to fly off somewhere

and my fear of heights plus myself

finds me resorting to tranquillisers

and having confused dreams

 

If I should die

I want my daughter always to remember me

for someone to sing to her even if they can’t hold a tune

to offer her pure dreams

rather than a fixed timetable

or a well-made bed

 

To give her love and the ability

to look inside things

to dream of blue suns and brilliant skies

instead of teaching her how to add up

and how to peel potatoes

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Translation Tuesday: “The Waters of the World” by Clarice Lispector

And that was what she’d been missing: the sea inside her like the thick liquid of a man. Now she’s entirely equal to herself.

There it is, the sea, the most unintelligible of non-human existences. And here is the woman, standing on the beach, the most unintelligible of living beings. As a human being she once posed a question about herself, becoming the most unintelligible of living beings. She and the sea.

Their mysteries could only meet if one surrendered to the other: the surrender of two unknowable worlds made with the trust by which two understandings would surrender to each other.

She looks at the sea, that’s what she can do. It is only cut off for her by the line of the horizon, that is, by her human incapacity to see the Earth’s curvature. READ MORE…

Saudade and the Untranslatable

Emily Wolfteich asks: Does untranslatable mean unattainable?

It began with a tattoo—or, rather, the idea for one. Small, I thought, with narrow script like the scratch of an EKG, on the back of my neck or perhaps my shoulder blade. Beauty in simplicity. It was the first tattoo I had ever considered; I needed something that had meaning to me, and this word in particular—this untranslatable word meant to evoke rather than merely name, to be felt rather than read—was as familiar to me as if I’d always known it.

The definition of saudade is as varied as its definers, and the latter span miles and centuries. Most understand it as a sense of sweet nostalgia for someone, or something, that one has lost and may never find again. Manuel de Melo called it “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” Saudade describes the lingering losses from the past, whether they be people left behind or times of our lives that we are loath to forget, and the bittersweet pleasure of those memories. It describes a thousand nuances of the same state of being. More than nostalgia; less than yearning. And very, very Portuguese. Maybe, in fact, too Portuguese for me to own it.

What do we mean when we say that a word is untranslatable? Do we mean that it’s inaccessible? The idea of translation is that we can convey meaning from one language to another, but that’s of course not always so simple. Many languages have their own words that lack direct translations—the French have retrouvailles, the idea of finding someone again after a long time, and the Germans amusingly have verschlimmbessern, a verb that means to make something worse while trying to improve it. It’s not that we can’t explain these words—only that it will take us a bit more time.

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In Conversation: Portuguese translator Alison Entrekin

Do you use a special filter to replace whatever has been lost, or do you leave the photograph unadulterated?

Eric Becker: Before we get into more details about Brazilian literature itself—how is it you came to literary translation, and why Brazil?

AE: As is probably the case with most literary translators, I didn’t just wake up one morning and think “I want to be a literary translator.” Rather, it came to me slowly. I had originally studied Creative Writing at university in Australia, and wanted to be a writer. But fresh out of university, I married a Brazilian and moved to Brazil. I did what many foreigners do when they first arrive here: I taught English. But it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing. I realized I had a flair for language and did a course in translation, with the sole intent of becoming a literary translator, even though I had read barely any Brazilian literature before that. I just had a hunch that the creative writing and translation skills could be a useful pairing.

EB: You’ve been translating now for about a decade and a half. What is it you’ve learned or what has changed in your practice during that time?

AE: Well, apart from settling into a way of working that works for me, I’ve developed countless theories about the differences between Portuguese and English, between Brazilian literature and English literatures. In fact, with every new book I translate, I either further one of my pet theories a little or more, or develop a completely new one.

For example, I am endlessly fascinated by how certain literary aesthetics can be received so differently from one culture to the next. The very grammar of the Portuguese language, and the culture in which it is embedded, have given rise to such different perceptions of what constitutes “good style.” Sentences that are witty in Portuguese can come across as pedantic or convoluted in English.

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In Review: The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes

Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn and Sean O’Brien, forthcoming from Archipelago Books

Selected volumes are a curious affair—when done well, I think of them as seductions, acts of largesse introducing to one who is ignorant, unable to access the “whole” thing, but desirous of such access, a writer of importance. The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes is precisely this sort of book, bringing into English the lyrically and politically powerful poems of a major Cape Verdean poet and diplomat.

Cape Verde was made independent in 1975. Many of its inhabitants emigrated shortly thereafter, but many also stayed behind. Fortes, writing in a mixture of Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole, describes his country in the heated, generative moments of its new formation, as well as its moving outward and forward in the world. In translating Fortes’s poems, Daniel Hahn and Sean O’Brien have had to re-create a language linked to the islands and to the people as if by a circulatory system: “In that lesson / of earth & blood / Transfused / I heard the wild waves surge / From the heart to larboard.”

Fortes’s Cape Verde is full of tongues: all of nature speaks and sings. His language is fleshly. This visceral quality comes from abstractions made tangible through Fortes’s dense, at times opaque, symbology of bread, coin, sun, sea, guitar, and so on. For example, the last few lines of “From Mouth to Windward,” through the grammar of lists, draw concrete images together with abstract concepts like “marriage” and “birthright,” conflating them such that both “types” feel bodied, sensual, intellectual, inevitable: “Sea and monsoon, sea and marriage / Bread, stone, a patch of earth / Bread and birthright.” But it is also the translators who perform these transformations by—essentially by writing like poets. The alliterations I “see” in the en face Portuguese (which I do not read) are matched in English, enhancing the sense that language is not simply for understanding but for seeing, hearing, and touching.

As much as these poems emerge from the archipelago, they also describe the emigration of its people into Europe and the United States. When Fortes writes, “I saw patricians / clad in togas / Speaking Creole / In vast auditoria,” I hear the reverberation of a distinct Cape Verdean way of life moving along with its people: “. . . the earth and the story / Emigrate with us under our tongues.”

I would recommend this magnificent, generous, and bilingual presentation of Corsino Fortes’s work to anyone who enjoys grappling with the poignant, the sensuous, and the esoteric. It will be difficult for me to forget the “Tree and drum of the ancient viola” and the sardine as “a flickering tongue in the sea’s mouth”; nor “Eating the earth eating the earth eating the earth,” when “the earth is flesh”; nor Fortes’s prayer-command to the sunflower to “enter [him] / Before the sun / Disorients you Sunflower!”

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The Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes is forthcoming from Archipelago Books & Pirogue Collective’s Island Position here

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Aditi Machado’s poems have recently appeared in The Offending AdamDIAGRAMThe Iowa ReviewMiPOesiasLIES/ISLE, and Better Magazineothers are forthcoming in Conjunctions. She has a chapbook called The Robing of the Bride; it is available from Dzanc Books. She edits poetry for Asymptote, an online journal dedicated to translation. She earned her MFA at Washington in St. Louis and is now studying toward a doctoral degree at the University of Denver.

On Manoel de Barros (1916-2014)

“A tree was growing in his voice / And his face was an open field”

Manoel de Barros began writing poetry at the age of thirteen. For the next eighty years, until his death on November 13, 2014, at ninety-eight, he wrote of the wetlands like no other Brazilian poet before him or since. He invented a language to speak not for his own experience of the wetlands but for how the birds experienced it. He wrote of the world as seen by the ants and of the music heard at the bottom of the river and of a humbleness before nature that was not of a poet who visited for a weekend or a month to escape urban life but of a poet who was born into a lush green place and felt himself to be such a part of it that he never lived anywhere else.

Translating his poems dramatically changed my thinking about the relationship between nature and language. For Manoel de Barros, nature and language were one and the same. He sought words that were the birds and therefore “belonged to no language.” As we lose species after species to human destruction, Manoel de Barros speaks for what we are losing with a swiftness that it is nearly unfathomable. – Idra Novey

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Translation Tuesday: “The Stops” by Artur Azevedo

A comedic piece about a missed connection by a 19th-century Brazilian master

Norberto, who at first enthusiastically accepted the stops the streetcars made in Botafogo, is now their greatest opponent. Do you want to know why? I will tell you:

One night, at the Expo, the poor young man met the most beautiful and fascinating woman his eyes had ever beheld, and this woman—oh, joy!…oh, fortune!…—this woman smiled gently at him, and with a sweet look she invited him to accompany her.

Norberto did not wait for the invitation to be repeated: he accompanied her.

She stepped into the Avenue of the Pavilions, made her way to the entrance, and went out as if she were going to take the streetcar; he followed her, but there were so many people leaving that he lost sight of her.

Desperate, he ran for the streetcars, some six or seven being ready to depart, and he climbed onto all the side-rails, searching in vain, with eyes peeled for the unknown beauty.

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In Review: “A Man: Klaus Klump” by Gonçalo Tavares

"Klaus’s head was now fascinated by the sound, the nearly stupid, nearly History-less sound of bullets and bombs."

Gonçalo M. Tavares’s A Man: Klaus Klump may be the final installment of the author’s “Kingdom” cycle to be translated into English, but newcomers to Tavares’s work (I’m among them) shouldn’t shy away: Klaus Klump was the first work Tavares published in the series. And even better for us newcomers, intrigued by the author’s “Brief Notes on Science” that appeared in Asymptote’s April issue, is the fact that Klaus Klump works on the same aphoristic, probing level as his “Notes.”

Except this time there are characters. Or something resembling them.

The author, Gonçalo Tavares, is a Portuguese writer born in 1970 whose work Jerusalem (the third in the “Kingdom” cycle) won the 2005 José Saramago Prize, awarded for a Portuguese-language literary work written by a young author. But before Jerusalem, there was Klaus Klump, with a book blurb that reports it as “a harrowing portrait of a man without values, making his way through a world almost as immoral,” which is about as vague as it gets. Actually, the novel’s unmentioned plot is fascinating, especially in today’s doorstop-book-saturated literary landscape.

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Issue Spotlight: “Brief Notes on Science”

"We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science."

Gonçalo M. Tavares’ “Brief Notes on Science,” translated by Rhett McNeil in our newest issue, is a curious venture into the semantics of scientific enterprise. With wit, insight, and exactitude, the allegorical tries on a technical job: defining and sketching out the surprisingly ambiguous nature (and purpose) of science. READ MORE…