Penny Hueston, translator and editor at Text Publishing—a Melbourne-based independent publishing house—shared with me the process of translating the inimitable French author Marie Darrieussecq, how her editing and translation processes relate, and her next translations we have to look forward to.
Madeline Jones (MJ): How did you first begin translating?
Penny Hueston (PH): After spending about four years in Paris doing post-graduate studies, I returned to Melbourne and was asked to translate various articles—by the literary critic Gérard Genette, for example—for the French issue of a literary magazine, Scripsi. I also translated, with the poet John A. Scott, poems by Emmanuel Hocquard and by Claude Royet-Journoud. Poetry must be the hardest writing to translate.
MJ: Would you say translating followed naturally from your editing career, or how do the two processes relate to one another for you, if at all?
PH: I suppose you could say that translating is a form of editing. In a sense, both my fields of work are about being more or less invisible; at least that is how I conceive of my work as an editor. Julian Barnes seems to nail a similarity between the two processes: “Translation involves micro-pedantry as much as the full yet controlled use of the linguistic imagination. The plainest sentence is full of hazard; often the choices available seem to be between different percentages of loss.” Damon Searles’ take is that translators “gerrymander unscrupulously”, which could also apply to editors! Javier Marias could be talking about editors when he says of translators: “You have to choose every word. And like an actor, you have to renounce your own style.”
The protagonist of Marie Darrieussecq’s latest outing is Solange, a white actress who falls desperately in love with a charismatic black actor in Hollywood. In the excerpt below, which sets the stage for Darrieussecq’s brilliantly droll examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations, Solange’s love interest reveals his plan to direct an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—in Africa.
He talked to her about the Congo. Not any old Congo, not the little Brazzaville Congo, no, the big Kinshasa one, where very quickly the road runs out and there are just the long arms of the river, which she had looked at on Google Earth three hours earlier. The coincidence was disturbing. She was going to chat about the islands—but he had drawn breath to introduce a new topic of conversation, and was now talking about Heart of Darkness. He told her about Conrad’s novel. The story of a man who is looking for a man. Marlow looking for Kurtz, a retired officer from a colonial regiment, a ‘devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly’. Conrad’s Congo is ‘something great and invincible, like evil or truth’. And Europe—white-faced Europe, the premonition of genocides. He cited the African woman in the novel ‘with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments’, ‘brass leggings to the knees’ (she pictured the sorceress in Kirikou). He cited the ‘Intended’, ‘this pale visage’, blonde and diaphanous (she pictured herself). Was it a racist novel? No. But it was time for an African to seize power in Hollywood. It was time to take back from America the history of indigenous people.
The original version of “The Neighbor” was published in the author’s collection, Zoo, copyright 2006 by Editions P.O.L.
At the Dakota, my life was peaceful.
I had inherited the apartment from my father’s sister, along with a modest sum of money. Living at the Dakota carries with it certain obligations. When the co-op decides, for example, to renovate the basement, you’d better be able to pay your share.
Until then, I had always lived with my mother in a little village in the west of France. I was a furniture maker, I had my own workshop, and everything was going well. I’d led an idyllic childhood with my widowed mother, and I would have been satisfied to continue just as I was. My mother admired my work, above all the delicately inlaid little chests. The prospect of my leaving made her very angry. She used to hate her American sister-in-law.
But I couldn’t resist the lure of the Dakota. My aunt’s death literally changed my life. I gave up my work and crossed the Atlantic, and my main activity ever since has consisted of living at the Dakota. READ MORE…