Posts filed under 'musings'

Working Title: The Lost Daughter

When does "lost" mean willful abandonment?

Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has been called scrittrice oscura: an “obscure writer” who never makes public appearances and uses a pen name. In 1991, when her debut novel was due to be published, in a letter to her publisher she wrote: “I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it.”

And in a recent interview, she talked to her editors about her writing practices, the female voice and the origins of her books. While the fourth and final of her Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, published this month, is making its triumphant entrance, let’s return to La figlia oscura  (2006), a precursor to the quartet, which, according to Ferrante, is the book she is “most painfully attached to.” Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s regular translator, has chosen a nonliteral title for it, The Lost Daughter, replacing by “lost” the word that usually means “unclear” or “murky”, all the better to convey the multitude of meanings the original title encapsulates.

The “lost daughter” of the title has many incarnations: as a little girl who wanders away on a beach; as the narrator’s own daughter in a similar situation; as both of her daughters (now in their twenties), living far away and calling only when they need her; as Leda herself, who “didn’t start liking myself until I turned eighteen, when I left my family, my city.” Another interpretation of the title can be found in Nina, the mother of the girl lost on the beach, a beautiful young woman chosen by Leda as a mirror in which to scrutinize her own past life: “Choose for your companion an alien daughter. Look for her, approach her.” READ MORE…

Lilt is the New Voice

A review of Hong Khaou’s newly released drama “Lilting”

Many translators might agree that language is song, a kind of mouth music. Each text has a unique time signature and timbre, and when we translate voice, we have to open our ears before opening our beaks to become songbirds. And translators have a special insight into how a language’s sounds are made up of tones: pitches that help to convey meaning. A toneless voice, whether spoken, written or translated, is like a song without melody.

I learnt recently that mouth music is the alternative name for lilting­­, the subtle rise and fall of words in a sentence, and originally a style of Gaelic singing. Given that the nitty-gritty of literary translation is the picking up on nuances in voice, it strikes me as odd that translators, myself included, don’t dedicate much airtime to lilting. Why don’t we talk about lilting when we talk about voice? Isn’t it odd that translation theorists—boasting the loftiest and loveliest buzzwords in all the humanities—haven’t yet adopted it? After all, lilts are not merely ephemeral: a good prose stylist (and good translators too) can conjure them in writing. In James Joyce’s Dubliners, “The Dead” presents a good example of a lilt woven into a text, one that reverberates off the page when read aloud:

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This is also a Center-Point

"Her presence, her voice and her body language when communicating, was the key I had been missing."

I confess: I thought the most interesting thing about Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was the cover. My edition had an old sepia-toned picture of two children—“the [something] sisters.” One has a boy’s haircut, and looks very unhappy. The other stands sweetly beside her. I found it so much more eloquent than the book itself, which seemed to me denser than a loaf of pumpernickel bread, denser than a steel ingot, denser than a white dwarf star. I don’t think I made it through the preface. If I did, it made the same kind of sense to me as reading À la recherche du temps perdu backwards, in French, while drunk. That is to say: the occasional glimmers of understanding felt fabulous, but it was all so ephemeral.

So when Judith Butler, together with fellow feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti on Monday evening in Oslo, met two members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot for a talk about politics, art and feminism, I was not expecting fireworks. Except for Pussy Riot, of course, who spoke through a balaclava and a voice distorter the last time I saw them. This time, they had ditched the disguises and spoke only through a translator. But I’m getting ahead of myself. And ahead of Judith Butler. READ MORE…