Last Saturday night two distinguished translators, Frank Wynne and Daniel Hahne, took part in something new to me during A Leap in the Dark - a so-called 'translation slam'.
They each independently completed a translation from the French original of a short prose text - the opening monologue (attributed to 'VOICE OF X') from the novelisation, by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais, of the film L'Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad). They didn't see one another's version until just beopfre the programme began, and an absorbing conversation followed in which they picked the bones out of the text and explained their choice of phrase or word (such as 'building/edifice' for the French 'construction'), how they achieved an appropriate cadence and so on. It was a masterclass in close reading and sensitive interpretation and I could have listened for hours.
I'd like to reproduce just a couple of lines of the exercise to show how two translators tackle the same text. The similarities are as revealing as the differences.
Une fois de plus –, je m’avance, une fois de plus, le long de ces couloirs, à travers ces salons, ces galeries, dans cette construction – d’un autre siècle, cet hôtel immense, luxueux, baroque, – lugubre, où des couloirs interminables succèdent aux couloirs,
From L'Année dernière à Marienbad by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais
(Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961)
Translation 1 (by Daniel Hahne)
Once again –, I walk on, once again, along these hallways, across these rooms, these galleries, in this building – from another century, this vast hotel – luxurious, baroque, gloomy – where endless hallways follow on from hallways,
Translation 2 (by Frank Wynne)
Once again, I walk on, once again, through these hallways, these salons, these galleries, in this edifice – from another century, this vast hotel, opulent, baroque – mournful, in which hallway follows endless hallway