Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


I listeth where I goeth, cometh if thou canst and hearest the sound thereof

Ordinarily I pay little attention to the short- or longlists of literary awards (or, more generally, best-of compilations), other in that they usually assure some minimal standard of quality, even then often subordinated to marketing imperatives (as much the awards themselves as the candidates), as is much general interest book reviewing. Commercial publishing no longer serves literary tastes so well, preferring a lighter seasoning on genrefication, and writers have followed suit. While the decline in publishing may be incidental, it has exacerbated the trend. This has prompted me to look farther afield for challenging reading, particularly to translations, which, long neglected by the big houses, have afforded non-profits such as Dalkey Archive, Archipelago and Open Letter an opening and a way forward. All of which are well represented in the 2010 Best Translated Book Award [BTBA] longlist, which I take more stock in than any majors' shortlist.

Literary translation occupies difficult territory, an academic step-child, an original voice mediated by another. This 'defect' is in fact a virtue for those of us lacking deep fluency (comparable to first language) in the source language: Nuances altered into the target language are nonetheless not lost, resonances or harmonies emerge consistent with the change in matrix (but it's the cultural not the linguistic matrix that's determinantive). I've likened translation to musical transcription, with English playing the part of pianoforte, but this over-emphasizes arrangement at the expense of performance, a necessary interpretive element that goes beyond the score. Translations have provided vitalizing cross-cultural infusions and feedback: Baudelaire's Poe, or Borges' rendering of Faulkner's The Wild Palms triggering The Boom (Garcia Marquez in turn preferring the Englishing of his writings). As literature itself is self-aware, reflexive (pomo only ostensibly mo'so), this interaction between languages and cultures holds some critical interest ... and for my part, as a reader, the defamiliarization is a way of making it new; that, and that of late they'd been making it newer in the southern new world and the eastern old one.

I attended last year's inaugural BTBA ceremony at Melville House Books (a new indy pub for imports as well as domestic brews), and plan to be at the extended ceremonies hosted this year by Idlewild Books, with a panel discussion accompanying the winnowing to a shortlist on February 16th, and the ultimate winner announced in the same venue March tenthatively. (The last event I attended there was Jacques Roubaud's reading, whose book didn't quite make the cut but should've; I wasn't able to make it the following week for the last BTBA winner.) Idlewild is discounting all the longlist titles, but I'm not; I already have a third of the list in hand and a fifth under my belt, and haven't yet been disappointed. Chad Post is elucidating each candidate in turn in the run-up, and may well add to my fractions. Sure, this is about selling books, but I'm already sold on the concept.
add 19.1: Literary or no, Idlewild's buyer speaks to this (via Conversational Reading).


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