My blog occasionally refers to the welcome relief my nomadic life of the past 24 years has given from the “noise” of television and newspapers but has not so far attempted to do justice to the wonderful effect which living a solitary life in a foreign country has. You experience and see things in a different and powerfully new way….
Tim Park, for example, has from his mid 20s made his living in Italy as a translator and teacher of translation and has written a series of short pieces in the New York Review of Books about how this experience has affected his own writing
If you write a lot yourself obviously you become more curious about how certain effects can be achieved or avoided and with application over the years your sensibility is enhanced. In my case translation has been important. I came to Italy when I was twenty-five.
Living in a second language, I became more aware of how language drives and shapes thought. Translating and teaching translation forced me constantly to take texts to pieces in order to put them back together in my own tongue. I became very conscious of elements of style, if only because I felt the tension between the author’s habits and my own. Translating texts together with students, I have also had the benefit of discovering all the things they saw that I didn’t.My combination of political and academic roles in the 70s and 80s had made me aware of the need to communicate more clearly – whether in words or text. When I moved in 1990 to work in ex-communist countries, the translation process made me even more more aware, for example, of the jargon we use….of how context shapes and alters the meaning we give to things…of the arbitrariness or “slipperiness” of words as TS Eliot put it -
Crack and sometimes break,
under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision,
will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
Paul Cairney is a Scottish academic (in my field of policy analysis) whose blog is always worth reading. One of his most recent posts is a useful analysis of his thoughts on presenting a paper in Japan through interpreters which he concludes thus -
In short, if we take the idea of translation seriously, it is not just about a technical process in which words are turned into a direct equivalent in another language and you expect the audience to be informed or do the work to become informed. It is about thinking again about what we think we know, and how much of that knowledge we can share with other people.