We love the idea of collaboration, art inspiring more art, and recently picked up a book from the Cahiers Series (published by the Center for Writers & Translators at The American University of Paris). The idea for these journals is to explore new writing and translation and see how to two come together. The edition that we purchased is number 14, Animalinside, and is a collaboration between Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai and artist Max Neumann. In it, Krasznahorkai translates some of Neumann’s visuals while, in parts, Neumann is inspired to create images from Krasznahorkai’s words. The Hungarian text was then translated into English by Ottilie Mulzet.
Now Krasznahorkai is definitely not a micro fiction writer – his sentences tend to be extremely long while surprisingly navigable. But we are fascinated by the process of translating art into literature. Looking for something to illuiminate what Krasznahorkai might have gone through while “translating” Nuemann’s art, we actually came across a nugget on language to language translation. It is from a George Szirtes interview (with Bernie Langs – see full interview here). Szirtes is a “poet first and a translator second” and has a facility with language in both his poetry and translations. In 1998, he did a beautiful translation of Krasznahorkai’s “The Melancholy of Resistance.”
I think translation is an act of shadow creation or shadow boxing. It keeps you fit and informs your own technique. You are using the same creative muscles in translation as in your own writing, but you don’t have to invent everything: you just have to listen intensely, both to the original and to your own stream of language. The act of intense listening is the key to writing generally. In many ways, but far from all, I feel the translation is my work as much as the author’s, that the author is in fact one of my own potential masks. You learn the mask as a joint creation.
And this got us thinking. How much of writing is self-translation, whether it be a story you’ve written in your head a thousand times, the visuals in your mind, the feelings in your gut. And are you listening?