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“Multiples”: to “politely frazzle” the “whole category of the original”

August 11, 2013

Thirlwell has selected 12 stories whose originals (which are not printed) are variously written in Danish, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, German, Arabic, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Italian, Hungarian, English and Italian again. Ten stories are first translated into English, the other two into German and Spanish. The first translation is translated, and then the subsequent translation is translated again. The translators only see the preceding version of the story. The longest chains contain six translations, though every other version is in English. Thirlwell has corralled an illustrious international group of 60 novelist-translators into taking part and we end up with an intriguing literary version of Chinese whispers.

Lucian Robinson, for the Guardian, reviews “Multiples, a new book edited by the novelist and critic Adam Thirlwell, [that] seeks to undermine the idea of the original in literary translation.”


UPDATE – here is Thirlwell on the conception of this project, hinting at why it now is becoming a book (and is even published as an ebook). First, what motivated him -

In fact, I’m stealing this idea from David Bellos, a Princeton professor and, more importantly, translator of Georges Perec and Ismail Kadare. Around the time I was first putting this project together, the NYT asked me to review his new book on translation: Is That A Fish In Your Ear? and one of his arguments is that we have to stop thinking of translation as substitution

Second, the format (and hint about the later book) -

BLVR: Finally, you guys designed the issue so the far edges of the pages aren’t protected by firmer stock. Do you worry that the pages will get damaged? Or do you not care about damage?
AT: I do worry slightly about this. On the other hand it’s a very beautiful object. And also, if this project’s proved anything, it’s that we really don’t need to be so precious about endless and irreparable damage.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2013 2:52 pm

    This appeared as issue 42 of Dave Eggers’s McSweeney’s, as hinted in the review. It is available from Amazon.

  2. August 11, 2013 3:19 pm

    Thanks Theophrastus. Some of us obviously missed the McSweeney’s issue (which may be why Thirlwell is making it into the book). At any rate, an earlier review by Lorin Stein is here:

    http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/01/18/what-we’re-loving-tropical-paradise-anxiety-translation/

  3. August 11, 2013 5:58 pm

    Actually, I think that the Multiples book is just the UK edition (without the daring physical design of the US edition).

  4. August 11, 2013 6:27 pm

    Yes, you’re exactly right about that.

    Blogging translator “kjd” gives that detail and more, the more including how some of the translators “lied” to Thirwell, here:

    http://lovegermanbooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/thirlwells-multiples.html

    Unlike the “oblong softcover with a two-layer stepped partial cover” of the Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #42 in the USA, this UK book will be both 448 pages in Hardback cover and also in the Kindle ebook edition (with the Text-to-speech feature enabled).

  5. August 12, 2013 7:49 am

    Theophrastus,
    It seems that Thirlwell has been experimenting for a few years (before the McSweeney’s issue). Have you seen or read this?

    The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes

    One of the amazon.com reader reviewers says this:

    This book came to my attention when reading Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible by Robert Alter&lt. In it he wrote, "A recent book that does concentrate on style in the novel is Adam Thirlwell's 'The Delighted States'. Thirlwell, a young British novelist who has read widely and enthusiastically in several languages, lays out a playful tour of the history of the novel that has considerable charm and poses some important questions about style in the novel, even if it is not altogether conceptually satisfying in the answers it provides." That's a concise and fair summary.

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