Bellos, Loayza, Olympe de Gouges and the Meaning of Everything
When I reviewed Is That A Fish In Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos, he stopped by the blog and also let us know of “the French edition of the book” coming out this year. Well, it’s out:
I don’t yet have my copy, but you can see the cover art and French translated title and the author’s name above. Bellos announced some time ago that Daniel Loayza is the translator. Here he is:
I must say I’m excited to see what Loayza has done!
In my review of Bellos’s book in English, I noted how he observes, “Sexist language has been the object of long and mostly successful campaigns in France.” Bellos goes on in his book to discuss the history of such campaigns, particularly how “[i]n 1789, the new revolutionary regime in France drew up its famous declaration of the rights of man and called it the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen“; but the author went on to erroneously claim that “no one had yet thought of enfranchising women, [because, as Bellos claimed,] the use of a masculine term, homme, was not just a convenience of language—it was what the declaration meant to say.” Thus, I suggested that his book should not neglect but really ought to remember “Olympia de Gouges, who did think of enfranchising women and who did re-write the first declaration as Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne to make everyone else think of enfranchising women, and who went to the guillotine and there was beheaded because of such thoughts.”
And that’s when Bellos promised that the omission of “Olympe de Gouges— has already been noticed and integrated into the French edition of the book.” Here she is:
What Bellos is doing with the French translation, then, is recovering Ms. Olympe de Gouges’s role in making meaning, in using language and recovering language for human rights. (Let me just add that what Olympe de Gouges did in France with French so courageously encouraged Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others in the USA, where the clause “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence was reinterpreted explicitly and inclusively as “all men and women are created equal” in the Declaration of Sentiments, written, read, and signed in 1848.) Bellos has also allowed Loayza the French translator of his book a great deal of agency, of generous creativity to make meaning.
If you compare just the titles, the English and then the French, then you begin to see how the two “match,” but how the one is not either a formal equivalence or the dynamic equivalence of the other.
For Bellos, writing in English, the title is: Is That A Fish In Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.
And, for Loayza, translating in French the title is: Le poisson et le bananier. Une histoire fabuleuse de la traduction (which back-translated into English means The Fish and the Banana Tree: A Fabulous History of Translation).
In a recent interview with Nataly Kelly, Bellos explains:
The fish of the English title refers to the Babel Fish, from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is not widely known in France. In order to keep “fish” in the French title, we added a whole page (and a picture from the British TV serial) to explain the idea of the Babel Fish. The banana tree of the French title refers to an anecdote told in Chapter 15: in the first translation of the Gospel of Matthew into Malay, the parable of the fig tree was transformed into the parable of the banana tree (figs being unknown in Sumatra at that time). So the French title joins together the impossible fantasy of a universal automatic translation device with the historical reality of cultural substitution.
Notice how a whole page was added by the author and the translator together, to explain by the French that English reference to a book little read in France. And the French title adds the allusion to a Bible translation problem.
There were other additions I am delighted to learn of. When Kelly asks if Bellos had had any disagreements with Laoyza, he replies:
Yes, of course, and they were all resolved without difficulty. Most often Daniel accepted my version and sometimes I gave in to him. For example, he thought my translation and explanation of St. Jerome was wide of the mark, and he was right — his Latin is much better than mine. I thought his tone was sometimes too chatty, and I asked him to make it sound a bit more tight-lipped, which he did. To avoid using the French word équivalence to translate “pattern-matching skills,” I wrote a three-page addition in French to explain “pattern,” “match,” and “skill,” none of which have simple “equivalents” in French. Almost all of this was done by email, but we did meet on I think three occasions, in Paris and in Princeton, to talk through various issues — especially the title.
Now, Bellos feels compelled to add three additional pages to help Loayza explain his punny English metaphor for translation: “match” (not “equivalence”). Did I say I’m delighted? In a Post Script on my reply to Bellos here, I asked him how much control he might exercise over the French-translation project. Somewhat rhetorically, playfully, I’d asked, “Is a ‘match’ a game in French?”
It seems Laoyza has understood. Bellos told Spencer Huddleston (in this interview):
I have had tremendous fun working with a brilliant translator, Daniel Loayza, to transform the book into something that we hope is as interesting for French readers as the English seems to be for you! Translation rights have also been sold in Spain, Greece and Korea.
Here Fanny Pradier reports on the two, Bellos and Laoyza, having fun discussing how their respective views and practices in translation match and don’t: « tout est traduisible » (“Everything is translatable,” they agree. sort of.)
It seems that Bellos is letting translation mean the meaning of everything. And he’s allowed Laoyza to take the first shot, by French and in French, at practicing what he’s preached.
(Loayza’s French translation of the Bellos book is available for purchase online via www.amazon.fr. There don’t seem to be plans to publish it in ebook versions, such as for the Kindle or Nook. As soon as we learn of the Spanish, Greek, and Korean translations, we’ll post about them here.)