Patricio Pron on Translation
February 27, 2013 | by Faber Social
Although we sometimes think of translators as unwitting betrayers of the texts and authors they translate, the concept of betrayal has no place in fiction, or, better said, there is nothing to be betrayed: to believe that would mean believing in the existence of an original, that elusive, untraceable figure in literary history of a completely finished text which is no longer susceptible to any corrections, the kind of thing that you can set in stone and carry down the mountain to show your people and start a religion. Yet nothing of the sort exists: texts are the result of circumstances, and circumstances change all the time.
No circumstance has as much impact, of course, as a change of language. Some of my books have been translated in the last few years, and on every occasion I have had a dazzling and enlightening experience. Every time I have collaborated with, or answered queries from, my translators (Mara Faye Lethem and Kathleen Heil into English, Roberta Bovaia into Italian, Kristina Solum into Norwegian, Arieke Kroes into Dutch, Christian Hansen into German, Claude Bleton into French, etc.), I’ve had the impression that ‘my book’ ceased to belong to me and became someone else’s, who gave it back it to me enriched thanks to the change of language (concealing my tentative use of Spanish) and thanks to a certain kind of vision translators have: a close yet distant vision, the vision of someone who is deeply familiar with a text but not emotionally involved with it the way an author is.
Fiction is an exercise in ventriloquism, but other authors’ voices are not the only ones worth listening to. Translation brings the excellent news that an author is not the sole owner of his or her words, and that his or her words are not the only words worth saying. Also, in my case, there is news of the fact that texts travel long distances: El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia borrows its title from a line by Dylan Thomas; in English translation, it has reverted to the original: ‘My fathers’ ghost is climbing in the rain’. Its translation, then, offers this book a sense of homecoming to the language in which a number of writers we love have best expressed themselves.
(Translated by Martín Schifino)
— Patricio Pron’s My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain is published in English in June 2013.