Literary translator Liedewy Hawke on the art of transforming French to English
In everyday French, “Il faudrait commencer” means “One must begin.” A direct conversion to English, however, is insensitive to tone and context. “It’s too cerebral, it’s not poetic,” says Liedewy Hawke, the award-winning translator who encountered that phrase on the first line of High-Wire Summer, Louise Dupré’s 2009 collection of short stories. Hawke, having already translated two of the Quebec writer’s earlier books, spotted the problem. “One must begin,” she explains, would have been too stoic for Dupré’s dreamy, flowing style. “Is it going to be I, is it going to be you? Sometimes you just say people. So there’s your first choice. You have to capture the same feeling [as the author intended],” says the soft-spoken French-English specialist. Hawke ultimately decided to present Dupré’s original “Il faudrait commencer” as “You should begin” — and her English conversion of High-Wire Summer was ultimately nominated for this year’s Governor General’s Award for translation.
Hawke and I meet at an unassuming café in downtown Toronto. As we settle in, both half an hour early for our appointment together, my first (and lasting) impression of her is an aura of calm. Dressed in a white cable-knit sweater with wire-rimmed glasses that frame her blue-grey eyes, she smiles gently as she tells me about her craft — a necessary, if undervalued, contribution to the field of literature. The translator is a portal into the minds of writers who don’t always share their readers’ languages, as well as a custodian of those writers’ most cherished possessions. Sending a book out for translation, Hawke says, “is like sending your child to a foster mother.”
Translation is about making choices, whether they involve grammar, word choice or punctuation. French sentence structure often directly converts into more formal English, so literal translation can dilute or morph the author’s voice. “There’s the meaning and then there’s the feeling, the music, the emotion. You have to get the right register,” Hawke says. “When I [need to] translate a certain tone, I tend to go and find books in English that have that same tone. I jot down expressions and the syntax and so on.” Reading vocabulary books, newspapers, and synonym dictionaries in both languages helps her keep fresh expressions and terms in mind. For example, lower down that opening page of High-Wire Summer, she arrived at “les Iles les plus lontaines,” which literally translates to the “the fartherest islands.” She wrote it as “the ends of the earth.” (more…)
An interview with cartoonist, novelist, teacher, and renaissance woman Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry — cartoonist, novelist, playwright, teacher, environmental activist, and all-around renaissance woman — is revitalising the genre of the instructional manual. “Do you wish you could write?” Barry asked readers with 2008’s What It Is, and then proceeded to elucidate and exemplify the creative process with a torrent of comic strips, prose, and collage that burst the boundaries of the conventional “how-to” book.
In both What It Is and her ever-popular workshops on “Writing the Unthinkable,” Barry promotes a fertile territory of ideas and memories that she calls “the image world.” Her books, whether fictional or instructional, brim with evidence of this realm. They overflow with Proustian “unexpected memories” called forth at the mention of an old telephone number, with perfectly sensible nonsense recited by five-year-old children, with eldritch creatures lurking in the folds of a tissue or a stain in the ceiling, and with the exploits and musings of her comic strip characters.
These denizens of Barry’s imagination populate her most recent book, Picture This, a follow-up and complement to What It Is. Here, the leads of her Ernie Pook comic strip, irrepressible Marlys and introspective Arna, join forces with the Near-Sighted Monkey and the Meditating Monkey, new Barry creations who share the Pook girls’ temperaments. With this menagerie in tow, the author acts as tour guide through the image world. “Why do we stop drawing?” she asks. “Why do we start?” Picture This stands as a generous, colourful, freewheeling response to those questions.
Two years ago, I interviewed Barry for this blog. During this year’s Toronto International Festival of Authors, we sat down again for more conversation about the power of words and pictures.
Sean Rogers You place a high value on the connection between the hands and the brain. Reading your stuff has convinced me to start writing everything in longhand — and it works!
Lynda Barry [Longhand] is like the original digital device. It does work, and it also does something to memory. Since we spoke, I’ve gotten even more fascinated with the relationship between the hands and the brain. It takes us out of this idea of art as being, “Do I like it, do I don’t,” and turns it into, “Do I like having white blood cells or not?” I do. I look at it as a health issue. I start to look at the research they’re doing about neurogenesis, about what gives us more neurons — who doesn’t want more of those? (more…)
Stuart McLean takes his kind-hearted Vinyl Cafe Christmas show to Saskatchewan Canadians, I’m sad to say, rarely make good audiences at live performances. We’re a bit too instinctively reserved to display the enthusiasm that an appreciative crowd can add to a live event, thereby creating a genuinely integrated and intense experience. When we do clap or sing along or give a standing ovation, it’s often a moment too late — like when you have an urge to kiss a potential lover but wait too long, losing the moment forever.
Part of Stuart McLean’s achievement as a performer is that he knows how to break through the encrusted iciness of Canadian audiences. The widely known author and CBC talker’s stage presence puts Canadians at ease. He makes us open up and reveal ourselves in ways that we otherwise wouldn’t.
Like all of us, Stuart McLean has many selves. Aside from whatever private personalities he may possess, his three significant public manifestations are his radio voice, his prose persona, and his stage presence. When I wrote about McLean for the December 2010 issue of The Walrus, I had spent many hours listening to his radio show and reading his books. I had heard him deliver, with great verve, a speech about the cartoonist Jimmy Frise for the 2009 Doug Wright Awards, but I had never seen one of the Vinyl Cafe shows that he performs across the Dominion every year. (more…)
Hope and tension as the 2010 UN convention on climate change sputters to a close
Among the slew of American diplomatic cables recently released by Wikileaks is a report on a senior US diplomat’s meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Union, last December. In it, Van Rompuy departed drastically from the EU’s official stance of cautious optimism: he referred to the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen as “an incredible disaster” which “excluded” and “mistreated” Europe; he expected nothing to be resolved at the 2010 conference in Cancún, or through the multilateral process at all, and instead hoped to make progress at an EU-US meeting in Madrid, which never took place.
With the Cancún conference (November 29–December 10) now drawing to a close, the question still seems to be an active one: will such pessimism be borne out?
In Mexico, the already-embattled Kyoto Protocol — currently the only binding international greenhouse gas-reduction agreement — has gotten into greater trouble. Japan created a stir at the conference by announcing it would not renew its Kyoto pledges once they expire in 2012. But there may be good reason behind Japanese lack of faith in the agreement: (more…)
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Illustration by Graham Roumieu, a frequent contributor to The Walrus.
How our susceptibility to bias makes a big problem out of climate change skepticism
It’s been a discouraging year for proponents of the theory of anthropogenic climate change, a.k.a. human-caused global warming. Since the media sensation of the release of the “Climategate“ emails just over a year ago, science has been put on the defensive in the public sphere. Even while the scientific consensus itself has not changed, the issue has become more politicized than ever before, and skepticism is rapidly mainstreaming: half of the 100 new Republican members of the US Congress deny the existence of climate change, and 83 percent of them oppose enacting legislation to address it. (The Republican-led session of Congress has yet to even begin, but things are already not looking promising.) This could not come at a worse time: last year’s climate conference at Copenhagen was widely considered a disaster, and the current one in Cancún is labouring under the weight of the resultant pessimism.
Those advocates of climate change who haven’t been throwing up their hands in despair have instead been coming up with new outreach efforts intended to educate the public. A group of climate scientists hoping to provide the media with a source of accurate information on demand has just launched its “Climate Science Rapid Response Team”; the Guardian’s website is beginning to assemble an “Ultimate Climate Change FAQ” to authoritatively answer reader questions on the subject. Other scientists run blogs aplenty devoted entirely to attempting to dispel this and similar controversies (like those over evolution, the origin of AIDS, alternative medicines, etc.). So how can all this resistance to the scientific consensus persist? With so much information on hand, shouldn’t we expect everyone to be persuaded by now?
To make an educated guess at the answers requires us to understand why people are skeptical about climate change in the first place. Volumes have been written on the denial of scientific findings, and many popular hypotheses about its causes focus on what the blog Denialism calls “the psychology of crankery” — a search for individual factors, like an inherently suspicious personality, that can explain why one person rejects the mainstream scientific consensus while another does not. That search may yield interesting results, but a very plausible (and perhaps less belittling) explanation is already available to us: most skeptics simply don’t believe that there is a scientific consensus on climate change, or if they do, they are convinced that the consensus was arrived at through politics or even conspiracy and so has little to do with the facts of the matter. Confirmation bias, a simple and universal effect long recognized in psychology, can help account for this stark difference in beliefs. (more…)
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From the archives, a profile of conservative political strategist Tom Flanagan
Tuesday evening on CBC News Network, Tom Flanagan — widely identified today as “an advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada” — called for the targeted killing of Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website which has caused an international scandal by releasing massive amounts of United States diplomatic cables. “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think [Barack] Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something,” Flanagan told host Evan Solomon on live television. Given the opportunity to retract his statement, Flanagan replied, “Well, I’m feeling very manly today… I wouldn’t feel unhappy if Assange disappeared.”
Who is Tom Flanagan? Six years ago, award-winning investigative journalist Marci MacDonald profiled him for The Walrus:
Little is known about the shadowy, sixty-year-old professor who is staying on Harper’s post-election payroll as a senior advisor from Calgary. Flanagan declined to be quoted in this story. In Ottawa, where he has refused interviews for the last three years, some journalists regard him as a modern-day Rasputin manipulating a leader sixteen years his junior. But in Calgary, one of his former students, Ezra Levant, publisher of the eight-month-old Western Standard magazine, cautions against that generational cliché. These days, Levant sees Flanagan and Harper more as “symbiotic partners.” But he does not disagree with a Globe and Mail report that once referred to Flanagan as the original godfather of the city’s conservative intellectual mafia. “I call him Don Tomaso,” Levant says. “He is the master strategist, the godfather — even of Harper.”
Click here to read the rest of MacDonald’s story, called “The Man Behind Stephen Harper.”
* Update: Flanagan now claims to be The Man Who Was Only Kidding About Killing Julian Assange.