Moving Beyond my (Translation) Comfort Zone: Homenatge als Homenots
by Angela Frawley
At times a break from routine is needed to avoid complacency and sharpen new or existing skills. From time to time, I like to step out of my translation comfort zone (medical and scientific texts) and delve into the fascinating world of literary translations. I have always been an avid reader, I studied literature at university and whenever I’m reading, be it in English, Catalan or Spanish, I am constantly reflecting on how I might express a word or phrase in English or, more presumptuously, how I might improve on the translation.
When selecting the type of literary text I would be willing to translate, I have laid down a number of conditions. First and foremost, I have to be familiar with and like the author. Secondly, I have to feel confident that I would be capable of doing due justice to the original text. And thirdly, it has to be challenging, pushing me beyond my boundaries!
Today, I post a translation I worked on some time ago as my personal homage to two Catalans I have long and greatly admired. The literary style of Josep Pla, as he describes el maestro Pau Casals, definitely pushed me way beyond my comfort zone.
Josep Pla was one of the most important contemporary Catalan authors who wrote prolifically in both Spanish and Catalan. Among his vast production is a collection called “Homenots” (roughly translated as “great men”) which was written between 1969 and 1974. It is an extraordinary portrayal of 60 personalities, divided into 4 volumes or series, offering an original account of archaeologists, architects, artists, authors, composers, editors, entrepreneurs, historians, lawyers, librarians, linguists, musicians, philosophers, poets, politicians and sculptors of his time.
Given that this text was written almost 50 years ago and the characteristic style, with vivid descriptions of reality, poetic subjectivism and subtle irony, the principal translation challenge was the tug-of-war between retaining this style while ensuring an elegant readable text for the English-speaking reader.
Another interesting feature of more literary translations, in my case, that I don’t struggle with so much with my scientific texts, is the elusive notion of having completed the translation. I read and re-read it, change some words or a comma. But I never really feel that it is done. That it can’t be improved. Hence I still consider this a work in progress, so any constructive comments on the translation would be most welcome.
Such challenges definitely keep us translators on our toes. Truly a great honour to be able to pay homage to these two “homenots”.