Goldblatt Interviewed

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

There's a lengthy interview with Howard Goldblatt posted on Full Tilt, a "journal of East-Asian poetry, translation and the arts" put out by the English Department of the National Central University in Taiwan. It's the longest interview with Goldblatt I've seen.

No, the thing that's really killing translation in our field is literalism. Too many translators are afraid of the text, especially when they're first starting out. And I understand that, because I was too. They're all afraid of the text. You need to overcome your fear of the text, put some distance between you and it.

Good advice! (via danwei)


# 1.   

Goldblatt: "I've got ego too—when I'm cut I bleed. I hate reviews when they say bad things about me. But the problem is that I believe them. When they say good things I don't really believe them, but when they say bad things I always believe them." John Updike's review of two Chinese novels:

"Meanwhile, American translation of contemporary Chinese fiction appears to be the lonely province of one man, Howard Goldblatt..."

"The reader suspects that exceptionally much is lost in translation. In sentences like “I knew then that I had truly fallen into the chrysalis of what transpires between a man and a woman” and “Her lips looked like a dead fish as they nibbled their way up my coiling dragon robe, producing a cheerless soughing sound,” Professor Goldblatt is presumably pursuing the Mandarin text, ideogram by ideogram, but in one like “So it was a certainty that Duanwen was now licking his wounds in the residence of the Western Duke, having found safe haven at last,” the English clichés seem just plain tired."

What do you guys think?

Eliot, September 13, 2007, 7:32a.m.

# 2.   

Hmm, how to be politic about this? Goldblatt is certainly a great translator, and almost singlehandedly responsible for what the world's English-language readership knows of Chinese literature. On the other hand, he's been doing this for years, and his particular pile of laurels has to be looking pretty comfortable by now. I doubt many editors have the chutzpah to tell him he's done a bad job, and it's pretty clear that he phones it in from time to time.

I thought that New Yorker article was interesting. I gone the feeling some editor was thinking, "it's about time we did something on Chinese literature, but none of us knows squat about Chinese literature – let's just get the best writer we've got to do some reviews. Even if he's totally bemused it still ought to be a good read." Updike did seem a bit bemused, and it was a good read. I'll bet Goldblatt didn't see that coming.

Eric Abrahamsen, September 19, 2007, 11:20p.m.

# 3.   

What he needs is a good translation copy proofreader. Goldblatt commits ridiculous errors and no one seems to notice as people accept the English translation without the luxury of comparing with the original.

His works sometimes remind of what some theorists say about translation, that it is "a creative process."

What an easy way to get off the hook!

Zheng Yongkang, December 5, 2008, 12:28a.m.


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