Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who really wrote those words?

I'm reading "Writing Tools, 50 essential strategies for every writer", by Roy Peter Clark. Instead of rules to follow, his  book provides tools to exploit (although many of the tools sound quite similar to the rules provided by other books on writing).

Each tool has its own chapter, and each chapter gives  practical examples from many different authors, including some foreign writers. For instance, in his chapter on ordering words for emphasis, Clark quotes the famous opening of Cien años de soledad: "Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamento, el Coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo."

But Clark quotes this in English: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." Yet, in providing an example about words and their placement for emphasis, Clark attributes them to Gabriel García Márquez, alone, not also to Gregory Rabassa.

If these words serve as an example in a book in English about writing, Clarke should have mentioned that who chose them in English (and not others that might have legitimately been used), was Rabassa, the translator, not Márquez, the original author.

This is "the translator's invisibility", according to both meanings Lawrence Venuti gives to the term.

As translators, we lend our pens and words to others, and let them make them their own... unless we blunder: when we choose well, transform powerful source into spellbinding target, the translator's words become the original author's own. But if we fail in our choice of words, then the failure is ours: it's only then that we become visible.


  1. Thank you very much for your good attention to my book "Writing Tools." You are absolutely correct in my failure to attribute the passage to the both the original author and the translator. If there is another edition of the book, I will do my best to correct this one. Thanks.

    As for your comment about my distinction between tools and rules, I'd offer this explanation. Rules exist in the region or right and wrong; tools in the land of cause and effect. In other words, it's not right or wrong to use active verbs, it's just that the effect is different for the reader.

    Thanks again for your gentle slap on the wrist. I'll try to do better. -- Roy Peter Clark

  2. You are right - unfortunately, it seems to be our fate. If we don't ever get mentioned, then it probably means that a) we did a brilliant job or b)nobody has read our translation. Our name suddenly gets pronounced only if something goes wrong...

  3. Good point. Ah, the invisibility of the translator. However, I am really not sure what the hard rule is on attributing translated passages of literature. Is there one? Personally, of course I think the credit should go to both Gabo and the translator, but perhaps there's another convention? Just a thought, from a layperson, as I don't translate literature. Huge fan of original Gabo literature, though. The book sounds interesting, might have to check it out!


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