The Creative Energy of a Hive Mind — Translating “Turturro” by Daniel Zahno

Translator’s Note

Alle lieben Alexia

Alle lieben Alexia
BY Daniel Zahno
(Weissbooks, 2011)

Literary translations are usually prepared in relative isolation. Even when the translator cooperates to some extent with the author of the source text, the bulk of the translator’s work is done alone, with a significant degree of independence. Not from the text and its conditions, of course, nor from the intended audience — but from the immediate physical presence and demands of other people. This has been my experience in preparing both literary and non-literary translations, and has made translating as alluring a venture as it is: it affords such seclusion, a chance to be immersed in the world of a single and, hopefully, singular text.

How, then, to translate in a group? What is the task of the translator who is one of twelve co-translators? On the first day we met, I asked my students to focus on a shared characteristic of the words translation and Übersetzung: each refers to both a process and a product. So: how to structure and navigate a process to which twelve people contribute, when it must culminate (in time for a public reading) in a single product animated by a unified voice? This was our challenge when Daniel Zahno and his publisher, Weissbooks, were kind and brave enough to permit “Turturro” to be translated by the members of an advanced undergraduate seminar on German-English translation.

…the bulk of the translator’s work is done alone, with a significant degree of independence. Not from the text and its conditions, of course, nor from the intended audience – but from the immediate physical presence and demands of other people.

The product published here is the result of a combination of strategies. One we rejected early on was that each translator would be initially responsible for one piece of the text. Each member of the seminar prepared a translation of each word, clause, sentence, paragraph of the story. A few paragraphs at a time, those individual translations were discussed regularly and intensively, with our “final” product emerging sometimes by consensus, sometimes by majority, and in a few cases, by my deciding vote. With time, anxiety at such an unusually multi-voiced process gave way to pleasure in what the students called the creative energy of a hive mind.

The individuals who collaborated on this translation range from twenty-something to seventy-something years old. They live, study, and work in New York City, and include native speakers of Italian, Persian, Russian and English. “Turturro” is a chapter from Alle lieben Alexia, a novel in ronde form about eight men in love with the same woman. Turturro is one of them.

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

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