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Vanessa Everson Speaks on Translation at the Launch of Denise Brahimi’s Nadine Gordimer

Denise Brahimi

The University of Cape Town launch of Denise Brahimi’s Nadine Gordimer: Weaving Together Fiction, Women and Politics brought together an intimate gathering of literati, keen to hear the author in conversation with translator, Vanessa Everson.

Vanessa Everson and Denise BrahimiNadine GordimerEverson celebrated Brahimi’s text, which adopts a fresh approach that stands out in comparison with others, simultaneously foregoing historical pedantry whilst setting Gordimer’s writings against the unfolding of South African politics.

She referred to parallels between Gordimer’s personal life and her fictional creations, while still respecting her subject’s right to privacy. “One very rich, innovative aspect of Denise Brahimi’s analysis is her explicit reference to Gordimer’s avowed literary loves and influences (many of which are French) and her existentialist allusions to Camus and Sartre,” said Everson.

“Brahimi shows us how Gordimer moves between the external socio-political context and the private world of her characters; thus, she distils the essence of Gordimer’s writing as the existence of opposing forces – man vs woman, black vs white. She foreshadows the salient characteristics of Gordimer’s prose – ‘the opposition within’ and the gender struggle – that would be present with Jabu and Steve, in Gordimer’s latest novel No Time Like the Present.”

“In short,” noted Everson, “Denise Brahimi analyses Nadine Gordimer’s dispassionate tone, while highlighting the existential imperative of the writer’s mission: the ability to go beyond the confines of a moment in history, however momentous and ghastly that moment may be, to illuminate human existence at some deeper level.”

Everson, who co-translated the book into English with Cara Shapiro over a period of eight years, raised a fascinating question about the role of the translator as she reflected on the divide between the interpreting and the translating. “The interpreter, a spontaneous creature, lives in the moment and plucks words from his linguistic cupboard, putting them together with rapidity and assurance, like a seasoned traveller who packs his suitcase and never once wonders if he has everything he’ll need at his destination. On the other hand,” she continued, “the translator, other than the commercial or technical translator who is cousin to the interpreter, lives in the duration of time. He is a procrastinator, assailed by doubt and tormented by the compulsion to read, re-read, change, modify, and adapt, ‘the misery’ of translation to use José Ortega y Gasset’s term.”

Everson explored the challenges of translating commercial texts as opposed to literary and academic texts where “meaning is inseparable from the stylistic devices employed by the author, when style is meaning.” She asked, “How, for example, does the translator deal with an alliteration, or an assonance, when those letters that are repeated in the source language are absent from their equivalent words in the target language?”

Further exploring the responsibility of the translator she reflected that translation can be used “subversively to challenge the dominant narratives of the time” which explained in part why the translator was “a slow and ponderous beast” and why Ortega y Gasset spoke of the “misery of translation”.

In conclusion, she said, “The full title of the chapter in Venuti’s book on translation by Ortega y Gasset is ‘The Misery and Splendour of Translation’. Translators may sometimes wallow in misery and self-doubt but we also love this splendid thing that is translation, this thing which, as Bernard Magnier says, combats linguistic divisions and nourishes diversity.”

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Liesl Jobson tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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