9/29/08

Those who cannot write, translate.

Due to the interesting scheduling habits of the university, all four of my translation classes meet on Monday and Tuesday, which is fine and all except for the part where I have three translations due at the beginning of every week. Ah well. Today we looked at the extract of Toni Morisson's Song of Solomon we had to do over the weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'd made a lot of the same choices as the native French speakers in the class. (Today's the day to get a bit of a morale boost before M. Fryd's class tomorrow, in which I will undoubtedly discover that I can't speak or write French.) I spent most of the class period wishing that everyone but the ten or so of us who actually cared would just go away (I haven't seen a teacher have that much trouble keeping a class quiet since the year I read to the kindergarten class every week), but the professor had some interesting insights (including one spot where she'd actually understood the English better than several of us anglophones...that was slightly embarrassing). After class, I checked out a copy of Le chant de Salomon from the university library, and discovered that the translator had rendered most things the same way we had in class; in some cases I even think we did a better job. So, yay for us.

In between classes, I went into town with Elizabeth to attempt to pick up the books we'd ordered for our literature class. First the bookstore was closed over lunch (only on Mondays - I'd understand if it were everyday, but what about Monday particularly necessitates a long lunch break?), and when we returned, the saleswoman told us one of the books was indefinitely unobtainable; no, she didn't really know anything, would we please hurry up and go away. So that was frustrating. In the interim I tried to procure makeup, having had a clumsy moment with my powder that ended with it everywhere except in its container, but a) the color Matte Ivory doesn't exist in France and b) when the saleswoman found another color that would work for me, it was out of stock. Today hasn't been my day for shopping.

My second translation class (French to English) was predictably frustrating, since the professor and I do not speak the same version of the English language. It's doubly frustrating because she will commend all sorts of approximate, even verging on ridiculous, translations from the French students, but she has no problem shooting down reasonable suggestions from the anglophones in the class if they don't match her specific idea. "Approximate" is probably the best way to describe her style of translation. Given that, it's fortunate she doesn't have us tackling canonical French literature the way my other professor is going after serious English/American stuff (Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Garrison Keillor...oh wait). Instead, we've been translating excerpts of murder mysteries and newspaper articles, though I disagree strongly with some of her pronouncements about journalistic style. Can you tell I'm really a fan of this professor? I'd like to poll the audience: is "a pressure cooker ready to explode at any moment" a legitimate metaphor for a tense situation (think riots, racial conflict, etc.)?

I don't mean to give you the wrong impression; despite wanting to engage this professor in argument after every sentence, I think I'm learning a lot from the class, probably exactly because I disagree with her so much. I'm also learning how to keep my mouth shut and carry out these arguments in my head. I'm coming to the conclusion that translation is something I really could enjoy as a career.