FROM MECANOSCRIT TO TYPESCRIPT: TRANSLATING PEDROLO (AND THE QUIRKS OF INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL COMMUNICATION)

Allow me to take Manuel de Pedrolo (1918-1990) as the centre of the argumentation I want to develop here. Pedrolo is a key author of Catalan literature, to which he contributed about 100 works in all genres (poetry, drama, novel, journalism) and also his translations of first-rank international work by American and European novelists. He was also the author, as I explained in my previous post, of the best-selling Catalan novel ever, Mecanoscrit del segon origen (1974). He worked, in addition, at all literary levels: from the popular (he made significant contributions to detective fiction and to science-fiction) to the post-modern experimental.

Now, if you check the very useful data base TRAC (Traduccions del català) available from the website of the Institut Ramon Lull (https://www.llull.cat/catala/quiesqui/trac_traduccions.cfm), you will see that his name appears only 46 times –mostly translations of Mecanoscrit. This is the only book of his translated into French. Pedrolo has been translated into German only four times and in all cases within short story anthologies; once, in identical circumstances, into Russian. In English the only translations of Pedrolo’s works are Final trajectory (trans. Albert M. Forcadas & Selley Quinn, New York, Carlton Press, 1985) and Touched by fire (trans. Peter Griffin, New York, Peter Lang, 1993). Mecanoscrit, by the way, has been translated into Castilian, Galician and Basque within Spain, and abroad into Dutch, French, Rumanian, Portuguese, Italian, Bulgarian, Estonian, and Macedonian.

As it is obvious from my previous post, I’m extremely happy to have had the chance to translate Mecanoscrit into English for the first time ever. Luckily for me, this is a shortish novel (45,000 words only), otherwise the task would have been absolutely daunting. Translating from one’s own language into a second language one does not speak as a native is a complete nightmare, as you can never be sure of what you’re doing in the same way natives are. Of course, native speakers also need to have a very deep knowledge of their own language but at least they have a clearer sense of what sounds ‘correct’. I did consider working in tandem with a native speaker but finally decided to face the translation alone and rely on a good number of English readers for corrections and suggestions. I have only translated one book –the collection Siete relatos góticos: Del papel a la pantalla, which I myself edited, see https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116808) – and I must say that I have great admiration for translators, for their task is incredibly difficult. In the case of Mecanoscrit the main obstacle for me turned out to be the most common words, those instances in which a second-language speaker is lost in a sea of get, have, do… I’m certainly happy that the work is done and that my translation will reach the 800 Eurocon participants, hopefully also American readers through Wesleyan UP. And, no, I have not received any fees yet; besides, I am embarrassed to apply for grants as, after all, I’m an tenured academic with a regular salary and not a self-employed translator. I would be actually happier to find a sponsor for Wesleyan.

Apart from the translation itself, and the edition of the trilingual volume this summer, I have produced a good number of shorter documents about Pedrolo and Mecanoscrit, including an entry for the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. It just turns out that the ESF does not have an entry on Catalan SF, and so I asked Antoni Munné-Jordà to write one, which I translated (our two entries are currently being edited by John Clute, who welcomed very warmly my offer to write them). To my infinite surprise, Antoni sent me an article longer than the corresponding ESF entry for Spanish SF, which opens up the chance to expand the Catalan presence in ESF with many other entries. The question is where I am going to find the contributors among the Catalan Literature specialists… I happen to be the board member in charge of academic contacts of the Societat Catalana de Ciència-Ficció i Fantasia and, well, that should be my main task. I’m also editing for the online academic journal Alambique the first monographic volume in any language on Mecanoscrit (to be published in August in 2017 in English, and then to be followed by the Catalan version).

But, wait a minute, you must be thinking: aren’t you an English Studies specialist? Yep! Will all this work on Catalan fiction count for your CV? Nope! So… why do it? The obvious answer is that this is an academic labour of love, the kind you do because you love a certain book. The situation is, however, much more complicated than it seems at first sight.

To begin with, translations of any kind are not considered as proper academic work in Spain and, so, do not count for research assessment –even when they are critical editions. We, academics, produce them anyway because we think they are a relevant part of our jobs, particularly in the case of those of us working in second-language areas. ‘English Literature’, supposing you can imagine it as a single entity, can trust that we’ll do the job of transferring to our languages its most relevant works. Nonetheless, as we know very well, not even the immensely important Anglophone Literature can be certain that it is fully represented in other languages. Think now of minor language Literatures, like Catalan, with a very restricted circle of academics preaching its beauties abroad and you’ll see the problem. We, Catalan speakers, need to cross our fingers and hope that someone will choose to put their energy into doing us the favour of translating our works. And the money, of course.

Literary translation is, I’m trying to say, an extremely haphazard process. It would make perfect sense for each language to have a body of experts whose job would be to ensure that an agreed-upon list of works received translations into the major languages. No such body exists, as far as I know. In Catalonia the Institut Ramon Llull offers grants to translators and for the promotion of Catalan culture abroad but these depend on the applicants. I might be wrong but, apparently, no Catalan organism is checking that our most prominent authors are indeed translated. The problem, as it is obvious, is that many relevant authors in one language are completely unknown in another. This, by the way, affects both the classics and the contemporary works for the root of the problem is finding a readership big enough to guarantee business.

After all, translations are published by companies that expect to make a profit and there is no way around this hurdle. Unless, that is, official institutions decide to invest money in making these translations available themselves (perhaps as ebooks). This might be expensive but, even so, relatively cheap thinking of the authors whose copyright has expired. In the case of writers whose copyright needs to be respected the problem, of course, is that local publishing houses expect to get foreign rights fees. There is, nonetheless, a world of difference between the benefits that a first-rank living author may bring and the very limited market open to someone living but less prominent or someone dead and little known abroad.

So, back to Mecanoscrit: no native English-speaking Catalan Studies specialist has offered to translate this book. Local native Catalan specialists may translate foreign works into Catalan but they do not translate Catalan literature into other languages; hence, nobody has volunteered, either. This is how I have found myself at this strange crossroads: I’m a Catalan native speaker with an English solid enough (excuse me!) to attempt the translation. The rules of the translation game, however, are limited as regards the circulation of the translation: we, the Eurocon team, are very lucky that we have permission from Planeta, who owns the rights on Mecanoscrit, to publish the trilingual volume, and, most crucially, a sponsor, the Institut d’Estudis Ilerdence. Planeta is willing enough to have Wesleyan UP publish the translation but, logically, Wesleyan worries that there are not enough potential readers in the USA to cover the expenses. Since the commercial publishing houses I have contacted have not even replied to my emails, if Wesleyan rejects the translation Typescript of the Second Origin risks remaining in a limbo. I could try to convince somehow Planeta to let me find a public online platform to publish Typescript –like my university’s repository or others– but, of course, they’ll demand a fee. And who is to pay for that? So you see the conundrum. Now apply this to any other case you might know about and if you find a brilliant solution, do let me know.

To be continued…

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