Monday, 28 January 2013

On the shoulders of a giant: George Orwell

Voice of (many) generations

It is highly likely that if you want to describe an oppressive political regime, you'll use the word Orwellian; likewise, big brother will spring to mind whenever your conversation or thoughts take you to issues concerning rogue states and/or organisations that exercise a rigid control on people. These are only two examples-thought police could be another one- that have become part of our daily language whose origin take us back to the influential and visionary novelist and journalist George Orwell (real name Eric Blair).
A series of  radio programmes  to be broadcast  by the BBC Radio 4 over the following days ( is the perfect excuse to delve into the work of this most formidable Englishman; it is also a reminder of how influential Orwell remains today, not only because some of those most perverse and bleakest premonitions he'd imagined in his fiction novels have today become real  but also because some of his less well-known journalistic pieces illustrated readers about  a range of key issues of the time: imperialism, totalitarianism, social justice...
Orwell's accounts of his different experiences -and he had a few- make him, in my and many others' opinion, a master of political and social journalism, a true craftsman, an example of how to tell the tale in a way that is direct yet deeply touching without being pretentious; and that isn't always easy to achieve.
 If that wasn't enough to justify his status,  here's another example: he once again was spot on when in his masterpiece 1984, he wrote this chilling message: ' Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past'. Frightening.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Unsong heroines: Mary Seacole

Keep her in the books: Crimean War heroine

 The UK Secretary  State for  Education, Michael Gove, is one of the most controversial figures of the  Tory-LibDem coalition, and one that the Left loves to hate.Admittedly, education is a sensitive issue that is taken very seriously by people and indeed most governments.Tony Blair understood this very well when he made it a priority and coined what would become one of most quoted soundbites of his years as PM ('education, education, education').
Every so often, heated debates and exchanges on any intended reform or change in the National Curriculum grab the headlines;therefore, it is hardly surprising to see that a proposed change by the mentioned Secretary for Education has caused a new wave of indignation among many people who see this as pandering to the right-wing and their recurring PC myth mantra (Polical Correctness).
So  this new row is because of the proposed removal from the National Curriculum of  Mary Seacole; she was a black woman of Jamaican origin who was involved in the Crimean War, whose role helping the wounded soldiers gave her the status of heroine in Britain at the time. Thanks to a campaign organised some years ago for her inclusion as a relevant figure and a black role model, Mary Seacole became the only black person to be included in the Curriculum who was not associated with either the civil rights movement or slavery, thus giving students a different perspective on the role of people of diverse origins and backgrounds in Britain.
 In response to this proposal, another petition  has been organised, this time to ask the government to keep Seacole in the National Curriculum, on the basis of her role in the Crimean War.
Regardless of the outcome of this initiative, we take this opportunity to bring to this blog the figure of an inspirational  woman who defied the odds and helped change attitudes towards people from different backgrounds.Let's hope Gove's proposal stays that way:just a bad idea once proposed that ended up in the bin.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On a Bender- Interview with Craig Patterson

Tea & Sympathy goes On a Bender...

The Tea&Sympathy book club chose On a Bender, by Eduardo Blanco Amor, as its last reading of 2012. Reading a Galician classic in English was an amazing experience and let us discuss cross cultural issues and the trade of the translator. We also had the opportunity to chat with A Esmorga’s translator, Craig Patterson, lecturer at Cardiff University and a great devotee of Galicia.

What would going “on a Bender” be like in Cardiff?
Cardiff is renowned for its ‘intense’ night life and drinking culture, and is a popular destination for hen and stag night weekends. In fact its reputation for that kind of thing is quite pronounced. British benders are quite different to Galician ones, of course. They involve less food for a start…

You said somewhere that it was Luis González Tosar from the Galician Pen Club who asked you to translate A Esmorga. Would you have chosen another Galician novel to translate instead?
Actually it was my friend Xesús Fraga who asked me, on behalf of Luis González Tosar and the Galician Pen Club. They had wanted him to do it but he recognised that a native English speaker was needed, and I think he was right. For obvious reasons there are many Galician novels and texts that need translating, but I think A Esmorga was the great challenge on offer from Galician literature because of its vocabulary and deceptively-complex style. I cannot imagine any text in Galician being more of a challenge to the translator.

John Rutherford introduced you to Galician culture. Apart from this influence, what made you so passionate for our language and culture?
Actually John did not introduce me to Galician culture. I met him long after my Galician “epiphany”. I was aware of Galicia since the beginning of my degree in Hispanic Studies in 1992, and even before. However, the key moment came in February 1995. During 1994-95, I was an Erasmus student in Salamanca, Spain. Some friends and I hired a car and we drove up to Galicia for the weekend. We arrived in Santiago on a sunny winter afternoon just as the sun was dimming. Standing in front of the cathedral, in the Obradoiro, I fell instantly in love with Galicia and more or less from then onwards decided to dedicate my research to her. It was one of those moments in life that you cannot rationalise or even argue with – it was a powerful, life-changing event. What makes me passionate about Galician language and culture? Galicia is a unique place and her language is  unique. Politics aside, for that reason alone she is a nation as natural as any nation can be. I love Galicia’s otherness. Her uniqueness. The humour of her people. Their attitude to life (which is generally inspiring, sometimes infuriating). As I have said before in other interviews, there is a part of me that only comes alive when I speak Galician, and I feel very comfortable and natural when that part of me is “living”. Naturally I also enjoy Galician music, literature and art. Above all, I love Galician food and drink!

What was the most difficult aspect of the translation?
There were several difficult aspects. Capturing the voice of Cibrán was sometimes tricky, given that he speaks in essentially a low to normal register but attempts poetic flourishes from time to time in order to escape or delay justice. Blanco Amor’s unique syntax is can also prove very difficult to transform into suitable English syntactical structures. In terms of vocabulary, the words and and expressions that proved the hardest to translate were ‘fóra a ialma’ and ‘follateira’. Readers of the translation can see how I tackled these. Also, I published an article which goes into greater depth regarding these matters, as well as the issue of Blanco Amor’s self-translation of A Esmorga as La parranda:
‘Orígenes, retos y estrategias de la primera traducción inglesa de A esmorga, de Eduardo Blanco Amor’, in Xosé Manuel Dasilva & Helena Tanqueiro, eds., Aproximaciones a la autotraducción (Vigo, Editorial Academia del Hispanismo, 2011), 177-196

We all agreed in our praise of the translation of “Milhomes” for “Menaplenty”. Is that expression used in English or is just your creation?
It is not used in English to the best of my knowledge. As with the names that I thought had to be translated or lent themselves to being translated, I could not translate literally where this would produce something that did not ring true for the English idiomatic ear. ‘Menaplenty’ communicates for me the meanings of the nomenclature in Galicia: the ironical reference to the masculinity of the character, and the suggestion of extensive sexual knowledge of an experienced homosexual man.

Menaplenty is the most obvious gay character in the novel.  A Esmorga is meant to be the first openly homosexual Galician novel. Don’t you think it is a quite exaggerated consideration? Will the modern English readers be aware of that gay-factor?
I do not think the character was made to be explicitly and ‘openly homosexual’ in the novel at the time of its publication. That did not happen until later on in the history of Galician literature. However, Blanco Amor leaves nothing left to doubt regarding Milhomes sexuality and of course the strong suggestion of Bocas’ bisexuality. I think whether the modern English-speaking readers read my introduction (in which I explain these factors) or not, they will see the implications in Blanco Amor’s text. Certainly the first time I read the novel as a student I was aware of that dimension to the characterisation.

Blanco Amor makes clear in the novel how Galician and Castillian are class-connoted languages, as the main characters describe Castillian speakers as members of an upper class (or pretending to be of part of an upper class). Is that diglossia performance familiar to the British Readers?

I think British readers will understand the situation, although the sociolinguistic situation(s) in the British isles are different simply because of the different linguistic roots and origins of the native British languages – Welsh, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Cornish are Celtic languages and there is no grey area or ‘castrapo’ between them and English. Furthermore, today many more languages are spoken in Britain: languages of the Indian subcontinent, Polish and Arabic to name but a few.

How well-known is Galician literature amongst British readers? Are Welsh, Scottish or Irish readers more willing to know about other peripheral literatures than English ones?
Not very, although we should bear in mind that the UK is notorious for its lack of curiosity regarding foreign cultures and languages. However, largely through the translations of Manuel Rivas’ literature published with Harvill (London), and the series of translations published by Planet, based in Wales, Galician literature is certainly more visible than what it was twenty years ago. I have commented on this extensively, and believe that the Galician government and Consello da Cultura must take responsibility for this and set up initiatives in order to produce more translations and market them effectively in English-speaking countries. However, given the economic crisis and the politics of the current Galician government, I cannot see that happening in the near future…

What are Galicia and Wales main similarities and differences?
Similarities? They are both by the sea. They have both been conquered and colonised by a powerful neighbour whose cultural, political and linguistic influence continues to be mostly negative. Compared to other neighbours who have experienced a similar fate (Catalonia, Scotland, Euzkadi, Ireland), they both seem to be more ambivalent about protecting their linguistic, political, cultural and identitarian heritage (because the extent of colonisation was greater). Their native languages are both in decline. They are both essentially rural countries with all of the complex social realities that this engenders. Differences? Wales is possibly the only country in the world that can be characterised to some careful degree as ‘Celtic’. Welsh is a genuinely Celtic language; Galician is not, nor can Galician be called a ‘Celtic’ country.

Is there an interest in literature published in languages other than English, and most particularly in minoritised languages? 

See my comments above. Generally, not as much as there should be, probably because of Britain’s imperial past, the global domination of English, and the general decline of educational standards in the UK. All of this produces a reticence to publish translated work and to read it. However, there are exceptional cases where translated work breaks through by means of careful marketing, film and television tie-ins and also, of course, good writing triumphing. One example of this from Spain would be Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Scandinavian crime dramas on television and film have led to the success of Scandinavian literature in translation (eg. Mankell). The nearest Galician literature has come to this has been Manuel Rivas’ The Carpenter’s Pencil and The Butterfly’s Tongue. There is still a long way to go and it will take exceptional, decisive and in my opinion interventionist measures to bring about a serious change in the situation to Galician culture’s advantage in international terms.

Are there similarities between Welsh and Galician literature?
I do not (or rather cannot) read Welsh literature in Welsh, and therefore cannot answer with great authority. However, conversations with Welsh-speaking friends, and my own reading of Welsh literature in English, confirms that countries that have similar linguistic, historical, social, political and cultural contexts (I refer back to your question above) will express similar concerns in literature, and that is certainly the case between Galician and Welsh literature: personal and collective identity, rural stagnation and urban alienation, home and exile/travel.
Blanco Amor decided to narrate the story in the voice of Cibrán, and for that reason the novel is written in a very specific slang from Ourense.  However, you decided not to transpose that to a local slang from, for instance, Dublin. What are the reasons of that choice?
I am half-Irish and was aware from the first time I read A Esmorga in Galician that an Irish idiomatic voice could be layered very easily on top of the original Galician voice, in terms of syntax and common Catholic vocabulary and expressions. However, when we domesticate any translation, from literature to film subtitles, we sacrifice the cultural artefact’s ‘otherness’, or uniqueness, on the altar of ease. A Esmorga is a favourite with its Galician native readers precisely because it captures the loneliness of that otherness, the bewildering solitude of being on the edge in life and culture and society in so many different ways (class, language, sexuality, etc.), and I did not want to dilute that effect in English by confusing the reader with recognisable but nevertheless different cultural substitutes. When I look back on the experience of the translation and the first several months of its reception, I am glad that I did not. Galicia is not Ireland. Galicia is Galicia, and that alone should suffice.
Related with the former question, what is the translator’s job like nowadays?
I am not a professional or full-time translator, so I cannot answer the question with as much authority as I would like. However, from friends who do work full-time as translators, I am aware that it is often a (financially-)precarious way of life with pressures and deadlines as much as any other. We are still a long way away from the translator, whether professional or amateur, being given the respect that he or she deserves, especially in Britain. On another note, in the twenty-first century we have email, Skype and Google as well as dedicated and specialised electronic multimedia tools, and all of these speed up and help the translator enormously. The difficult translation of On a Bender definitely benefitted from these resources.
You are working now on a translation of Sempre en Galiza. What are the differences in translating Castelao’s political prose and Blanco-Amor’s “avant-garde” novel?
I have been working on and off on Sempre en Galiza for about a decade, an am now in the final year or two (I hope!). They are good projects to compare and contrast. Blanco Amor’s novel is of course much shorter than Castelao’s text, but infinitely more difficult for all of the reasons that we discuss above. Castelao’s opus is not very difficult in linguistic terms. The English translation will be a critical edition with footnotes, and what is time-consuming is attempting to identify unreferenced sources in Castelao’s work from where he quotes (and he often does this without reference), and providing explanatory footnotes on the Galician cultural and political context for the non-specialised target reader. In short, the challenge of the translation of Sempre en Galiza concerns scope, whereas with A Esmorga it concerned linguistic and creative complexity: the avante-garde quality to which you refer. Thank you for the interview: I enjoyed answering these questions.