Joie de lire

Reading something like this early in the morning makes my day before my day has even started. Snarkmarket's Tim Carmody on attending a talk given by Lydia Davis (who translated Proust) and Edith Grossman (who translated Cervantes):


I felt badly for them, because the place was virtually empty. I don’t remember if it was on an odd night or the advertising got confused, but there were maybe a dozen people in the room. I wasn’t going to miss it, because I was working up this whole theory about the relationship between Proust, Don Quixote, and slapstick comedy that ended up becoming the coda to my dissertation. (Basi­cally, read Bergson’s On Laughter, Walter Benjamin’s long essay on Proust, watch a whole lot of Buster Keaton, then think really hard about photography, and it will all make sense.)


Also, Davis (as you’ll gather from the piece) is a little quirky, introspective, more comfortable in the text than in conversation. Grossman was garrulous, which doesn’t quite actually mean what I want it to mean: aggressively but charmingly outsized, yet totally at home with her self. Davis cares about the squeak of the pepper grinder; Grossman would care about the ravioli. I am Davis, but pretend to be Grossman. Harold Bloom wrote the introduction to Grossman’s translation, and there’s a little bit of Harold Bloom in Edith Gross­man. She spoke to this intimate room like Jim Harrison eats food. 

Three, from the interview he references, which confirms that Lydia Davis likes to write the way I like to read:

There is, of course, a paradox here; Lydia Davis’s style of translation is, in fact, very much her own; her translations, like her stories, are sparse and demanding. She has been criticised for the abstruseness of her diction (“lacustrine” for lakeside, for instance) but, she explains, she would rather use a single, correct word than elaborate – after all, people can always simply look up a word they don’t know.

Davis’s determination not to alter or smooth over a text is, perhaps, one of her boldest statements – an almost ethical decision not to make things easy for the reader, or to make compromises. At times, reading Davis’s translation of Flaubert, I became aware that I was reading a translation – it is rigid, a little unnatural, perhaps – but maybe this would not bother Davis; she likes reading to be a layered experience, and would rather that the process of writing was explicit than that any narrative seemed “artificial”.