Archive for January 18th, 2015

Translating Orhan Pamuk: “I was, without knowing it, putting myself into a trance.”

Sunday, January 18th, 2015
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Cahier’s illustrations by Rie Iwatake.

“Translators, like editors, are the lieutenants of culture,” my friend and former publisher David Sanders recently reminded me. I wrote about one of these lieutenants in my most recent post here. Perhaps that’s what inspired me to finally open Angry in Piraeus, the most recent offering from the Cahiers Series (we’ve written about it here and here, among other places). It had long languished in a pile of books and periodicals waiting for my attention. The excellent Cahiers Series is a project of the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and despite the international kudos, is still too little known.

Museum-of-InnocenceMaureen Freely, the author of this 37-page essay, is known for her translations of the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, but she is also a novelist in her own right. Her family moved to Turkey when she was a child, and Pamuk was a school chum – hence, the second career in translation. According to the Sylph Editions website, which publishes the Cahiers Series: “Angry in Piraeus is the story of the creation of a translator. In this cahier, Maureen Freely explores what it was in her childhood that led her to become a traveler across the spaces that exist between countries, languages, and forms. She offers rich descriptions of her itinerant upbringing in America, Turkey, and Greece, vividly evoking what it means to be constantly commuting between worlds – geographical, conceptual, linguistic, and literary – in search of a home, or a self, that is proving elusive.”

In Angry in Piraeus, she writes the delicate tightrope act between her stories and the stories of others, and the different worlds translation creates.”When I am questioned about my ‘fidelity’ to the text I live to serve, what I can never quite manage to explain is this: if I am to be faithful to anything in the opening passage of a novel, or a short story, or a memoir, it will be to its mood. It will be to the trance it sets up, the sız sız sız, the magic trick that takes the reader through the page and into the secret realm beyond.”

Orhan_Pamuk

Author under fire.

Translation, she writes, is the “slowest, deepest, and most intimate form of reading.” Her relationship with her the childhood friend becomes strained as she translates from his Istanbul and into her own, and then back again – and as he becomes a controversial figure, widely hated in Turkey for his outspoken remarks about the Armenian genocide.

An Excerpt:

By the time I embarked on our fifth and last collaboration. The Museum of Innocence, I had been wandering through the labyrinths of his mind long enough to know their every twist and turn. I had come to accept that everything he wrote had to be anchored in some way in the streets of his childhood. I had also come to understand that, as good as he was at capturing voices, his stories came to him in images. In The Museum of Innocence these images are highly detailed, and meticulously positioned. That order is reflected, and at times even replicated, in his Turkish sentences. I can only imagine the delight he found in creating a text that embedded the conceits of the narrative at the molecular level. At a time in his life when the newspapers printed a new lie about him almost every day, narrative might also have offered some semblance of order. He was not, I think, surprised when I told him he could not exert the same sort of control over a translation. That did not stop him from trying. By that time, he had a lot of clout. I do not think I could have made it through that hellish year, had it not been for the daydream that was always waiting for me, every time I came up for air.

This was the Istanbul that I was slowly beginning to see again, if only to keep breathing. It wasn’t drained of colour, like Orhan’s city. It was golden, and the troubled bourgeoisie that I’d been translating for seven years was nowhere in sight. There were only the wild and beautiful bohemians who had brought me up. Their real-world counterparts were mostly dead and gone, or sacrificed to their bad habits, but in the 1962 of my daydream, they were still living recklessly and getting away with it, beautifully.

When at last I had sent Orhan’s museum off to the publisher, I went back into my own head for what felt at first like a luxury vacation. Little by little, I translated myself out of Orhan’s Istanbul and back into my own. And when I look back on what happened next, I can only think that I must have been using words differently after all those years in translation. I was no longer using the clipped, cut-glass language I had always trusted most. I was letting myself loop and curve across the page. I was, without knowing it, putting myself into a trance. Word by word, I conjured up Istanbul circa 1962. And when I had succeeded in putting myself back there, it turned out not to be the paradise I remembered: the gold was laced with jealousy, confusion, and terror.

 Do yourself a favor and order it here. You’ll even find out what the sız sız sız is.