A timely increase in the Canada Council Translation Grant Program budget was a welcome incentive for translation in 2006. As a result, more books were translated into both French and English, and that is always fine news for literary and cultural exchange. In the essay category, in particular, this has given readers opportunities to share perspectives on a much wider range of topics, from such historical figures as Wolfe, Montcalm, and Trudeau to contemporary social, political, economic, and environmental questions (technology and culture, tax havens and state government, Africa and AIDS, digital shock, the decline of the Arctic), not to mention the national sport of hockey. Fiction and [End Page 97] drama titles continue to give precedence to works by writers already successful in both linguistic communities (Yves Beauchemin, Gil Courtemanche, Antonine Maillet, Michel Tremblay, Larry Tremblay, and Pan Bouyoucas), but this year there are translations of works by lesser-known or younger authors including Marie-Célie Agnant, Catherine Bush, Monique Durand, Claude Forand, and Kevin Davies. The increased budget has encouraged a few more translations of poetry than usual, as well as a reprint of P. F. Widdows's delightful translations of poems by one of Québec's founding poets, É mile Nelligan.
For all this good news, the uneven quality of many translations published in 2006 suggests that both literary institutions still need to work towards a more mature and enduring understanding of what a literary translation should be or do. While senior, experienced translators continue to produce compelling works, the new generation of translators is clearly struggling to reach a satisfactory level of literary, if not linguistic, performance. Too many of the texts published this year in English contain an unacceptable number of basic translation errors. A quick reading or misinterpretation even of such a common word as ordres can change the destiny of a character; suddenly he has made order in his life, rather than taken holy orders. A few such blunders in a generally well translated text can be unfortunate, but insignificant, if they are unlikely to affect readers' overall impression and appreciation of the book. Too frequent, they introduce noise into the fictional communication and constitute a regrettable, and completely avoidable, form of disrespect for the original.
Notwithstanding some striking exceptions, this year's translations most suffer – and this is true of translations into both French and English – in the rendering of voice, that internal music, singular spirit, or particular point of view that constitutes a kind of textual DNA. Incoherencies are introduced through poorly chosen formulations. Tone shifts abruptly because a word is out of place. Clichés replace and reconfigure the images portrayed by the original. These discrepancies are most damaging in books that rely primarily for effect on the subtle, often ironic, distancing of the narrative voice, or, in the case of essays, on specific rhetorical or argumentative strategies. In the French translations, there is a tendency to embellish the original, prettify it. In the English translations, the more dramatic or emotional elements are downplayed or omitted. The text is slightly, or sometimes even substantially flattened, neutralized. At times, the translations into both languages lack conviction; there is a failure in literary courage, in the acceptance of the text as it is. At others, there is an absence of sensibility in the re-expression. One has the sense of a rough diamond poorly cut, or of looking at the original through a foggy window. The Literary Translators' Association of Canada is working hard to have translators recognized as writers, [End Page 98] but the notion of translation as a writerly process, sharing in the expressive objectives that make writing literary, does not yet appear to have taken hold systematically in the general practice of literary translation. The publishing and translation milieu could well do with a more critical reflection on the process and goals of literary translation, and the training required for translators. In between the lines, this year's column will suggest some of the issues such a reflection might well examine.
Familiar Francophone Voices
Fewer anglophone writers were involved in translation this year. Wayne Grady is a notable exception, publishing three works. Antonine...