“Translating the classics and the agency of the translator”, Peter Bush (Traductor)

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The contemporary translator of fiction is bound by conventions that do not necessarily trouble a theatre translator. The latter has to ensure that tickets are sold, that the production is financially viable, that audiences come, and so whole acts or characters can be erased, though these decisions may also be made by a director, or the writer who is often employed by the theatre company to work on the translation produced by someone who actually knows the original language. Whatever their place in this peculiar hierarchy in the English theatre, theatre translators know they are part of some kind of collaboration. The translator of fiction, however, is generally expected to translate what is on the pages of the original text: “fidelity” is the implied norm that is usually categorised in the translator’s contract as an instruction to be “faithful to the original in good literary English”.
The agency of literary translators of prose fiction, even of much translated canonical works like Don Quixote, continues to be restricted by a publishing culture that expects a “fidelity” that leans towards conventional literary style and a tone that is neither jagged nor jarring, mellowing detail that might shock. The agency of some translators, as described here, involves an acceptance of this culture. Eli Cohen’s account of Phillips’s subversive Cervantes and Ilan Stavans’s Spanglished Cervantes show the potential for radically innovative translations that open up the text to other readerships. Perhaps it is time for a translator to attempt a re-writing of Don Quixote that is disturbing, doesn’t shy away from underlying themes of social and political conflict and retains the violence and the comedy. Could any publisher be drawn to a more staccato, gritty narrative movement for Sancho and his master?

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