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This Little Art

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An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art is a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation, offering fresh, fierce and timely thinking on reading, writing and living with the works of others. Taking her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes as a starting point, the author threads various stories to An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art is a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation, offering fresh, fierce and timely thinking on reading, writing and living with the works of others. Taking her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes as a starting point, the author threads various stories together to give us this portrait of translation as a compelling, complex and intensely relational activity. She recounts the story of Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann, and their posthumous vilification. She writes about the loving relationship between André Gide and his translator Dorothy Bussy. She recalls how Robinson Crusoe laboriously made a table, for him for the first time, on an undeserted island. With This Little Art, a beautifully layered account of a subjective translating experience, Kate Briggs emerges as a truly remarkable writer: distinctive, wise, frank, funny and utterly original.


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An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art is a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation, offering fresh, fierce and timely thinking on reading, writing and living with the works of others. Taking her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes as a starting point, the author threads various stories to An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art is a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation, offering fresh, fierce and timely thinking on reading, writing and living with the works of others. Taking her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes as a starting point, the author threads various stories together to give us this portrait of translation as a compelling, complex and intensely relational activity. She recounts the story of Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann, and their posthumous vilification. She writes about the loving relationship between André Gide and his translator Dorothy Bussy. She recalls how Robinson Crusoe laboriously made a table, for him for the first time, on an undeserted island. With This Little Art, a beautifully layered account of a subjective translating experience, Kate Briggs emerges as a truly remarkable writer: distinctive, wise, frank, funny and utterly original.

30 review for This Little Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Kate Briggs teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and has translated two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture notes from French into English. A “little art” is how Helen Lowe-Porter, who translated Thomas Mann’s works into English in the 1920s to 1940s, referred to translation – a rather disparaging phrase that echoes the widespread opinion that translation is a lesser skill than writing, that only those who can’t produce their own work are reduced to translating others’. It should not Kate Briggs teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and has translated two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture notes from French into English. A “little art” is how Helen Lowe-Porter, who translated Thomas Mann’s works into English in the 1920s to 1940s, referred to translation – a rather disparaging phrase that echoes the widespread opinion that translation is a lesser skill than writing, that only those who can’t produce their own work are reduced to translating others’. It should not come as a surprise that Briggs takes issue with this belittling argument. Translation is not a substitute for one’s own writing, she contends, but a unique form of engaging with language and literature. It’s about solving word problems, as Lydia Davis has described, as well as about being seized by particular works or even individual sentences. For instance, Elena Ferrante claims to have never gotten over a line from Madame Bovary in which Emma exclaims at her daughter’s ugliness. In essence, Briggs asserts, reading a translation involves a suspension of disbelief: you know that the words you are reading originally appeared in another language, but you must attempt to forget about the middleman and absorb them afresh. As she puts it, “there’s something from the outset speculative and, I would say, of the novelistic about the translator’s project, whatever the genre of writing … The translator asks us to go with the English”. However, one should bear in mind that no translation comes with “the promise of zero distortion,” since the individual translator brings to the work their own style and set of experiences. I learned that translators earn a shockingly low per-word fee that is not in keeping with the amount of time it takes to do the work well (perhaps £90 for 1,000 words). I was interested in Briggs’s general thoughts about the translator’s art, but not necessarily in her extended examples: Lowe-Porter’s experience with Mann, Barthes’s interest in haiku, and so on. At 150 or 200 pages this would have been a fine, tightly honed essay; at more like 360 pages, it is rambling and likely to lose readers partway, unless they have a vested interest in translation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    Kate Briggs is now a recipient of one of the 2021 Windham–Campbell Literature Prizes "Pushing at the formal boundaries of the literary essay in witty, speculative prose, Kate Briggs explores the intricacies of translation and narrative structure in revelatory, provocative ways." In the copy of the novel I have open next to me as I read and write, Hans Castorp replies in English. Clavdia Chauchat has asked him, pointedly, in French, to address her in German, and his reply is written for me in Engl Kate Briggs is now a recipient of one of the 2021 Windham–Campbell Literature Prizes "Pushing at the formal boundaries of the literary essay in witty, speculative prose, Kate Briggs explores the intricacies of translation and narrative structure in revelatory, provocative ways." In the copy of the novel I have open next to me as I read and write, Hans Castorp replies in English. Clavdia Chauchat has asked him, pointedly, in French, to address her in German, and his reply is written for me in English. I mean, of course it is. It’s an everyday peculiar thing: I am reading The Magic Mountain in Helen Lowe-Porter’s translation, first published in 1927. A novel set high up in the Swiss Alps, one of Germany’s most formative contributions to modern European literature (so the back cover of my edition tells me) and here they all are acting and interacting – not always, but for the most part – in English. And I go with it. I do. Of course I do. I willingly accept these terms. Positively and very gladly, in fact. Because with French but no German – I look at my bookshelves: also, no Italian and no Norwegian, no Japanese and no Spanish, no Danish and no Korean (and so on and so on) – I know that this is how the writing comes: An unassuming young man named Hans Castorp travels up from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Dorf. When the train stops at the small mountain station, he is surprised to hear his cousin’s familiar voice: ‘Hullo,’ says Joachim, ‘there you are!’ Helen Lowe-Porter, the original English-language translator of Thomas Mann's novels, including the Magic Mountain, once, too modestly, described translation as a 'little art.' Kate Briggs's The Little Art, a 360 page, plus notes, essay on (the art? the practice? the science? the creative work?) of literary translation, another worthy book from Fitzcarraldo Editions, takes its title from her words. Briggs herself has translated Roland Barthes’s seminar notes at the Collège de France: How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, and The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the Collège de France, 1978-1979 and 1979-1980 Her experience from undertaking these translations (the three years it took to complete the translation of a volume of lecture notes originally drafted in a matter of eight weeks) runs through the essay, as indeed does her commentary on Barthes lectures. Her thoughts roam far and wide but crucially she focuses not on the academic theories of translation, or indeed particularly on the reader's experience (despite the opening quote) but primarily on the experience of the translator herself. I really didn’t want to repeat the things I have so often read or heard said about what we should all think and feel about translation. I wanted to work out what I actually thought and felt—thoughts and feelings that are perhaps a bit more complicated and contradictory than the ‘faithful’ or ‘generous’ or ‘modest’ or even the ‘free’ and ‘boldly unfaithful’ or ‘creative’ translator-position might allow for. (from an interview in Music and Literature) And, as this quote suggests, she doesn’t reach for easy answers, for a one-size-fits-all approach, indeed her essay ends I’m actively parrying against the all-purpose explanation. As such it is almost impossible for a review to do the book justice without being 400 pages, or even longer, itself - rather like a literary translation in fact. But among many other topics, a key thread is formed by the experience of Lowe-Porter, including her posthumous reputation. Another comes from that of Dorothy Bussy, drawing on her personal correspondence over many decades with André Gide, whose books she translated. A correspondence where they chose, despite them both being reasonably fluent in each other’s languages, to each write in their native language, as Gide said, because “I have precise things to tell you and am afraid of not being clear enough” [except he wrote that line in French, this is a translation] which left the recipient of the letter with the duty of translating these precise feelings. As with Constance Garnett (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/...) and more recently Deborah Smith (https://www.theguardian.com/books/boo...), Lowe-Porter's translations have been attacked , I would argue in a rather condescending fashion, for both their factual inaccuracies and over-creative re-interpretations. Others (see the two links) have sprung to their defence and pointed out the equal dangers of over-literal approaches. And Briggs argues, echoing Lowe-Porter (see below) works should be judged as a whole: I know that translation is very different from copying or acting out a line from a book, not least because the translator, in my sense of her work, is a maker of wholes. For Lowe-Porter, a key debate arose in the TLS in 1995, starting with a Timothy Buck article "Neither the letter nor the spirit" (https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/pr...) and backed-up in the letters page by David Luke who produced (per Buck) "a model translation" of Death in Venice. Buck's criticism of Lowe-Porter's approach (NB he also criticised the 1990s John E. Woods versions) included these revealing comments: For Lowe-Porter who once wrote, revealingly, of “the promise I made to myself of never sending a translation to the publisher unless I felt as though I had written the book myself” translation work offered a large measure of “the pleasures of creative authorship”. The dangers of her kind of “creative” translation with, at times, scant regard for the author’s text or intentions are clearly shown in the examples above. The licence she permitted herself in translating Mann’s works is consistent with her view of her task, expressed in relation to Buddenbrooks, as that of “transferring the spirit first and the letter so far as might be”. That 'wrote the book myself' is of course precisely what a literary translator has in fact done - the theorist Emily Apter has, as quoted by Briggs, described translation as “authorised plagiarism” - and see also my recent review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) of Javier Marias's Between Eternities who argues that his favourite novel is Tristam Shandy precisely because he has both read it (in English) and then written it (in his award-winning Spanish translation). Briggs herself quotes Marias's argument for the cross-fertilisation between translation and writing novels:If I ever had my own creative writing school I would only admit people who could translate. And I would make them do it over and over again.Javier Marias, interview in the Guardian 2013 (https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...) The debate in the TLS culminatd with Lowe-Porter's two surviving daughters writing in with a copy of a letter their mother had written, in 1943, to her publisher, saying that since her work is under attack at this time, it is appropriate that she should retrospectively be given the chance to air her philosophy.. The letter is worth reading in full (https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/pr...) but includes her carefully considered approach that:Another principle that I have, which I may just mention, because a lot of people mightn’t agree with it, is what I call substitution. Each language has its own genius, though some are more alike than others in their genesis and growth. I may come on a fine idiomatic or allusive phrase in the German and find that the English just does not lend itself to the same effect. But perhaps another sentence elsewhere in the text can display the same kind of literary virtue in English, where it did not happen in the German. I consider it justifiable to take advantage of the fact. But it makes the job of the reviewer harder. He has to look at the whole, not pick out sentences, if he means to judge the translation at all.The book is, while erudite, generally highly readable and mercifully free of footnotes, although Briggs does, in an appendix, acknowledge various sources. As she explains: It seemed impossible for me to write an essay about translation (as a form of close and long-term engagement with the work of others) without engaging very closely and at length with the work of others. I have done this in a variety of ways: citation, translation and citation, translation and paraphrase, translating and writing into and out of the passage at hand, writing and speaking with someone else’s words or letting someone else’s words write and speak their way through me. And indeed Briggs's sources range wide: for example among my own favourites Javier Marias, Lydia Davis's summaries of the pleasures of translation, Elena Ferrante - who figures as both an author (the decision she made not to actually use Neopolitan dialect in her novels but instead to signal that the character were doing so) and essayist (her infatuation and desire to take possession of a single sentence in Madame Bovary) - as well as the translator Anita Raja, and Virginia Woolf and her radio lecture on "Craftsmanship" (which is also the only surviving recording of her voice - www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-art...)“But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look again at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems more lovely than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love, and mating together” (http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/2016...)The parts of the book making specific references to Barthes lecture were the least appealing to me. Firstly, one accesses Barthes thoughts doubly-second hand - in Briggs's comments on her own translation; this makes for a good extended metaphor on the art of translation but a less satisfactory reading experience. The topic of Barthes lectures are, themselves, also of less personal interest, i.e. this book didn't stimulate me to search out the original. He divides readers into two categories based on the nature of their pleasure in reading: “The absolute pleasure of adolescent reading, immersed in a classic novel, the absolute satisfaction of reading, in exactly the sense that we read without wanting to do likewise” “The pleasure of reading that is already tormented by the desire to do the same, in other words by a lack.” (Briggs translation) And his lectures are rather addressed to those in the 2nd camp - those who through their reading are inspired to themselves write. Not only I am in the 1st group, but I would also take serious issue with the pejorative use of the word 'adolescent', which implies an immaturity that to me sits at least as well with the 2nd attitude of mind: it rather misses the case of the careful reader who analyses and discusses the work, yet still has no desire to write his or her own version: we might call this person the Goodreader! Briggs describes how Barthes refers to a reader who he sat next to on a bus who was engaged - in underlining - conscientiously, with a ruler and a black Biro - ‘every single one of the lines’ in the book he was reading, which reminds me of how I would revise my maths lecture notes and indeed for some of my favourite books how my reviews can start to look (particularly if I have a Kindle copy). Although Barthes 2nd case does fit neatly into the work of translation, the attentive reader so careful that they want to rewrite the book itself sentence by sentence, in another language. Shades of Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote. Overall a fascinating, highly personal in many respects but also very important work about a topic - literary translation - that is of vital importance to our culture. Excerpts: http://www.thewhitereview.org/feature... https://fitzcarraldoeditions.com/book... Interview: http://www.musicandliterature.org/fea... Reviews: http://review31.co.uk/article/view/52... https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/pr... http://www.musicandliterature.org/rev... https://mapmagazine.co.uk/little-art

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katia N

    Kate Briggs has created a wonderful case study about the experience of translating a text. While working on the translation of Barthes’s “The preparation of the novel”, she explores the translation as a cultural phenomena, a craft, a profession and, yes, an art. The book is called “A little art” as a quote from Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter , a translator of The Magic Mountain. Briggs follows her work in this book as well as the relationship between Andre Gide and Dorothy Bussy his English translator Kate Briggs has created a wonderful case study about the experience of translating a text. While working on the translation of Barthes’s “The preparation of the novel”, she explores the translation as a cultural phenomena, a craft, a profession and, yes, an art. The book is called “A little art” as a quote from Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter , a translator of The Magic Mountain. Briggs follows her work in this book as well as the relationship between Andre Gide and Dorothy Bussy his English translator of 30 years (the writer by herself and also apparently the lover of E. M. Foster). In this essay, we also find out a lot about the text Briggs is working on and Barthes himself. Briggs shows us what she is thinking and how is she going about the process of translation. For example, to get closer to the text she decides to read everything Barthes was reading while working on his lectures. It is evident how the original text and its author shapes her thoughts even in her daily life. She uses the verb “to write” i.e. “writing a translation” rather than translating. This implies that to translate one need to be a skilful writer by herself. In fact, she mentions many example of the prominent writers and thinkers who were translating the works from other languages. For example, a famous Russian poet, the Nobel laureate, Boris Pasternak translated a lot of Shakespeare, Goethe and Rilke among others; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak translated ‘Of Grammology” a huge work by Derrida almost straight after it was published. She wanted the English speaking world to read it as soon as possible and thought she is best placed to write a translation. According to Briggs, Javier Marias, said he would rather put aspiring writers to translate major literary works instead of trying to teach them creative writing. Another theme is never-ending debate between the supporters of literal translation versus imaginative use of the language the work is being rendered into. Apparently, Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter was severely criticised posthumously for the mistakes and interpretations made in her translation. The debate was so heated that her daughters felt the need to support her position with some of her personal letters. But her translation was very well received by the public and it is still in print. I am aware of another recent controversy around Deborah Smith translating “TheVegetarian” https://www.theguardian.com/books/boo.... I am personally of course for creativity, as soon as the general intention of the original is still there. But sometimes, I read something in English translated from Russian and I seriously wonder about the translator’s decision. The recent example is Chekhov’s Драма на Охоте ( literary “Drama during the hunting”). The title is pointing towards a dramatic accident, namely the murder which takes place during the hunting. And this title was rendered as “The Shooting party”. Why? Biggs essay is much wider than the process of translation per se. She muses on writing and reading in general: “The reading offers us occasions for inappropriate improbable identification.”  And, what is more valuable: decoding the words or the time when we raise our heads from the page for a moment and look into the space? For those of us who speak more than one language at home raising bilingual family or use many languages at work, the translation is a daily life as well as a daily magic. This book is giving a wonderful insight into this magic. In my view, the literature in translation enormously enriches and even shapes the literature of the country-recipient. So I hope, that the trend of increasing volume of books in translation will become much more pronounced, especially in English speaking universe.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is a book that I have had on the to-read wishlist for a long time, and finally picked up during one of Fitzcarraldo's recent sales. It is impossible to resist comparing it with David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, as both books are largely about the experiences, pitfalls and evaluation of the literary translation process, but that comparison is a very superficial one, as Briggs takes a very different and personal approach, inspired by Roland This is a book that I have had on the to-read wishlist for a long time, and finally picked up during one of Fitzcarraldo's recent sales. It is impossible to resist comparing it with David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, as both books are largely about the experiences, pitfalls and evaluation of the literary translation process, but that comparison is a very superficial one, as Briggs takes a very different and personal approach, inspired by Roland Barthes, whose lecture series was her first major translation project. Apart from Barthes, the other main figures in the book is Helen Lowe-Porter, who was the first English translation of several Thomas Mann novels, not least The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) and Dorothy Bussy, who translated Gide. Briggs sympathises with Lowe-Porter, and to some extent defends her from recent critics, while acknowledging that there are inevitably oversights and personal choices involved in any translation. This is a very impressive book, and an enjoyable and stimulating read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tommi

    In short vignettes spanning some 370 pages, Kate Briggs explores what it means to translate literary works. She herself has translated Roland Barthes’ lecture notes from French to English, a process which comprises one of the main strands of This Little Art, but there is a lot of interesting discussion on, for instance, Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann’s works into English and the lively yet hostile debate her translations engendered, involving even Lowe-Porter’s surviving daughte In short vignettes spanning some 370 pages, Kate Briggs explores what it means to translate literary works. She herself has translated Roland Barthes’ lecture notes from French to English, a process which comprises one of the main strands of This Little Art, but there is a lot of interesting discussion on, for instance, Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann’s works into English and the lively yet hostile debate her translations engendered, involving even Lowe-Porter’s surviving daughters who defended their mother in the Times Literary Supplement as late as 1996, i.e. some 70 years after Lowe-Porter had translated Mann’s most famous novels. Brigg’s tangential essay is a fascinating read, an honest and thoughtful account of translation, a book not far from a novel actually. Definitely recommended even if you’re not a translator, as it offers a lot of interesting commentary on writing, sense-making, and language. I timed my reading of it well, as I’m currently reading through the Man Booker International longlist. Perhaps, thanks to Briggs, I now won’t forget to #namethetranslator as I type my next reviews.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bert

    Once I quoted from a book in translation and was approached by the translator to state her name as well. I would have blushed if she was actually sitting in front of me, not so much out of shame but because of my respect for her litle art. Since then my reading always takes the translator into account. Even so much that I select books by translator. Kate Briggs translated some of Roland Barthes's lecture and seminar notes. I am familiar with Barthes. I have read some of Barthes's works in Englis Once I quoted from a book in translation and was approached by the translator to state her name as well. I would have blushed if she was actually sitting in front of me, not so much out of shame but because of my respect for her litle art. Since then my reading always takes the translator into account. Even so much that I select books by translator. Kate Briggs translated some of Roland Barthes's lecture and seminar notes. I am familiar with Barthes. I have read some of Barthes's works in English translation. Now I've finished 'This Little Art' I am no longer sure how familiar I am exactly with Barthes. Have I read Barthes's works? Of course I have. But when I will read them again, or any other of his works, my reading will be no longer the same. I will be reading another Barthes. My Barthes. The translators Barthes. Our Barthes. Barthes's Barthes. No Barthes. Thinking this I start to make myself believe I have reasons to prefer a translation above the original work. Because the translators words never change. (But then again I do not know and I doubt this is really preferable.) "Unlike most books about translation, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art does not ask what is lost in the journey from one language to another. Rather, it turns to the reader, the translator or potential translator, and asks, what have you found in the practice of translation? As Kate puts it in this conversation, “Of all the things that you might do in a life, why do this?” Why would translation be the form that someone’s writing would wish to take, and what possibilities, what unique and private pleasures, can this desire lead to? The result is not only a generous and wonderfully subversive re-orientation of a discourse often limited to notions of fidelity and failure, but also a celebration of translation’s embeddedness in life. Based on her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s late lecture courses, La Préparation du Roman and Comment vivre ensemble (as The Preparation of the Novel [2010] and How to Live Together [2012], respectively), Kate Briggs thinks through the ‘preparation of the translation,’ the complex and ever singular interplay between a life and a (re)writing project, using everything from Barthes’s own examples of The Magic Mountain and Robinson Crusoe to aerobics classes and misheard Madonna lyrics. The stories of two women translators—Helen Lowe-Porter, who first brought Thomas Mann into English and made his reputation abroad, only to later be maligned by a new generation of critics, and Dorothy Bussy, André Gide’s devoted friend, translator, and correspondent for over thirty years—endow the book with a passion and depth of character to rival a novel. That the reader could find her heart skipping a beat at an astonishing moment in the Gide/Bussy correspondence, even as an insight into translation, quietly building for pages, suddenly bursts into her awareness, is a testament to Briggs’s skill as a writer and thinker, and—for me, at least—a reminder of the love at the heart of the word ‘philosophy.’ (Madeleine LaRue on 'This Little Art') On musicandliterature.org I read a Skype conversation between Kate Briggs and Madeleine LaRue, I couldn't find a better introduction to 'This Little Art': "Waiting Translations: A Conversation with Kate Briggs" http://www.musicandliterature.org/fea... (20-11-2017, Music and Literature) "Yes, that is definitely the central question: Why do translations? So often, the answer to that question, the one we hear all the time is: because they’re necessary, the world needs them, because translation a good thing to do. Brilliant. Yes. We need translations, of course we do, perhaps now more than ever. But a different, and to my mind equally important question has to be: okay, but why would you write a translation? Of all the things that you might do in a life, why do this? Especially when—clearly this has radically changed even since we first met five years ago, in terms of the new visibility and celebration of translators in our current moment—but even with these fantastic changes, there’s still a question of why, for instance, translate a novel rather than write one? And I don’t feel like the answer that says, “because it’s a good thing to do” is adequate. I don’t want to play down those motives of generosity to or engagement with the world, clearly. But they don’t account for everything. I don’t think they’re necessarily reason enough to invite more people to do more translation. Which is absolutely my ambition in the book, to say: look, perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you, monolingual person, to do a translation, but you could. I really think you could. Perhaps even you should? Perhaps translation, the writing of translations, amateurishly, is an activity available to all of us—this is one of the propositions of the book: one that could be productive for more of us, to engage with at one time or another. (Kate Brigss)

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Smith

    A sort of undefinable essay on translation that makes you rethink what a book could be.

  8. 5 out of 5

    enricocioni

    You also don’t have to be a translator to enjoy this book. Certainly this is the perfect book for someone, like me, who is just getting started in the world of translation, and I suspect more experienced translators would find many gems here as well. But if you don’t translate but love reading, this book might be for you, too. Obviously, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work of translation–something than doesn’t usually get much more than a token nod from the reviews and You also don’t have to be a translator to enjoy this book. Certainly this is the perfect book for someone, like me, who is just getting started in the world of translation, and I suspect more experienced translators would find many gems here as well. But if you don’t translate but love reading, this book might be for you, too. Obviously, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work of translation–something than doesn’t usually get much more than a token nod from the reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations that move us to read a book, or the conversations, essays, and interviews that we seek to figure out a book after we’ve finished it. But, less obviously, this book might also inspire you to think differently about literature and reading quite apart from the “little art” of translation, through ruminations on, for example, what it means to identify with an author or a character in a novel, why we keep coming back to the same books over and over again, why reading inspires some to write but not others, and what it is exactly about certain sentences that moves us so. For my full review, head over to my blog, Strange Bookfellows: https://strangebookfellowsblog.wordpr...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I barely have the words to express how much I loved this or what I loved about this. At times, it felt so specific (who is Barthes?) I would ask myself, "why am I reading this?", and then there'd come a bit that would make me go, wow. I've always loved translating, and writing down things I've read, in pieces of paper and pretty notebooks and my phone's notes app, and I could never really put into words why. "What is missing is me: my action, my further activity. These lines are not mine; I know I barely have the words to express how much I loved this or what I loved about this. At times, it felt so specific (who is Barthes?) I would ask myself, "why am I reading this?", and then there'd come a bit that would make me go, wow. I've always loved translating, and writing down things I've read, in pieces of paper and pretty notebooks and my phone's notes app, and I could never really put into words why. "What is missing is me: my action, my further activity. These lines are not mine; I know that. The point is: I didn't write it myself." Even quoting the book as I write this review is a case in point. This feeling, it has always been simply me wanting to make something more mine. It's the arrogance of thinking something is so good, it could only feel better if I had made it. It's wanting to participate, to have a little bit of me in it, my words in my language, my handwriting, changing it minimally and thus holding it closer to my heart. I am so thankful for this book for giving me the words to say this. And reading this part was such a special experience, I immediately went to tweet about it, and in the very next paragraph she went: "Now there's Twitter: a space for adding yourself actively to the lines you love". Genuinely mindblowing. I'm starting to dip my toes into the study of translation and I feel like this has helped me understand the why so much better. (Do translations! Yes, yes, and absolutely.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marina Sofia

    Perfect timing for me to read this book, as I start out on doing literary translation professionally. Have stuck notes on nearly every page!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca H.

    I wrote about this book here: https://readingindie.substack.com/p/t... I wrote about this book here: https://readingindie.substack.com/p/t...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    The concept for this essay is initially intriguing if you’re interested in the art of translation, but many of the ideas and thoughts become repetitive. The printing style was also confusing to me, as it was choppily spread out, leaving no way to distinguish between new topics. I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if it was more succinct.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    a loosely arranged set of objects around the subject of translation. translation as partnership, translation as love, translation as the maieutic, risk-taking, pragmatic, responsibility-taking voice of the woman, the mother, the maiden, the midwife. Gide, Barthes, Mann, but more importantly their translators: Dorothy Bussy, Kate Briggs, Helen Lowe-Porter.

  14. 5 out of 5

    aisu

    lads today we ARE crying over translation theory and the life and work and loves of bloomsbury bisexual dorothy bussy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dongowski

    This is a delightfully rambling and simultaneously very acute meditation on what translating, translation and switching between languages may tell about understanding, meaning, reading, and language. It tackles the very big questions, but does this in a resolutely individual gesture, clinging to seemingly minor and / or intimate details and highly individual experiences. I particularly liked how Briggs writes and thinks about translation as a highly gendered practice and how this relates to our This is a delightfully rambling and simultaneously very acute meditation on what translating, translation and switching between languages may tell about understanding, meaning, reading, and language. It tackles the very big questions, but does this in a resolutely individual gesture, clinging to seemingly minor and / or intimate details and highly individual experiences. I particularly liked how Briggs writes and thinks about translation as a highly gendered practice and how this relates to our culture’s disparaging of being an amateur, an a-professional. You don’t have to know one bit about Barthes to read this book (it’s nominally a book about translating Roland Barthes lecture notes) & get into thinking your own thoughts about translating, reading, understanding. You just have to be a reader who likes attention to details. Very close attention to details.

  16. 5 out of 5

    isabella

    very good, very artfully written longform essay abt translation. i am now in love w the fitzcarraldo publishing house!!! i love how she used roland barthes thoughout this even if he hardly wrote about translation, she always managed to use his clever metaphors to explain her points. however comma after the 150 page mark it got a little repetitive, i feel like her strongest points were in the first few chapters. also as someone who translates and thinks about translation a fair bit, some of these very good, very artfully written longform essay abt translation. i am now in love w the fitzcarraldo publishing house!!! i love how she used roland barthes thoughout this even if he hardly wrote about translation, she always managed to use his clever metaphors to explain her points. however comma after the 150 page mark it got a little repetitive, i feel like her strongest points were in the first few chapters. also as someone who translates and thinks about translation a fair bit, some of these points were a bit obvious

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dani Dányi

    Another for the "did-not-finish" stack. In fact I'm really frustrated, this essay is really circumlocatious, i.e. it's not really going anywhere, but with enormous verbose gusto. Irritating more than anything. There must be some other way to talk about this stuff! Another for the "did-not-finish" stack. In fact I'm really frustrated, this essay is really circumlocatious, i.e. it's not really going anywhere, but with enormous verbose gusto. Irritating more than anything. There must be some other way to talk about this stuff!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    I would give it 6 stars if I could. The book I wish I’d read while I was studying translation in uni. I’ll probably read it another 100 times.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Feng

    I thought the conceit of the book was just fascinating and poetic – a genre-bending personal/critical essay on translation as its own art, and its expressive/relational nature. the author references (among many other things) Barthes’s notion of “the discourse of the anecdote”: to speak in generalities would be too imprecise to be useful, and specificity arises from a desire to be “tactful” to a subject/idea. I like this idea a lot too, but when applied as an overriding principle (and coupled with I thought the conceit of the book was just fascinating and poetic – a genre-bending personal/critical essay on translation as its own art, and its expressive/relational nature. the author references (among many other things) Barthes’s notion of “the discourse of the anecdote”: to speak in generalities would be too imprecise to be useful, and specificity arises from a desire to be “tactful” to a subject/idea. I like this idea a lot too, but when applied as an overriding principle (and coupled with Briggs’s fragmented style – as if she were only daydreaming an argument bits at a time, and in between scattered examples) it reads a bit loose. which was frustrating to me because I thought her points were interesting, and her anecdotes really compelling (the Gide-Bussy correspondence is especially stirring), but altogether I felt the writing never gained enough traction so as to leave a lasting/concentrated impression. some of the most penetrating passages were quotations/paraphrases of other thinkers (Barthes hovers over the entire thing; the author draws much from her own experience translating that philosopher’s work), and especially toward the end of the book I felt like an outsized proportion of the actual prose was that of other thinkers (and the author’s own reckoning with – and bringing together into counterpoint of – these sources was pretty thin). it ended up not being as “personal” an essay than I was hoping for, though the idea of translation as a personal practice is strongly upheld throughout (just most convincingly by other people). so I dunno. I guess if I were Kate Briggs (and I recognize I am not!) I would have done it differently. another reader commented that it could have been more concise and kind of rambles at its current length and I’m inclined to agree. there are moments of real poetry and warmth and brilliance but on the whole I found it a little dilute.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Perfect for me: an essay about translation, which is also an essay about Kate Briggs, and about a whole bunch of great books and a whole bunch of interesting translators, largely women (whither Margaret Jull Costa in this book?!). It's beautifully written. It's essayistic and has short sections. I am old and can only deal with short sections, and can only be bothered reading beautiful prose. This book was so targeted at me that I didn't even mind Briggs' love for Roland Barthes, whom I find incr Perfect for me: an essay about translation, which is also an essay about Kate Briggs, and about a whole bunch of great books and a whole bunch of interesting translators, largely women (whither Margaret Jull Costa in this book?!). It's beautifully written. It's essayistic and has short sections. I am old and can only deal with short sections, and can only be bothered reading beautiful prose. This book was so targeted at me that I didn't even mind Briggs' love for Roland Barthes, whom I find increasingly irritating and whose appeal I find incomprehensible. I look forward to flicking back through this when I'm 80, when I'm even grumpier than I am now (as well as long before then).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Minna

    wowowowow this is essential reading for anyone with any interest at all in literary translation/languages/writing/anything, so thoughtful and personal and just great

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rob Sassor

    Barthes once said, “there comes a time when what you’ve done, written ... looks like repeated material, doomed to repetition, to the lassitude of repetition.” I know he said this (or something like it) because Kate Briggs translated that edition of his lecture notes. If Barthes could read her latest work, “This Little Art,” a treatise on translation, he might appreciate that his works are destined to repeat as translators remake his work with tactful care, over and over again; not because the wo Barthes once said, “there comes a time when what you’ve done, written ... looks like repeated material, doomed to repetition, to the lassitude of repetition.” I know he said this (or something like it) because Kate Briggs translated that edition of his lecture notes. If Barthes could read her latest work, “This Little Art,” a treatise on translation, he might appreciate that his works are destined to repeat as translators remake his work with tactful care, over and over again; not because the work changes, but because our languages, our literary sensibilities, and our understanding of the art of translation changes. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ “...the difference between doing something again in the name of newness and doing something new in the name of againness.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Just finished reading it for the second time, the first time was during my first semester of translation studies (bachelor), now that İ'm in my third master semester İ decided to revisit it. The beauty of this book comes from it being so different from other pop-science takes on translation. İnstead of looking at instances of translation to find a general rule of how one should translate, an all-purpose explanation, it asks: how does it feel to translate, what does it mean to translate? When are Just finished reading it for the second time, the first time was during my first semester of translation studies (bachelor), now that İ'm in my third master semester İ decided to revisit it. The beauty of this book comes from it being so different from other pop-science takes on translation. İnstead of looking at instances of translation to find a general rule of how one should translate, an all-purpose explanation, it asks: how does it feel to translate, what does it mean to translate? When are we aware of translation, how does translation operate (in society, in our own minds)? Barthes is quoted describing the all-purpose explanation as a "breach of the principle of tact", in adherence to this terminology İ will describe this book as the most tactful pop-academic handling of the topic of translation İ've encountered so far.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scout

    I read this book pretty slowly, in fits and starts, but that should by no means be viewed as a negative. This Little Art expands well beyond a case study of the author's translation of "The Preparation of the Novel" by Roland Barthes, and grows to encompass an entire framework of the beauties and challenges of the whole "little art" of translation. It also reaches out tendrils to touch on poetry, novel-writing, parenthood, and the lives of women and translators in general. I found the parts about I read this book pretty slowly, in fits and starts, but that should by no means be viewed as a negative. This Little Art expands well beyond a case study of the author's translation of "The Preparation of the Novel" by Roland Barthes, and grows to encompass an entire framework of the beauties and challenges of the whole "little art" of translation. It also reaches out tendrils to touch on poetry, novel-writing, parenthood, and the lives of women and translators in general. I found the parts about Helen Lowe-Porter, Robinson Crusoe's table, and particularly Andre Gide and Dorothy Bussy, the most interesting in the book. Overall, a contemplative and thought-provoking read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    I couldn't recommend a better contemporary reflection on translation and writing. Though perhaps an interest in writing is needed to be interested enough by it, I would recommend it to anyone as a meditation on the "doing" of any one action in particular. I couldn't recommend a better contemporary reflection on translation and writing. Though perhaps an interest in writing is needed to be interested enough by it, I would recommend it to anyone as a meditation on the "doing" of any one action in particular.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Apoorva

    Beautiful fucking love letter to literary translation.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mihaela B.

    It's a good thing I already love translating, otherwise reading this book might have talked me out of it. :)) It's a good thing I already love translating, otherwise reading this book might have talked me out of it. :))

  28. 5 out of 5

    Wally Wood

    The little art Kate Briggs writes about is translation. She attributes the description to Helen Lowe-Porter, the first translator of Hermann Mann’s Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain. Briggs’s book is an extraordinarily rich series of meditations—I hesitate to call them essays, some are no more than a sentence—on writing, literature, translation. Briggs herself is a translator and, based on the evidence within This Little Art, was simultaneously translating Ronald Barthes’s The Preparation of th The little art Kate Briggs writes about is translation. She attributes the description to Helen Lowe-Porter, the first translator of Hermann Mann’s Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain. Briggs’s book is an extraordinarily rich series of meditations—I hesitate to call them essays, some are no more than a sentence—on writing, literature, translation. Briggs herself is a translator and, based on the evidence within This Little Art, was simultaneously translating Ronald Barthes’s The Preparation of the Novel as she wrote the book. Because I’ve never read Barthes, Briggs’s writing about him and her engagement with his lecture notes has piqued my interest; I now have two books of his waiting on my to-read shelf. Until I began doing it I never gave translation much thought. With my interest in things Japanese, I was aware I could not have read Kawabata, Mishima, or Tanizaki without their translators. I heard the rumor that Kawabata would not have won the Nobel Prize in 1968 (the first Japanese to do so) had the judges not been able to read his works in translation. But what is there to say about it this little art? One so little that publishers occasionally leave the translator’s name off a book’s cover. As it turns out there’s lots to say. And Briggs says a lot to say and says it well: “When I teach translation (I am a translator and a writer and a tutor), I am often surprised by how often students are surprised to discover that translating involves writing, that its most vital prerequisite is an interest in writing, for the reason that written translations have to be written.” That made me wonder whether it is possible be a good translator and a poor writer? How do translations fail (other than misunderstanding the original)? My questions provoked a lively discussion among a private translators group on Facebook. But what does a translator do these days in contrast, apparently, to the time when the goal was replace every word in the original language (then usually Greek or Latin) with an equivalent English word. (Do that and you get something like: “The friends him they abandon, the father not approve the his decision, only the mother him is close” from “Gli amici lo abbandonano, il padre non approva la sua decisione, solo la madre gli è vicina.”) Briggs quotes Douglas Robinson: “Translators are never, and should never be forced to be (or to think of themselves as), neutral, impersonal transferring devices. Translators’ personal experiences—emotions, motivations, attitudes, associations—are not only allowable in the formation of a working [translation], they are indispensable.” She says that the translator knows that the work “she is translating is not hers: she knows that it didn’t originate with her; it not something that she has already written or said.” Indeed, she may believe she’s not capable of writing something like the original, “and perhaps this is part of its appeal.” Barthes cites Julio Cortázar, who translated Defoe into Spanish, as writing, “I would advise a young writer who is having difficulty writing—if it’s friendly to offer advice—that he should stop writing for himself for a while and do translation; that he should translate good literature and one day he will discover that he is writing with an ease he didn’t have before.” This Little Art is not light reading (or not for me). It raises all kinds of interesting questions. What do you do if you are translating from the German (or whatever) and a character speaks briefly in French (or whatever)? Leave the French and trust your English-speaking readers will get the gist? Translate it into English and tag it “she said in French”? (To indicate characters were speaking Japanese in one of my novels, I italicized that dialogue rather than tag it. I’m not sure that works either.) What do you do if you’re translating Barthes (or whoever) into English and he himself translates into French Japanese haiku that have already been translated into English—and he does not cite a source? Briggs managed to identify the source and then struggled to identify the poems Barthes translated. She then apparently went back to the English. Forget the original Japanese. But while This Little Art may not be light reading, it is certainly worth reading if you have any interest in translation, writing, or literature. Indeed it’s worth reading more than once. And although it does not have an index or a bibliography, it does have extensive notes with enough citations to keep a diligent student occupied for a good long while.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adam Lowy

    This Little Art/ Kate Briggs A free flowing inventive essay on translation but by discussing “ this little art”, Briggs speculates on reading, the drive to create, relationships Translation as a prism for we understand and misunderstand each other On translation and the inevitable wrongness, and hence always ok-ness of it. The slippage of language that Derrida writes of ( does he? or does his translator....wonderful passage of Derrida being mid-translated in On Grammatology, with embarrasser being This Little Art/ Kate Briggs A free flowing inventive essay on translation but by discussing “ this little art”, Briggs speculates on reading, the drive to create, relationships Translation as a prism for we understand and misunderstand each other On translation and the inevitable wrongness, and hence always ok-ness of it. The slippage of language that Derrida writes of ( does he? or does his translator....wonderful passage of Derrida being mid-translated in On Grammatology, with embarrasser being translated as ‘to be embarrassed ‘ as opposed to ‘to be entangled in’ or ‘ caught up by’). All ends up being about these relationships....English reader with Mann, but rather with his translator, or with the inter subject between Mann and translator...and on it goes...to Briggs own translations of Barthes lectures where he moves from Death of the Author to being more interested in about the author ( Conversations with Kafka...a book that has been criticized as a translation..mistranslation?...of Kafka’s life...over Kafka’s work)..my mind wanders , as great books do often, particularly of this topic. She writes of Murdoch’s Under the Net with its translator hero after her desire to film her dance- exercise class, to capture the fun and passion of that, a translation of sorts. I think of , what must be a heroic effort, John Woods’s translation of Bottom’s Dream, a massive chaotic work about trying to translate Poe into German. Are there “ mistakes “ buried in Woods’s translation? Will anyone ever look, or care? Should we? ...I think of the story in Ellman’s Joyce of the author, due to closing blindness, narrating Finnegan’s Wake to Beckett . When someone knocks at the door and asks if he should bring in tea, Joyce’s answers ( “ Come in...yes...place it here” ...or something like this..) are unknowingly recorded by Beckett and placed in the text. On rereading ( hearing the scribe’s work narration), Joyce recognizes what happened and states, “ Let it stand.” Quotes: “I would argue that this what reading offers us: occasions for inappropriate, improbable identification.” (From U and I quoting Gilbert Murray’s intro to Ancient Greek Literature)’for the past ten years at least, hardly a day has passed on which Greek poetry has not occupied a large part of my thoughts, hardly one deep or valuable emotion has come into my life which has not been caused, or interpreted, or bettered by Greek poetry.’

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brae

    "Intellectuals in particular never talk about their craft. It's as if they didn't really have one, as if the term didn't pertain to them: they have ideas, positions, with no craft!" funnily, that describes how i felt about this book. not that it was bad at all--i enjoyed "amateur translators" in particular, and the history of translators and the historical dismissal of their artistry and labor, and the discussion on how misogyny that played into that, and particularly some of the technical cases "Intellectuals in particular never talk about their craft. It's as if they didn't really have one, as if the term didn't pertain to them: they have ideas, positions, with no craft!" funnily, that describes how i felt about this book. not that it was bad at all--i enjoyed "amateur translators" in particular, and the history of translators and the historical dismissal of their artistry and labor, and the discussion on how misogyny that played into that, and particularly some of the technical cases of translation problems she brings up she support her ideas. i think my issue was that i wanted more and deeper of any of those things: more history; more analysis of social and cultural power dynamics involved in translation (she brings up how much power translators can hold over authors, particularly those who translate from less-privileged languages... and then doesn't really explore that, which is fair enough, but that was the thing i was most interested in!); more pickings-apart of specific translation cases; and a little less of the repetitive, meanderly navel-gazing about the Nature of Art or Craft or whathaveyou (which is still important, and i suppose necessary work when you're setting out to defend translation As An Art, but maybe not something i feel particularly anxious about? and so it kind of missed me, personally.) i don't want anyone to think this is a negative review, though! the final chapter ("who refuses to let go of her translation...") is brilliant and really tied the whole thing together. the story told in bussy and gide's letters, and briggs' learned explication of it, inspired a lot of pathos in me ("forever yours"!) , such that i hunted down a selection of their letters to read for my own pleasure. i anticipate that the background philosophical considerations that briggs brings to the table will augment that experience quite a bit.

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