BY MARK SARVAS
Event: Make it New: Retranslate Great Literature
Participants: Mary Ann Caws, Edith Grossman, Charles Martin, Mark Polizzotti; moderated by Michael Scammell
Attendance: Spotty - less than 30 or so. (The remote Columbia University setting didn't help.)
Logline: Great translators considering - and reconsidering - the great works.
Impressions: Another smart, lively event, woefully underattended and marred only by moderator Scammell's lamentable fixation with Columbia politics (far too much time given over to complaining that translation doesn't count as publication for Columbia professors; cry us a river). Sponsored by the Center for Literary Translation.
Highlights: The Tobias Smollett translation of Don Quixote is "a classic in its own right" ... Pope's translation of Homer is "unfaded" ... The market for translation of classics is textbook driven, hence the proliferation of Ovid ... Agreement that knowledged of the "target language" of the translation is more important the knowledge of the native language ... Grossman mentioning the "madwoman" who suggested to her that nothing should be read in translation at the graduate level ... The statistic that there are 6,000 languages in the world, 2,000 of which are written ... "Academics are the only people who talk about the 'canon' " - Grossman (She thinks the "canon" will vary by country and culture.) ... Pindar is untranslatable ... Grossman bought up every copy of her first translation when the publisher changed her speakers into "Spanish Spanish" with the upshot that Colombia peasants spoke as if they were in Madrid.
Event: Pico Iyer in Conversation with Hal Wake
Participants: Pico Iyer, Hal Wake
Attendance: Strong - more than 50.
Logline: Reflections from a great travel writer and citizen of the world.
Impressions: Iyer was a fantastic panelist, lively, charming and erudite. The brief one-hour lecture was a self-contained trip around the world, utterly in keeping with PEN's theme of Home and Away.
Highlights: Of Tamil origin, Iyer recently visited Sri Lanka just as a cease fire fell apart ... He believes in the idea of talking to our so-called "enemies" - "How fragile the notion of enmity is." ... He notes that travel isn't always about going somewhere, that sometimes travel comes to us - thinks a great travel piece would take the form of sitting in the Port Authority ... He mentioned a piece for Harpers, which we're digging up, in which he spent two weeks at LAX ... "Encounters in an airport are as exotic as anything on Easter Island" ... Home became a particularly poignant idea for him as he discussed his home in California burning down with the subsequent loss of all his possessions, including a book in progress ... He divides his time between California and Japan, where, he notes, "the main language they speak is silence." Here's a very brief video clip from the reading:
Event: György Konrád in Conversation
Participants: György Konrád and Ivan Sanders
Attendance: Full House - Standing Room Only
Logline: One of Hungary's great writers reflects on his life on the occasion of the release of his memoir.
Impressions: Edward Teller described a Hungarian as "someone who goes into a revolving door behind you and comes out in front you." Just as the panel was about to begin, the hosts pulled back the dais and added another row a seats - a new front row - right in front of all of those who showed up early. We couldn't help but laugh. Only the Hungarians would do that. Despite his broken English, and a moderator more intent on speaking than listening, Konrad gave an engaging talk about his life writing through the tumultuous second half of the twentieth century.
Highlights: Konrad read the opening in Hungarian (video below) and then actor Peter Hecht gave a stirring reading in English ... Konrad reminsced about Pantheon founds Kurt and Helen Wolff (she edited him, he edited Kafka), who "had the conviction that writers and publishers are companions" ... "Without paradox, there is no literature ... no irony ... no ambiguity" ... 2,000 Hungarian emigres are now professors ... Here's Konrad, reading from the first chapter: