Book Review: Translation as Transhumance – Mireille Gansel

Posted December 14, 2017 in Print

Translation as Transhumance

Mireille Gansel

Les Fugitives Press

Mireille Gansel’s treatise on translation describes the unique working methods that she brings to the craft. For Gansel, language is tied to the land, and translation is impossible without a complete immersion into the culture that produced the text. Thus, she works with linguists, ethnologists, sculptors and veterinarians (!) to further her understanding and, in one case, learns to play the monochord in order to get a feel for the rhythm of Vietnamese poetry.

Those working in the field today may find it a rather impractical – albeit romantic – approach in the rushed modern work environment: years of extravagant travelling and research are dedicated to each project, surely a privilege not afforded to many translators of poetry. But the book never set out to be a practical manual. In outlining her humanistic approach (“my idiot method”), it functions as a history of 20th century Europe as seen through Ms Gansel’s life in translation.

How can one write in “poetic” German after WWII? How can a translator “recreate the words, structures, and rhythms of an entire oral heritage” – that of Vietnam – when U.S. troops are trying their best to obliterate it? For Gansel, the answer has to do with the avoidance of othering or exoticising; she must defamiliarise her target language to capture the nuances of the original, but without ever letting “weirdness and strangeness prevail over the human.”

“The stranger”, she concludes, ‘was not the other, it was me.”

Words – Eliza Ariadni Kalfa


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