It just doesn’t sound right...
All pics: Wikimedia Commons. The Outsider Under The Weather or The Tired Spectator?
Peter Stockwell declares that there are as many meanings as there are different contexts for different meanings, and that readings have status not objectively but relative to their circumstances (2002:2).
It is an intriguing declaration. In fact, there appears something quite final about it, when read in a particular frame of mind. Are contexts realistically countable? If not, then neither is the number of meanings. If we are unable to count meanings, surely dictionaries are pointless. And if dictionaries are pointless, then surely translations are, too. That is, if the context which produced the source text is unique, it follows that the source text is and must remain unique also...
But that is only one, somewhat existentialist reading of Stockwell.
It is an intriguing declaration, all the same, and sums up just what makes literary translation so fascinating, both in theory and as an activity. It sums up how five or ten scholars can sit around a table, consider the same piece of work, and each come up with a different translation of it. While consensus is achieved on much of the work, there will be disagreements about much of it, too. This is a generally accepted truth.
Where the real problem lies with translation, I feel, is how able one is to justify the stylistic choices one makes at any given time – if a piece of text is unique, how easy can it be? And this is in spite of the belief in one’s own interpretative choices... More difficult still, then, can be attempting to give detailed analyses of other people’s translations. Especially if and when one feels that a translator has made the ‘wrong’ choice; used the ‘wrong’ word; or the ‘wrong’ turn of phrase.
‘It just doesn’t sound right’, one might say. This is a generally accepted criticism, at least outside the field of Translation Studies.
Even so, in light of what I have come to believe, I think that such a criticism may also serve as a handy tool; a kind of get-out clause. For whenever I find myself unable to put my finger on just what it is I don’t like about a translation, when something just doesn’t sound right to me, which happens often enough, the answers sometimes present themselves at a later date, and when I least expect them to. I suppose that some aspects of a text simply take more time to assimilate than others, however long that time may be, like, say... ten or twenty years.
But might that lengthy assimilation also be down to the subtle skills of the original author? Or, to take it a step further, might certain stylistic elements of an original text be achieved without conscious choice? After all, surely an author puts down what sounds right at the time; to what point can s/he align the technical with the artistic flow?
Whatever the case may be, and in spite of the artistic impact, that which does not jump from the page on a technical level can get lost in translation.
A prime case in point for me was reading Stuart Gilbert’s translation of Albert Camus’ L’Ētranger,
the title of which Gilbert translated as The Outsider.
And by looking at both texts here, I hope to demonstrate how what just didn’t sound right in Gilbert’s translation, that niggling little something that I couldn’t put my finger on, became more apparent with only time and patience. In turn, it evidently helped clarify just what was specific to the original text.
In order to arrive at my findings, via a systematic reading of the source and translated texts, or rather by concentrating on the pivotal chapter in which Meursault,
the novel’s hero, commits the crime, by focussing on Camus’ stylistic features and on the translator’s re-working of them, I shall firstly place Camus in his rightful context. With any luck, then, one might learn a little more of just who Meursault
By putting myself in the shoes of the translator, as it were, I might equally reveal his constraints and preconceptions.
Finally, I hope to prove that Albert Camus’ stylistic choices were undoubtedly conscious ones, choices which are not so visible to the naked eye. I will suggest the same strategy in translation, which I believe to be essential to a more faithful rendition.My first reading of Albert Camus’ L’ĒtrangerL’Ētranger,
written in 1942, is about a man who kills another man by a series of five gunshots, blames his actions on the sun, and is consequently sentenced to death. Then again, one could argue that he is condemned for having shown no remorse. One might even contend that it is about a man who puts his mother into an old people’s home, learns of her passing away and never demonstrates signs of grief. He has a cup of coffee and smokes a cigarette during the watch-over. The day after the funeral, he dates a girl. To cut this long story short, he, quite simply, does not react in the way convention says he ought, and this, according to perhaps more analytical readers, is the real reason for his death-sentence.
The only comparison I was able to make with my first reading of L’Ētranger,
which was now over twenty years ago, was Jonathon Swift’s satire on human kind: Gulliver’s Travels.
However, I believe that Camus’ alien, or stranger, is more skilfully achieved. For this is no third person narrative amid Houyhnhnms
and Yahoos, Lilliputians
: it is first person narrative amid, apparently, its own kind; and one that says very little at that. But it is with this taciturnity, or discernible brevity of language, that Camus paints our stranger, or what Stuart Gilbert’s English translation calls our Outsider.
Indeed, Cyril Connolly tells us how one French critic believed that the novel’s hero “grows out of character in the last pages, when he becomes too articulate, and thus destroys the unity of the book” (1946:8). Whilst I am not convinced, there nevertheless exists a distinct shift from this general “brevity of language” to a somewhat more descriptive narration whenever Meursault
is in any kind of distress. For me, these complementary aspects help form the unity of the book. One of my aims here is to address them, from a translator’s perspective, that I might prove how vital it is that they be retained.Stuart Gilbert’s English translation, The Outsider
I stumbled upon The Outsider
roughly ten years ago. Published in 1946, it bore little resemblance to Camus’ L’Ētranger
. Not only did I find it too verbose, devoid of its simplicity, but that it lacked that alien spirit; I felt no compassion for the character. Maybe I did not, however, realise to what point these concepts were related – as Peletier du Mans once said: an author’s “spirit and wit are often bound up with his style and choice of words” (Lefevere 1992:53). My problem was that I could not get beyond the idea of the translation’s long-windedness; and I was not prepared to content myself with such a vague critique – there had to be more to it! I was not prepared to accept it as natural, that one is supposed to lose something in translation, somewhere between what I have since come to think of as the author’s cognitive state and that of the translator.Albert Camus 1913 - 1960
Camus was a Pied-Noir: a French national born in Algeria, as was the case for many until the country gained independence in 1962. What is interesting to note is that, following migration to the motherland, the community, already ousted from the country it loved, would suffer yet more resentment and an even greater sense of alienation.
Camus was also a political activist and vehemently opposed to capital punishment. He joined Combat, the French Resistance group, during World War Two and wrote for its underground paper. It was during this period that he became acquainted with the ‘existentialist writer’ Jean-Paul Sartre. Camus did not, however, enjoy the label of existentialist and preferred to be thought of as a writer whose characters experience the ‘absurd’, or, in my own terms, the search for sense in a world that proposes nothing by way of explanation, including religion. “Man”, according to Patrick McCarthy’s understanding, “needs the totality which only religion professes to offer, but religion cannot really offer it” (1988:76).
Yet if Camus portrays the meaninglessness of life, its brevity and the inevitability of death, we should not be put off by such a deceptively negative force but capitalize on it. With a universe offering no moral values, McCarthy’s interpretation is that we should create our own: “life can be a game or a play. Camus offers us as a model the actor who feels no emotions but mimes them all, who combines intensity with distance, and who acquires a large quantity of experience” (1988:77). Indeed, Connolly views L’Ētranger
as a “violent affirmation of sanity and health” (1946:6). He also infers “an anger and defiance of death and our northern emphasis upon it.” These, he says, are the two keys to Camus’ most well-known story, and I fundamentally agree. He talks of Meursault’
s sensuality, of his meaning well, and of his “profound love for life, from a bathe to a yawn”, and of his “silent gratification”. What I believe crucial to a loyal translation of the text is Connolly’s following description of Meursault:
“He lives without anxiety in a continuous present and has no need to think or to express himself” (1946:8). If a translator agrees with this, s/he should be half-way there.
Probably the most disturbing aspect of the novel for any reader, and by which, moreover, society feels endangered, is, to paraphrase Camus himself, Meursault
’s refusal to lie. He suggests that lying is not only saying that which is not, but especially saying more than it is regarding human emotions, expressing more than one feels. Meursault
does not, like the rest of us, play that game (@lalettre.com 2010).
For me, Meursault
does not necessarily understand “that game”.From a deeper analysis of the source and translation
Regarding stylistic features, then, just how does Camus achieve the sense of ‘the alien in his natural surroundings’? And where does Gilbert’s translation fall short?
The differences between the two are emphatic. Unlike with the translation, my most recent reading of the source has even led me to consider the possibilities of Meursault
as an autistic character, which would not have been recognised at the time: the way he is affected by the elements; his said blatant honesty, or perhaps more his inability to deceive; how his camera-like eye zooms in on the banal; but, most of all, his seemingly two dimensional viewpoint in its positive significance. All this is reflected in his language. Camus’ hero does not use what Connolly calls “rapid” and “colloquial” sentence structures (1946:6). Brief and plain, yes, but the reason for this misinterpretation is linked to what I believe is paramount if one is to translate it anything like faithfully: their lack of colour – that third dimension; or rather their lack of metaphor.
“metaphor = n. the application of a name or descriptive term or phrase to an object or action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable (e.g. a glaring error)” is how the Oxford Concise Dictionary (1995) defines this last term. I will return to this definition later.
I will now consider what may be looked upon as “the perceived distinctive manner of expression” (Wales 2001.)“from a bathe to a yawn”
There is already something very striking in the opening two paragraphs of the morning in question (77). Meursault
(who hereafter shall be referred to as M
in the source and MT
in the translation) is unable to wake up; Marie,
his girlfriend, needs to shake him.‘Marie’, M
tells us [...] ‘disait que j’avais « une tête d’enterrement ». ‘Marie........................‘said that I had a “funeral head”.
What we should note here is that Marie’
s use of the metaphor is in fact M’
s recorded speech, and that never does the latter use expressions of this kind throughout the whole novel – and if, according to Tabakowska (1993:7), a choice of expression is a reflection of character, and thus tells us something about the person using the expression, then it should equally tell us something about the person who does not. The metaphor is held up for the reader to view, as if our hero is bemused by such a turn of phrase.
In Gilbert’s translation, the line is reported:‘Marie told me I looked like a mourner at a funeral...’,
thus eliminating the alien effect. Curiously, MT
adds: ‘... and I certainly did feel very limp’ –
= emptiness; equating it with hunger – evoking the image of a wilted flower in September.
Near the end of the first paragraph, M
reports having told Marie,
quite simply:‘...qu’elle était belle’ – ‘that she was beautiful’ –
as one might describe a vista, while MT
has viewed her as something quite different: as looking ‘quite ravishing’,
conjuring up all sorts of imagery from rape to death, and firmly placing MT
in a particularly human context.
Whilst Gilbert opted to foreignise his translation – adhere to the original setting – i.e., ‘Madmoiselle’ – ‘Miss’ –
is left as such, one cannot help but feel that his reproduction is taking place somewhere rather north of the Mediterranean. When M
make their way downstairs, they knock on Raymond
(who shall be known hereafter as R
)’s door. R
replies:‘... qu’il descendait’ – ‘that he was coming down’.
however, he shouts that he will be with them ‘in a jiffy’. Whatever the etymology of this politely English metaphor is, no-one knows (Oxford Concise Dictionary 1995), but it has little to do with Francophone North Africa. If it did, M,
would certainly hold it up for us all to examine, as with Marie’
s funeral image.
Out in the street, M
tells us that he is troubled by the light of the sun, for having kept the blind down in his room and ‘à cause de ma fatigue’ – ‘because of my fatigue’.
He goes on to say that it strikes him like a smack in the face. The salient points to be made here are, firstly, the uncharacteristic length of the sentence – it actually constitutes four lines – and, secondly, the use of the simile: rarely does M
make such colourful comparisons, and when he does, they invariably involve the sun. Do we, then, view this as another prelude to his fate at the end of the chapter? Although he seemingly worships the sun, he often finds himself at odds with it, as we will have read in the first chapter during his mother’s burial.MT
has already personified the sun by proffering it a ‘glare’ –
like the ‘‘error’’ in the above dictionary definition of metaphor.
As for the simile, while not posing a problem in translation – we can assume that a smack is universal – it should nevertheless stand off the page, and yet the effect is lost by what precedes it: rather than plain fatigue, MT
talks of being ‘rather under the weather’.
The question here is can we consider this metaphor to be universal also? I think not. For me, the line calls to mind Connolly’s quotation about “... death and our northern emphasis upon it” – notably, Connolly follows up this description of M
by emphasizing that there is “no Nordic why-clause in his pact with nature” (1946:8). For MT’
s line also brings to mind rain, the cold, cups of hot lemon and handkerchiefs. Such a line is, in fact, what we think of as ‘dead metaphor’, though a very much living concept and one I will consider closely further on.
Moving on to a brief stop-off at page 80 in the source text, we join M, Marie
having taken the bus to the eventual scene of the crime: the beach. I cannot resist highlighting this short example since it is one that counts for many of an exact kind:R
is making jokes for Marie
senses ‘qu’elle lui plaisait’ – ‘that she was pleasing to him’.
She, nonetheless, rarely responds, and M
informs us that: ‘De temps en temps, elle le regardait en riant’ – ‘From time to time, she looked at him laughing’.
Given the ambiguity of my gloss in this instance, a better translation would be ‘... she looked at him and laughed’.
The image painted in Gilbert’s translation is very interesting indeed. For here, it is not only too colourful but false in every sense of the term:‘I could see he was attracted by her, but she hardly had a word for him. Now and again she would catch my eye and smile’
Once more, I can only put such an interpretation down to the translator’s bringing the text home, as it were, by basing it excessively on his own experiences, imagining the scene all too well, and thus allowing that imagination to run away with him – in doing so, has he, effectively, missed the essentiality of the scene? That due to Mersault’
s apparent innocence, or indifference, he fails to recognise what R’
s true feelings and motives might be? In the same way that he seemingly fails to recognise just who he is dealing with from the outset? With Gilbert’s so-called Outsider,
rather than the heat of Algiers, I picture the young trio on a bus to Piccadilly, handing round and playing around with words and eyes like they might a bag of boiled sweets.
To conclude this section, hopefully by way of forming a pattern, I shall pass by M
s having met R’
s friend Masson
and his Parisian wife at the latter’s beach bungalow. They will have bathed twice already before partaking in an early fish-lunch, along with copious amounts of wine, all in what I view as a Camusian utopia. By the bottom of page 85, the men have gone for a walk, leaving the ladies to do the dishes.M
informs us that: ‘Je ne pensais à rien parce que j’étais à moitié endormi par ce soleil sur ma tête nue’ – ‘I was thinking about nothing because I was half asleep by this sun on my bare head’. M
is one of the few characters that I have met, in life or a book, whom I truly believe when he says that he was thinking about “nothing”
. I cannot say the same for MT,
who tells us:‘I wasn’t thinking of anything, as all that sunlight beating down on my bare head made me feel half asleep’.
He does not wrap up the dead metaphor in extension, but, either way, the illusion is already far too great: the sun’s punches are always going to be ‘knocking him out’.
In case the reader of this article is still not utterly persuaded that Camus’ alien would never employ such a description as MT’
s above, but would be more likely to hold up such an expression in recorded speech, as he does with Marie’
s « une tête d’enterrement »
comment, one needs only to look below. I have taken this passage from page 28 of the first chapter, the midday funeral march:‘L’employé des pompes funèbres m’a dit alors quelque chose que je n’ai pas entendu [...]’ – ‘The undertaker told me then something that I didn’t hear/understand.’‘Je lui ai dit: « Comment? »’ – I said to him: “Sorry?”‘Il a répeté en montrant le ciel: « Ça tape »’ – ‘He repeated pointing to the sky: “It beats”’.
A better translation, of course, would be to say that it, the sun, is beating down. Where Camus has been cunning is to use of the verb entendre,
which can mean either to hear or to understand. But whatever the subtlety of meaning in this case, the fact of the matter remains that M
employs it in recorded speech. He would never use it naturally.“in crisis”
Briefly, then, I will now see how such examples affect the “complementary” passages, like the one dealing with the shooting.
As noted, it is only when his freedom is compromised – primarily when finding himself in conflict with the sun, due each time to the human influences that place him there – that M
becomes more descriptive, more colourful in expression; he narrates in a more traditionally literary fashion. And it is extremely convincing.
A fight has taken place on the beach, R
against two Arabs. M
was a spectator, while R
has ended up with superficial knife-cuts and Masson
has taken him to see a doctor ‘sur le plateau’ (88) – ‘on the ridge’. M
has now returned to the bungalow and is informing the ladies of the action. Note both how they respond and how he reacts to them:‘Mme Masson pleurait et Marie était très pâle. Moi, cela m’ennuyait de leur expliquer.‘Madam Masson cried and Marie was very pale. Me, it bored/bothered/annoyed/irritated me to explain to them. J’ai fini par me taire et j’ai fumé en regardant la mer.’
‘I finished by falling silent and smoked watching the sea.’ MT,
on the other hand, ‘didn’t much relish the task and soon dried up’ (
60), before smoking his cigarette. Try as I might, the lack of piquant sauce will always be the reason for the drying up in this particular scene. Furthermore, such blatant usage of colour in the translation will, unfortunately, play a very negative, indeed pivotal, role in what is to come. While M,
forever the spectator, is seemingly unable to comprehend their angst – we have to admit the argument is there; he certainly is unable to contend with it – The Outsider
expects as much: his difficulty is predetermined by his choice of expression – and “stylistic preferences reflect cognitive preferences” (Ohmann 1962:2).R
returns unhappy on the same page and wants to go for another walk. MT
records that:‘... he mumbled something about ‘wanting to take the air’. We [...] said we’d go with him, but he flew into a rage and told us to mind our own business’.
The second sentence is actually invented. In reality, no-one, according to M,
flies anywhere at all. What M
do, however, is follow R,
where the predictable happens: they meet the Arabs again. Another intriguing aspect to note is that, no sooner through the door, MT
relates to his English readers that: ‘It was like a furnace outside’...
After something of a stand-off, the business is seemingly over, and they return to the bungalow.
Nonetheless, at the bottom of the steps, M
has a choice to make: does he mount them and face the distraught women once more, or does he remain where he is, ‘sous la pluie aveuglante qui tombait du ciel’
(90) – ‘under the flood of blinding light falling from the sky’ (
62)? I should point out that, here, I have used Stuart Gilbert’s own translation, which is almost word-perfect. But it is also, alas, too late. And whilst M’
s line is arresting to say the least – the first of a kind since the funeral – MT’
s certainly is not, and that is because MT’
s colourful verbosity throughout the novel has prevented it from being so. And whilst we can genuinely believe that M
returns to the place of danger through lack of forethought – where he meets the Arabs a third time – MT
’s return has thus become a little too much to take.
Whether we can attribute the absence of dead metaphor in the source text to conscious choice is another question, and for now it is of no importance; or as M
says when confronted with the above dilemma: ‘cela revenait au même’ –
it came back to the same. But that does not mean to say that it is not a fascinating question. Jean Boase-Beier (2006) states that one of the purposes of stylistic analysis is to uncover unconscious choice, whose motivation may not have been apparent to the writer; she concurs with Roger Fowler (1996) that, due to social and historical influences so deeply entrenched in the way we perceive the world, it is not always possible to separate the conscious from the unconscious. I shall come back to this later, as I may then, ironically, have convinced you that Camus’ choices were unquestionably conscious ones.
That being said, M’
s ‘‘pluie aveuglante’’
cannot be considered as an example of dead – or being part of a ‘conceptual’ – metaphor per se, but belonging more to “the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980:3), the kind of metaphor one expects to see between the pages of a novel or poetry. And yet the above definition does not seem to do M’
s description justice, for one may say that, here, it has been well and truly earned. During what becomes no less than a pure battle with the sun, Camus’ readers believe every word Meursault
says, in all he sees and feels. He talks of triumphing against it, against the opaque drunkenness that the sun pours into him, of it thrusting blades into him via shells and broken glass, of how the day has thrown its anchor into an ocean of molten metal; how the light from the Arab’s knife penetrates his forehead... forcing him to shoot Raymond’s revolver, the gun that he had naively placed into his own pocket.
That also being said, one may argue that such a descriptive passage – specially the maritime image – renders M
human after all. But my argument is only that, with MT,
there is never any doubt.“the bare facts”
If “ARGUMENT IS WAR” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:4), then I may well have spent a large part of this article attacking Stuart Gilbert. I would now like to defend him.
and The Outsider
were written not all that long ago, relatively speaking, it is astounding to learn to what point views have since changed regarding the role of style – moreover, regarding how we view the world – that is, in relation to what the reader/translator recognizes to be the cognitive state of the author – though here, I am more concerned with the cognitive state of the translator. And these changing points of view have largely taken place in the last thirty years.
Regarding metaphor, a (if not the) seminal piece was published in 1980, titled Metaphors We Live By
– see above quotation. Since then, metaphor has largely been regarded in cognitive approaches as constitutive of the way we think, of the way we live, rather than as a mere linguistic, persuasive mechanism (Boase-Beier, 2002). And if I have no intention of writing a ‘complete history of up until this point’, I will at least offer a fleeting, general impression in no more than a line or two:
In Aristotle’s Poetics, his definition of metaphor is “the application to one thing of a name belonging to another thing’ (Hawkes, 1972:7) – again, not too unlike the 1995 Oxford Dictionary definition. In his Rhetoric III, he defines it as an “added extra...”, as “... the seasoning of the meat” 1972:9). One naturally wonders whether he was ever aware of his metaphorical definition of metaphor. Hawkes asks the same question when, in Poetics, Aristotle also states that language’s primary aim is to make manifest the “bare facts” of reality. Once more, he seems unable to grasp that the very phrase is metaphorical (1972:11).
It is astounding to learn how long people have been writing about metaphor, especially when one considers that such an apparently revelatory idea as “what we experience and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor” (Lakoff and Johnson, hereafter referred to as L & J, 1980:4) first appeared on the printed page a mere thirty one years ago. And while it is fair to say that English Literature was probably not ready for such a radical novel as Camus’ L’Ētranger,
and that any translator in the 1940s would have read it as, quite simply, ‘anti-style’, it is also fair to say that Stuart Gilbert would have been writing a long way away from L & J’s groundbreaking concepts.‘relishing the idea’ re-visited
So what exactly do we mean when we think of ‘dead’ and ‘conceptual’ metaphor?
For L & J, metaphor has traditionally been viewed as belonging to language alone, as being a “matter of words rather than thought or action” (1980:3). Because of this, most of us believe that we can get along fine without it. However, they also skilfully demonstrate how wrong we are, showing that metaphor “is pervasive in everyday life [...] that our ordinary conceptual system [...] is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (1980:3). Concepts governing our thought also govern our everyday functioning down to the most minute and mundane details. It is these concepts that structure how we relate to the world around us, in what we see and do. So, if our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then how we get from one day to the next is, indeed, all a matter of metaphor. It is just that we are not necessarily aware of our conceptual system (1980:3). And if language is the perfect source of evidence, and my aim is to give examples, note that all will be limited by the restricted nature of this piece of work.
As an idea of just what it means for a concept to be metaphorical and for it to contribute toward the structuring of our everyday lives, L & J offer the above illustration “ARGUMENT IS WAR” (1980:4) – and by way of support, I should add that Zoltán Kövecses’ subsequent work on the subject donates a list of well over 200 examples, from AN ABSTRACT COMPLEX SYSTEM IS THE HUMAN BODY to WASHING POWDER IS A FRIEND (281 – 285). We do not simply talk of arguments in terms of war, that is, in the way I am currently defending Stuart Gilbert, but we also win or lose them, i.e, ‘You’ll never win an argument with him, he’ll annihilate you’; ‘Don’t let him shoot you down, he’ll take over!’ What we need to remind ourselves here, however, is that while everything we do when arguing is structured by the concept of war, it is only ever an argument: we simply understand the concept in terms of another. When we talk about argument, then, we “predispose a metaphor” that we are not even conscious of (L & J 1980:5). And if L & J contend that even human thought processes are largely metaphorical (1980:6), one should not need too much convincing after Aristotle’s above definitions.
Echoing L & J’s point, Zoltán Kövecses argues that the idea of dead metaphor – or what he prefers to call any ‘metaphorical linguistic expression’ belonging to a conceptual metaphor – is a false one. That is, the claim that a metaphor may have been around so long that it has lost its vitality and consequently ceased to be a metaphor at all, hence its name – i.e., ‘the wing of a hospital’. On the contrary, he says, if they govern our thoughts, then they are “very much alive as a vital cognitive tool without which we could not live” (ix).
He is even, ostensibly, able to trace the idea of conceptual metaphor back to the first recordings of the written word, in a reading of Oedipus, and offers examples of what he sees as THE LIFE OF HUMAN BEINGS IS A DAY, as well as HUMAN LIFE IS A JOURNEY (2002:9). I will look closer to home, by thinking that LIFE IS A YEAR, via part of my favourite Shakespearian sonnet:That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
And now back to one or two of the quoted lines from Stuart Gilbert’s translation, starting with the promised:MT ‘[...] didn’t much relish the task and soon dried up’.
The line falls into one of Kövecses 200+ examples, namely IDEAS ARE FOOD.‘Now and again she would catch my eye and smile’
seems apt with SEEING IS TOUCHING.‘... but he flew into a rage...’
may belong to ANGER IS HEAT. Heat after all rises. Or HEAT IS FIRE? Or perhaps Peter Stockwell’s ANGER IS A DANGEROUS ANIMAL (2002: 110)? As one can see, the process is not always an easy one: they may fall into several categories.
And what about MT’
s feeling ‘rather under the weather’
? One could class this one as an ‘orientational metaphor’, which, according to Kövecses, has to do with “basic human spatial orientations, such as up-down etc” (2002:35). Stockwell, interestingly, suggests two possible cognitive readings for the up and down: the first being that we chop trees down because they are higher than us, while we chop wood up once it has been felled to the ground. In this case, however, I prefer his second theory: that GOOD IS UP and BAD IS DOWN. If both SICK IS DOWN, then, and LACK OF CONTROL IS DOWN – i.e., ‘She’s under my thumb’ – it should not be too difficult to see why one might use such a description for illness and depression.
In this particular case, though, while illness and depression may be classed as universal, one cannot necessarily say that each culture will define it in terms of weather. And this is what I mean when I talk of Stuart Gilbert’s “bringing the text home”. When confronted with such a stylistically radical novel as L’Ētranger,
he will have been concerned both for its English readability and for his job. And in order to maybe add a touch of the ‘‘colloquial’’, he will have considered his examples as apposite, failing to realise that, not only does this mean humanising his character but even, at times, adding “northern emphasis”.“forever the spectator”
“What you do with the lines depends very much on the context in which you find yourself with the text”, Stockwell declares (2002:2) – the opening declaration of this article qualifies this particular declaration, all of which, one might say, not only sums up my defence of Stuart Gilbert, but of each of us that ever agrees to take on a translation: we will always achieve it from our individual contexts and, thus, via our own choice of words. One needs only to think back to a night school class that we may have attended, and to the varying comments following a particular novel reading, of a specific character perhaps – I have heard readers describe Camus’ Meursault
as being anything from “apathetic” and “heartless” to “quite mad”. And whilst such definitions are very much human ones – what else do we have? – the consensus at which we always arrive is that he is “different”.
This now brings me back to the question of stylistics as unconscious choice, and to Boase-Beier and Fowler’s comments in particular, about the roles that social and historical influences play for the writer. If all that I have inferred up to this point applies to both author and translator, like, say, the idea of conceptual metaphor governing one life as it does another, irrespective of culture – albeit by use of different variations – then I conclude that Camus’ choices were indeed conscious ones; he consciously chose to alienate his character by his choice of expression, just maybe via a subconscious recognition of it.
Given the above study and for future translations, then, a translator needs to mirror his actions from the first line to the last, and perhaps to even begin translating two or three pages in – putting aside possible preconceptions, and any existing translations. That is, to experience each line’s effect in the way Camus intended; and to forbid the social and historical from dominating. And while some may argue against the strangeness achieved by sticking to the source text very closely, this, I will argue, is very much our aim.
I would begin by disposing of Gilbert’s eponymous and active Outsider,
there should be no ambiguity in the title; I would replace the dead metaphor with Camus’ passive Stranger
. Or better still, I would opt for The Spectator,
or The Observer,
for it is this aspect of his strangeness, of his ‘alienness’, that becomes him most, and it is this which, by contrast, highlights the stupidity of human behaviour on a daily basis. I am sure Albert Camus would agree.
As for what didn’t sound right to me in translation, what I simply could not put my finger on, was down to the very subtle skills of the original author. It was not just my disapproving of particular words or phrases in translation, it was more complex than that: it was often down to the translator’s filing the gaps for his audience; of his total re-writing the book – of his putting down what simply does not exist in the source text. I, therefore, do not feel too ashamed knowing the answers came to me ten years later, when I least expected them.
What I have learned from the experience is that the answers to what just doesn’t sound right are attainable with the simple practice of stylistic analysis – it really needn’t take ten years to unearth the answers to any literary complexities and it is hardly practical from an employment point of view.
They say that practice makes perfect. So, hopefully, you will never hear me dropping such a get-out clause as ‘It just doesn’t sound right’ again...