Author(s): Adam Thirlwell (Editor)
An ingenious international literary relay race in which stories pass from hand to hand, from language to language, changing all the while, with surprising, thought-provoking, and frequently funny results. Like Chinese whispers, the rules of this literary game are simple: the first writer translates an unknown story into English, which a second writer then translates into a different language, and a third translates back into English, and so on, down the line. As the stories are told and retold, out of English and in again, they are transformed, twisted and turned into something new. Featuring an all-star international line-up of writers from Zadie Smith to Alejandro Zambra, via Jeffrey Eugenides, Laurent Binet, Javier Marias, David Mitchell, Colm Toibin, Etgar Keret, and Sheila Heti, this collection is pure literary entertainment. Playful, provocative and wilfully inventive, Multiples asks fascinating questions about the relationship between a translation and a version, about the art of storytelling, and about the way that our individual linguistic choices reflect our shared cultural prejudices. Here, we see not so much what is lost in translation, but what is found.
I sometimes play a game I call Doublebabelfish, in which I take a piece of text and pass it through an automated translation site on the internet into whatever language I choose and then use the same site to translate it back into English, perhaps via another language or two first. I then compare the resulting text to the original and speculate whether the differences arise from the conceptual topography of the intervening language(s), from something about the interface between the languages (their refractory indices, if you like), or (more likely) from the quirks and limitations of the translator. Adam Thirwell was curious about the persistence or otherwise of style in translated literature and devised a similar (but much better) experiment: he took twelve little-known texts and submitted them to strings of writers who often were translating for the first time and whose knowledge of the language they were translating from ranged from excellent to fair. Each translation was then passed to the next translator, who had access only to that version of the text, and so on, like a game of Chinese Whispers, passing frequently enough through English to allow a monolinguist to keep abreast of the permutations. The results are fascinating. Given that each text is reconceived according to the translator’s quirks and limitations (and according to each language’s quirks and limitations), how transparent is it possible for a translation to be? What variants are inherent in the text and what come from without? What negative or positive value do we put on innovation, or on error (and is there always a difference)? And what about the durability of authorial style? The more you read of this experiment the more fascinating it becomes. I found it particularly interesting how an error made early in the string affected more and more of the surrounding text as subsequent translators strove to accommodate it in their understanding of the story. Participants include J.M. Coetzee, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Com Toibin, Zadie Smith, John Banville, David Mitchell, Dave Eggers, A.S. Byatt, Aleksander Hemon, Etgar Keret, Tash Aw, Sheila Heti and Laszlo Krasznahorkai. - Thomas
Adam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. He is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape, and Kapow!, a novella, as well as a book of international novels, which won a Somerset Maugham award. His work has been translated into 30 languages.