Sunday, November 15, 2009

I just read an interesting essay about Der Zauberberg, The magic Mountain, an extremely absorbing novel which I finished a little while ago, and it reminded me that I'd never written on Finnegans Cake about this wonderful book. That yellow edition above is the one that I read, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter. She's a gifted translator, in that, the way that Rosemary Edmonds' Tolstoy books made me feel, one becomes entirely unconscious of the translation and just thinks the author is miraculously speaking to you in English. Lowe-Porter was Mann's official translator, even if he wasn't sure he wanted her, he apparently respected 'Die Lowe.'
Wikipedia has some more criticism of her... Above is the movie cover with the wonderful x-ray image that is often brought up in the novel, although it's usually the x-ray of Hans Castorp's beloved...

What the essay I read really bothered me with was the ending, where the writer in essence declares that Lowe-Porters translations are garbage and that John E Woods' is infinitely better. He provides the following example, Lowe-Porter's last line. You might not want to read this if you prize surprises in novels although the line doesn't give away much of the plot.... just skip to my text below if that's how you like it...

Out of this universal feast of death, out of this extremity of fever, kindling the rain-washed evening sky to a fiery glow, may it be that Love one day shall mount?

Contrast Porter-Lowe's leaden, awkward prose with Woods's infinitely more supple phrasing:

And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rutting fever that inflames the evening sky all round -- will love someday rise up out of this, too?

It's impossible not to see the improvement. Mann's original German prose is notoriously difficult: circuitous, occasionally labyrinthine and filled with elaborate constructions. Woods succeeds admirably in translating the hefty style without sacrificing tone or flow. This is a translation for the ages.

God, I couldn't disagree more. Is that new version really better? Maybe b/c I read the old one I like it more, but i find a novel ending in ", too?" to be incredibly weak. (Although I've read two novels recently that end with a vague rhetorical question as a last line (Sag Harbor and Cloud Atlas; it worked in the first one but irritated in the second)).

I have difficulty understanding the fights between translators. I suppose I haven't compared too many translations of the classics, except for Constance Garnett's Crime and Punishment to that of Pevear and Volkhonsky. And I liked Garnett's more. Call me old-fashioned... But I think a novel from 1924, like Magic Mountain, should read like it is old-fashioned. I don't value modern language in old novels.

Also, it would be appropriate here to get into the themes of Mountain, and its meaning, etc; but I won't, since that's almost impossible. Shortly after finishing it, I read recollections from an aluma of my college many years prior to my study there, talking about her literature education at the college. She said that she and a close friend both read Mountain and spent their fall breaks at the college working on papers about it, talking about it all day, every day, from breakfast in a dining hall to in a dorm room at night, trying and failing to figure it out. Doesn't that sound sweet? For me, I basically got rid of the book as soon as I finished it -- glued it up, shoved it between a rock and a hard place to fix the binding, and left in a house in a different town. It was instinctive -- it is such a complex story, so straining to the intellect, that I guess I had to have it completely out of my sight? But instead of talking about it with someone, instead there's just a slight buzz in the back of my mind like gas from a burner going over the arc, the story, the basic outline. Why did this happen? What was the meaning of that part? Why did that happen at the very end? It's hard to say. Mann, in 'the making of magic mountain,' which was appended to an american edition, asks the reader to read it a second time. Then says, 'Obviously this isn't required if you found it boring...' He says that it is like a piece of music, and as a musical score must be known by the listener before it can be enjoyed, so with his novel.

But I won't have time for that for quite a while.

1 comment:

Alex said...

If I could sum up your post in one sentence it would be "Don't you hate it in the cipher when your rhyme is through and some wack rapper rhymes right behind you".