Congratulations to MS in Translation and Interpreting (MSTI) Adjunct Instructor Sandra Smith, whose translation of Create Dangerously, originally a lecture by Albert Camus, was recently published by Vintage Books. Camus delivered the lecture in Stockholm after accepting the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. In his remarks, he insists upon the essential responsibility of the artist to challenge and disrupt social and cultural foundations. While interesting as a historical document, the text also speaks meaningfully to the role of artists in our own time and to the role of the arts, more broadly, during periods of change or of seeming stasis.
Smith is an award-winning literary translator who came to this project with experience translating the famously elliptical Camus. In this brief interview, she describes the challenges of translating Camus and offers suggestions for those embarking upon similar projects.
Q: You recently translated Create Dangerously by Albert Camus. How did this project get started and why did you choose to pursue it?
A: I was fortunate enough to be contacted directly by Vintage and asked to take on this commission, as I had worked with this particular editor and the publisher before. They have published all the books I translated by Irène Némirovsky and knew I had translated Camus’ L’Etranger in 2012 (published in the UK as The Outsider). As for “choosing to pursue it,” I would never turn down the opportunity of translating Camus!
Q : How does this translation project compare to some of your recent past projects? Were there particular challenges associated with this translation?
A: Camus is always challenging to translate because his style is either deceptively simple or very complicated! I normally translate novels, and this small work was non-fiction, a lecture Camus gave at a Swedish university after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. The subtitle of the work—"The Power and Responsibility of the Artist"—indicates the philosophical nature of the text. However, even when writing philosophy, Camus’ style is very lyrical, so while difficult, it is always thoroughly enjoyable and pushes me to be creative.
Q: How might the content of Create Dangerously resonate with readers grappling with the crises of 2020?
A: I think the best way to answer this question is to give you these two quotes from Camus' book:
"Brutality is never temporary. It does not respect the boundaries set for it, and so it is natural that brutality will spread, first corrupting art, then life. Then, out of the misfortunes and bloodshed of humankind, we see born insignificant literature, frivolous newspapers, photographed portraits, and youth-club plays in which hatred replaces religion."
"We must know ... that we cannot hide away from communal misery, and that our sole justification, if one exists, is to speak out, as best we can, for those who cannot. And we must do this for everyone who is suffering at this very moment, despite the past or future greatness of the States or political parties that are oppressing them: to artists, there are no privileged torturers. That is why beauty, even today, especially today, can serve no political party; it only serves, in the long or short term, the pain or freedom of humankind."
Q: I want to touch briefly on your Contrastive Stylistics course in the MSTI program. Are there any concepts or approaches discussed in the course that you found particularly useful in taking on this translation project—or in translating Camus, more generally?
A: I always encourage my Contrastive Stylistics students to use a method when translating and I also follow a method myself. Literary translation is very different from non-fiction, especially when the non-fiction is very philosophical, which is why this was a particularly difficult translation. My previous translations of Camus' The Stranger was also difficult, but in a different way: the language was deceptively simple but with a lot of sub-text. In my Contrastive Stylistics course, we work on many different styles of writing, both literary non-fiction. It is good practice for me as well as for my students!
One interesting element of this particular translation was my awareness of translating for a contemporary readership and current acceptable practices. The main issue here was that the word for 'artist' in French is masculine, so the pronoun 'he' came up a lot, so I decided to change the singulars to plural.
Thank you to Sandra Smith for sharing your insights. Professor Smith is currently working on a translation of a newly-discovered novel by Simone de Beauvoir, Les Inséparables, with publication expected in 2021.
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