Words without Borders has an interesting interview with Roberto Bui, aka Wu Ming 1, a member of the Wu Ming writing collective, on translating Stephen King into Italian. I can’t say I’m as impressed with King’s style as he is, but I enjoyed his comments on it. I disagree with this point, though:
He plays with all the singularities of the English language, precisely the stuff that can’t be translated in any way! This is typical of, er, “monoglot” writers, by which I mean those writers who don’t care about what happens to their works when they’re translated into other languages.
There are basically two kinds of novelists: those who care about translations, like Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, because they’re used to exploring foreign languages, and those who don’t care, like Elmore Leonard or Uncle Stevie, because they’re perfectly happy with inhabiting their native language, with no forays in other cultures and koines.
To conflate people who are “used to exploring foreign languages” with those who “care about translations,” and to imply that the latter don’t “play with all the singularities” of their language, is wrongheaded and insulting to almost everyone. To take two obvious examples, Joyce and Nabokov played with more singularities than most of us can even imagine, but they were also famously “used to exploring foreign languages,” and I find it hard to imagine anyone thinking they didn’t care about translations. It seems obvious to me that writing books and caring about translations are (or should be) two entirely separate activities, and anyone who deliberately restricts their palette when writing out of a concern for their translators is cheating both themselves and their readers. If there are “puns, neologisms, idioms, local slang and so on,” the translator will just have to deal with them however seems best. They do not indicate that the writer is a monoglot, for god’s sake. (Via wood s lot.)