Translation from Tripoli
“Shakespeare somewhere compares a woman’s face to sunshine in July,” said Dr. Ramadan. “She must have been very hot.” He was joking, of course, from a North African point of view, and being a little provocative, from a translator’s: if you were translating that into Arabic, should you change the month to April, or better yet, March? He suggested that even a Libyan November would be more pleasantly evocative than July. “She would be all sweaty then,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Jamal, clearly troubled by my insistence that creating the authorial image in the receiving culture is in the translator’s hands, asked me if I thought it was okay to “change the author’s words.” Before I could answer, his colleague from Algeria, Dr. Rafa, came to my defense to point out that Arabic translators, and maybe Dr. Jamal himself, routinely do that when they change “Jesus Christ” to “the Prophet Jesus.” That was different, said Dr. Jamal, because readers might not accept it if you left “Jesus Christ.” She shot back: “Those readers aren’t likely to be interested in a book with 'Jesus Christ' in the first place.” Then he said something quickly to her in Arabic, and two other people joined in, all in Arabic. I heard the words arabiyyat and englesiyyat and tarjamat, which, even without any Arabic, I’ve heard repeated enough times in the last two days to recognize. It sounded quite heated, but Dr. Khalil said later that they were just having a normal conversation. It’s true no one stormed out.
This is the sixth annual translation conference, held on the tenth anniversary of the translation department at the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli. It’s selectively international, with plenty of visitors from North Africa (eastern and western), and a few from Western Europe, but none from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, or countries close by, like Turkey or Greece. The hall is as full this morning as I’ve seen it, with 200 or so people. I can spot the only other American in the room by her non-scarved red hair. I haven’t met her yet, though some of her English language students introduced themselves this morning to ask me how to handle “the cultural gaps” in translation. “One at a time,” I said.
Only one talk so far has irritated me (one that I understood that is—they haven’t all been delivered in English, and