Dominique Defert -a literary translator with twenty-five years of experience, translator of best-seller authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown, screenwriter, film director, Calibre Prize winner, you name it!
Dominique was one of the translators who was selected to spend nearly two months in an underground bunker in Italy, translating Dan Brown’s latest novel for simultaneous release in different languages (learn more »). He will be presenting on the topic of “Inferno: Translating in the Bunker” at the upcoming ProZ.com international conference in Pisa, Italy, on June 28-29.
How did you get started in translation?
I came to translation through writing. I was a writer of science fiction short stories. One of my short stories had been published by Denoël in the “Présence du futur” collection.
Gérard Klein, a well-known French science fiction writer I greatly admired, read my stories. At that time he was the literary editor for the “Ailleurs et Demain” collection at Robert Laffont. He offered me to translate for this renowned collection.
The first translation he entrusted to me with was a new edition of Pavane by Keith Roberts, an English science fiction author. Pavane had been my favorite book during adolescence and I had been searching in vain for a copy for a long time. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect gift. I was twenty-five years old and that’s how it all began.
What was the most important obstacle for you to overcome in building your career as a language professional?
Ironically, the greatest challenge early in my career was to detach myself from the author’s words to find the real meaning within the text. Prioritizing fidelity and accepting that the only fidelity that really mattered was to be as close as possible to the author’s intentions: that was the most significant challenge. Together with the need to always love one’s translation. To claim each word, each sentence.
What is the greatest issue facing translators working in France or with the French language?
In France, literary translators are the authors of their translations. This means that they are “writers” of their texts. The editor wants to read a novel in French, not a translation.
I see three basic principles, three simple, obvious and sometimes strangely neglected cardinal rules:
1. Understanding. Understand the text: meaning, context, situation of the character. Know what you are telling.
2. Writing. Write in French. Erase English. Completely. Phrases, syntax, rhythm. Everything must disappear!
3. Giving. Give the gift of wonder. Give something special to read. Write literature. This is what I call the quest for Intrigue, Surprise and Enchantment.
What is your prediction for the future of human translation?
I must admit that I don’t really understand the debate on the future of human translation (related to literature, of course).
A translator tells a story. Actually, he re-tells the story. He tells the story as he has experienced it. And this is the story he’ll write. In literature you must be biased, subjective, radical and monomaniac: this is the way to tell a story.
Choosing a word represents one’s vision of the world. Machine translation software can give the general gist but it will never give the text a soul. Especially since machines will never be human, and vice versa.
As one of the translators who spent nearly two months in an underground bunker in Italy, translating Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno*, you will be presenting in the upcoming ProZ.com international conference in Pisa, sharing your experience with attendees. What can they expect to learn or know from your presentation?
Work in the bunker compressed the average everyday working conditions a translator experiences. Drastic conditions, intense work and lack of comfort simply highlighted the issues all translators face. When you are a professional translator, when translation is your only source of income and when you translate every day -as I do- there is one precious magic concept which must never be lost along the way: ENJOYMENT.
Enjoyment for the body, enjoyment for the soul.
As for the body, when I was in the bunker, I resorted to certain tips and tricks.
For my soul, this meant finding enjoyment in writing and in telling a story. So I strove to love what I was writing, despite the stress, the looming deadline and the terrible hours. My simple threefold mantra “Intrigue, Surprise, Enchantment” guided me during this adventure.
The importance of really enjoying the translation process is what I would like to illustrate during my presentation.
ProZ.com international conference in Pisa, Italy
Join Dominique and other language professionals on June 28-29 in Pisa, Italy, for the ProZ.com 2014 international conference.
Thanks Daniela Zambrini, ProZ.com 2014 international conference organizer, for the translation of Dominique Defert’s interview answers from French into English!