Challenges of Spanish Literary Translation

Anyone who translates in earnest knows from direct experience how many difficulties are involved in transferring the contents, forms, and structures of a novel, play, or poem, and captured under the rubric of literary translation. 

The challenges of translation have been present since its very beginning. The publication of trend analyses, that is, comparative studies of different linguistic approaches to translation are so numerous that it is difficult to give them the attention they all deserve.

It is worth emphasizing the creative nature of translations, a creativity that is often the main channel of understanding between cultures. Without creative translation we would know much less than we do. Many basic texts of national culture in places like Spain have arrived in translations. The translator is often considered as creative as the person who wrote the original. It must be noted that translators have always also been considered a necessity. Translators follow a path already established by what is narrated or what is developed with the passing of the pages, therefore they do not need to invent the continuation. They do not have the create the plot, the argument, the characters, and the other components of the work. Rather, they focus their efforts on writing. They appear to overlap with the authors, however, in that they use identical working tools as they do. Both must operate with words. And they must follow the same principles. The difficulty of achieving a text that is readable and expresses the literary purpose and effects sought belongs to the same domain.

The most striking difference is that, as noted, when working on an established text the translator creates when interpreting it. A possible comparison with the creative activity performed by a pianist, for example, arises immediately. In both cases there is a written work in print or a score that requires a version. And that this one responds with the greatest accuracy to the guidelines indicated by the creator is the objective. Never forgetting, moreover, that while an author can spend as much time as he or she needs to find the right expression, the translator has only a few months to make all his or her choices. However, it sometimes happens that some authors even consider that the translation of their works reflects their aesthetic intentions more accurately than when they wrote them.

Translators are invisible heroes. A sloppy translation can destroy even the noblest prose and verse. However, if the result is good, the glory lies with the creator, not with the interpreter. And while a writer is celebrated for ignoring certain rules or breaking aesthetic canons, a translator is blamed for such audacity.

The mediating nature of the translator and his or her awareness that accuracy is unattainable, so that the decisions he or she makes are always subject to revision. They even have an expiry date. Hence the well-known and questionable tendency to make new versions of classical works, or not so much, so that they are in keeping with the period in which they are read.

A translator, a partner in the author’s craft, ultimately has a kind of spectral presence that is found everywhere in the work he worked on, without appearing in any of it. He aspires to disappear, he tries to make the reader not notice him, he wants to be literally invisible so that what shines is the author. In no case should he consider invisibility to be a detriment to his work, but rather an indispensable value so that his interpretation appears to be the best possible.

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