For my first week of class, we read Oedipus the King, by Sophocles. Being a frugal student, I had ordered almost all my books off Amazon, and being a bit of a procrastinator, I had ordered them a little late, and my copy of Oedipus didn’t make it in on time. I wasn’t sure about the translation my professor preferred (I didn’t see the class version at the library or in the Kindle store), so I picked up two versions. It turned out to be a great choice–I happened to find two radically different versions of the story, which made for a great side-by-side reading experience.
The first place I turned to was my trusty Kindle, where I picked up a copy for $0.99. Despite its modern format, the text was proudly old-school, with near-Shakespearean language and perfectly metered lines. It was a slightly less accessible read than the library version I found, but it read like poetry. Many of the lines actually held more power for me due to their formal language–sometimes I feel the old stories get a little watered down when they’re brought into present day vernacular. This one was glorious:
Creon (reacting to Oedipus’s accusation that he is a traitor): …the calumny/ Hits not a single blot/ But blasts my name
Library version: This is no minor charge.
The library had an anthology of Sophocles’s plays, Oedipus included, and the version came complete with blocking directions and some costuming notes. The text, though, didn’t come off particularly theatrical at all. It felt, surprisingly, almost Biblical in places–something a Psalmist might say, or one of the gloomier prophets. When it moved away from the prophetic, though, the modern language felt a little flat. On the other hand, one of my favorite lines was a moment of “wait for it…” irony that feels most natural when you read it in everyday language:
Chorus (introducing Jocasta to the messenger): This is his wife and mother…of his children.
Kindle version: This is his wife the mother of his children. (That one word and a well-placed ellipsis makes all the difference.)
What I like about translations of works is the way they illustrate the flexibility of language. Both versions of Oedipus I read (Oedipi?) tell the same story, the same way. There’s no radical experimentation in tone or format. The word choice is the only thing that changes how each version feels, and what a difference it makes! Reading a translated work lets you know what matters to the translator in a story: accessibility, beauty, maintaining purity of rhyme or of word meaning, and many other elements start to show in the move between languages.
The final project for this class will have to do with translation. We’ll be working with Madame Bovary (supposedly the “perfect novel,” so expect more on that in November), either from the original French for those who speak it (alas, my French only extends as far as “pomme de terre” and “la bebe es sur la table”), or from the two different English versions we’ll read in class. It’s going to be interesting to create my “ideal” version by borrowing someone else’s words.
Do you think about the translation when you read something originally written in another language? What are your experiences reading multiple versions of a work, or reading an original and translated version?
Great news–I got an A in Book Design! It took what felt like every spare moment I had (and then some, considering the several evenings I forewent dinner in favor of fiddling with the placement of a title or trying to learn what to do in Illustrator to keep my pictures from getting pixely), but the class is finally over, and yours truly rocked it.
I’m feeling a little adrift, though. When I was in high school doing summer theater productions, all of us in the cast used to dread the end-of-show crash, when we would wander aimlessly around the house, missing the rigid rehearsal schedule we’d complained about half the summer, and wondering what to do with these memorized lines and lyrics and dance steps that no longer had a useful outlet. It was the loss of a little identity.
Sometimes, ending a class is like that for me. I know, HUGE academic geek moment. But it’s true. I throw myself into these courses so hard that for eight or 16 weeks, I identify as a budding book designer or what have you. I’ve been taking it easy (or, you know, as easy as I can) the last two weeks, because I know I need a summer. I went to the pool a few times, actually sat down and watched an episode of So You Think You Can Dance all the way through (so those are the Top 10!), and on Saturday, my family and a representative sample of Andrew’s got together at my parents’ house for a BBQ engagement party. I even got to see my best friend for the first time in about six months (because we live in different states–neither of us is that busy).
I think I’m already gearing up to get some new project percolating, though. I’ve got stuff to revise, I’ve got a tentative idea or two, and I’ve got a “write daily” resolution that’s fallen by the wayside for too long. I’ll try to make time to do some more substantive stuff here when I can, but my real goal is to be able to come back here in not too long with some good writing news, so if I’m quiet, that’s why.
This class, people! It is kicking my butt. One of the things I like about grad school is it definitely forces me out of my comfort zone, and I’m learning all kinds of good things. The short-term downside? So. Much. Work.
I’ve never taken graphic design, and that’s largely what this class is, so that’s why I’ve been quiet here. But now I can share a bit! Check out the learning curve for my first project, designing the cover for a short story by Dorothy Parker.
The story is, “A Telephone Call,” so I couldn’t help but go for the obvious at first (Important Note: All these covers are the full wrap, so the left half is the back cover and the right half is the front):
To keep from being too boring, though, I brought in this one as well (the story was written around the 1920s, so flapper seemed to fit the scene):
Consensus? The flapper was cool, but not quite right, and the telephone wasn’t working either (and was from the wrong time, to boot). Back to the drawing board!
I thought about the concept of the design, and decided my main focus was the fact that she was waiting for this call. After looking at some terrifying photos of bitten nails and lips, I decided smoking was a nervous habit I could feature in some kind of aesthetic way:
Two or three revisions later, came out with this, and realized my ashtray looked more like a drinking glass. Did a little more research…
This is much better! Except…the ashtray is recognizably Great Depression-era–about a decade too late for the story. Not a huge time gap, but enough to irritate those in the know.
Right era, decent concept, but so stark. I was beating my head against a wall by this point (keep in mind, I’m only showing you about 2/3 of the revisions I did on this design). My computer was so stuffed with photos of cigarettes, cigarette stubs, cigarette smoke and ashtrays that I was worried Andrew would think I had some kind of weird nicotine fetish. I still loved the idea of this glamorous girl in the ’20s waiting by the phone, smoking nervously, probably using some fantastic Cruella de Vil-esque cigarette holder. And then I found it. I talked to my professor to make sure she wouldn’t freak out if I overhauled my design yet again, and she gave me the green light to make this:
I finally felt like I had a book that felt like a book. I don’t have a grade back quite yet (I’ve been out for a week, so hopefully tomorrow), but this is the design that makes me happy. There’s a lot I like about this final version, and some things I’m sure could still improve, but I won’t say anything else for now. I’d love to hear what people think!