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Home News by Category Conferences Random Factoids 3: On Translations, Translators and Gately

Random Factoids 3: On Translations, Translators and Gately

RANDOM FACTOIDS /3 : On Translations, Translators and Gately

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.


*** Infinite Jest Spoiler Warning - To those of you involved in a group read right now... beware! ***





The Translator’s insight: Gately’s fate at the end of Infinite Jest

During one of the very stimulating talks I had with Laura Kreyder during the Paris conference, we discussed the ambiguity of Gately’s fate at the end of the novel. Laura told me a very interesting anecdote recounted by Edoardo Nesi, one of the Italian translators of Infinite Jest 1, in his acclaimed book, Storia della mia gente.  

Many thanks to Laura for sending me the aforementioned page of Nesi’s book and for summarising it to me!

When Wallace came to Capri, Nesi asked Martina Testa, one of Wallace’s Italian translators, to ask him whether Gately died at the end of IJ or not.

Wallace answered: “I had a first draft version where D.G. died, but this version had terrible problems… So I think it is truer that he doesn’t die (there are three hints in the definite version that he doesn’t die).”

Gately’s fate remains of course open to interpretations. (But what are these three hints? Laura and I could only track two of them…) 

I am sure this anecdote is well known by Italian readers and by many in the DFW community but I had never heard of it. And it strengthened my belief that DFW’s translators have a lot to tell us about his work, and not only those who had the chance to discuss with Wallace. Immersed as they are in his writing (Ulrich Blumenbach spent six years translating Infinite Jest into German for instance), they surely have made many discoveries and came up with new analysis we readers would be eager to hear.


Translating DFW

I was very excited to meet Jill McCoy at the Paris conference, who assisted Charles Recoursé on the translation of some tricky sections of the Pale King, and Eric Guéant who discovered DFW through these French translations.

We were reminded at the conference that David Foster Wallace had declared that Infinite Jest was “untranslatable”. It is certainly an immense challenge to say the least: dialects, at times wrong Québécois French, idiosyncratic expressions, professional jargon and slang, neologisms, puns… French readers are all the more eager to discover the French translation of Infinite Jest, which should be published around September 2015 at the Editions de l’Olivier. The novel appears to be in good hands with Francis Kerline who has already masterfully translated Will Self, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Franzen.

Readers discussed a lot during the conference about which title the French translation might adopt: “La plaisanterie infinie”, “La farce sans fin”, “L’infini divertissement”?  To preserve the reference to Hamlet, one could turn to French translations of the famous sentence “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest” 2 . We would then get “L’infinie gaieté” 3, “la drôlerie infinie” 4. But none of these seem to be a satisfying solution. The title chosen for the German translation was “Unendlicher Spass”, which translates into “Unending Fun/Happiness” 5, while the Italian version kept “Infinite Jest” which appears to be quite common in Italy 6.

The difficulty of translating DFW’s French Québécois also popped up several times during the conference, as well as the difficult rendering of the numerous American references. Aili Pettersson Peeker, a grad student who came all the way from Sweden to attend the conference, told me for instance that the Swedish translation of This is Water had erased many American references as well as many hints that the text was a speech, at times excluding whole chunks of text altogether. Learn more about this by reading her very interesting analysis of the Swedish translation 7- The United States in Swedish: How to Translate the Untranslatable (pdf).

What is certain is that French readers have plenty DFW books to discover in the meantime. Tout et plus encore: une histoire compacte de l’infini (Everything and more) has been published this year by éditions Ollendorff & Desseins. Otherwise most of Wallace’s work have been published at Le Diable Vauvert: La fonction du Balai (The Broom of the System), La fille aux cheveux étranges (Girl with Curious Hair), Brefs entretiens avec des hommes hideux (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), Un truc soi-disant super auquel on ne me reprendra pas (A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again), Le Roi Pâle (The Pale King), C’est de l’eau (This is Water).

Charles Recoursé who translated many of these books, said that translating The Pale King “means major difficulties in each page, moral dilemmas every five minutes, never-ending notes.”

He just finished translating Lipsky’s road trip/interview with Wallace, Although of course you end up becoming yourself. I’m very eager to discover his French translation, Même si, en fin de compte, on devient évidemment soi-même – out this month!


-Ariane Mak

1. The three Italian translators of Infinite Jest are Edoardo Nesi, Annalisa Villoresi and Grazia Giua.
2. Véronique Thireau Aldridge and Nick Aldridge, who are currently working on a new translation of Hamlet into French, pointed to the parallel between “a fellow of infinite jest” and “a king of infinite space” (Hamlet, II, 2). They also highlighted that “infinite” and the king’s fool/jester were both solar attributes in opposition with the saturnine themes of melancholia, and darkness. Many thanks to both of them for these stimulating remarks!
3. François-Victor Hugo translated the sentence into « Hélas ! pauvre Yorick ! Je l’ai connu, Horatio ! – C’était un garçon d’une gaieté infinie » (1865)
4. « (…) d’une drôlerie infinie », translation by Jean-Michel Déprats (2002)
5. Many thanks to Jill and Christian from the conference!
6. Infinite Jest has been translated into Spanish as La Broma Infinita (The Infinite Joke) and in Portuguese as A Piada Infinita (tThe Infinite Joke but also its result: The Infinite Entertainment).
7. A comment by Aili regarding this text: "Please note that it was written as a university assignment and that some of the parts might not make very much sense to someone not in that particular class. The assignment was part of the examination in a "world lit" class, so we had to refer to all the literature (both primary and secondary) of the course. Hence the crammed in, sometimes very stretched, references to theorists and novels."

Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 00:43  

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