"Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature"
San carlos, US
So, Mo Yan a Chinese writer won the Nobel prize of literature. That brings me to a question that I have been meaning to ask for a long time.
Literature (like Poetry, novel, short story, plays) is written in a native language with all its rhymes, rythm, subtleties, humor, and cultural influence, as well as language specific double plays. These things have to be enjoyed in the native language and cannot be translated into other languages. When languages are similar enough, some translation works (Italian into Spanish). But Chinese into Italian or English, while the literal meaning can be mostly preserved, the subtleties and double plays and even humor are lost.
So, how could a Nobel committee judge and decide that one writer's body of work in a native language is better and more deserving than another writer's body of work in another language altogether? Even a committee of multi-language persons would have problem coming up with a standard.
#1. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 0
Bidford on Avon, GB
The Nobel prize for literature is usually given on the basis of significance, rather than on the merits of a particular work or works. When William Golding won the prize it was because of the long term impact of his oeuvre, even though much of that impact was from his first novel, Lord of the Flies.
A Nobel committee, then, will not just be looking at the books themselves (which they would for the Booker) but at the way it has influenced other writers and culture. First language knowledge is not necessary for that.
#3. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 2 Fri 12-Oct-12 08:04 PM by gkaiseril
Significance is not the number of readers. I think it would be more about how much buzz the book/author or influence the book/author is causing in the world or in the recipients award area.
There could also be a political aspect to this award.
Is this an attempt to get the Peoples Republic of China to act more in concert with the rest of the world?
Get PRC to make peace with Taiwan?
The Nobel Peace Prize this year was given the the European Union for its 50th Anniversary even though there is much angst among its members and turmoil there could also be a significant political aspect.
Is Sweden trying to join the EU? And is this a gift to help the effort?
Are awards given for the expectation of the recipient to live up to the standards or continue their work?
#5. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 0
I would not discuss on writer's significance or on the political reasons hidden behind any prize award decision.
But I totally disagree on your view about translation. Although I think it is true that the closer are the languages, the easier is to have a good translation, I still believe there are really good translators to make sure we enjoy and appreciate any literature.
I can read fluently five languages and I try to read always original versions ( which is easier with the advent of e-books, btw), but it would be a pity not to enjoy some great writers like say Dostoievski, Kundera, Murakami, Süskind....or many others for not being able to read their mother tongue. I'm sure that really bilingual people can easily translate the subtleties pretty well. And I guess there are bilinguals between most published languages.
Another thing I take for granted is that academics deciding upon a Nobel award must have a great deal of advising comitees well qualified to judge the body of work of whatever author.
#9. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 0
>Literature (like Poetry, novel, short story, plays) is written >in a native language with all its rhymes, rythm, subtleties, >humor, and cultural influence, as well as language specific >double plays. These things have to be enjoyed in the native >language and cannot be translated into other languages.
That's just not accurate. Sorry to be so blunt. No matter where we look there are a staggering number of truly superb translations. A perfect example in popular fiction is the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson. Written in Swedish originally, every translation (published in 41 countries so far) has been a smash hit. There are thousands of other examples from both classical and contemporary literature, philosophy, science and history. That's how we've come to know the greatest French, Russian, German, Japanese, Greek, Roman, Arabic and Persian literature, drama, philosophy and opera. That's also how non-English speaking people around the world have come to know great English literature. Publishers spend big money on writers who produce great translations.
>When >languages are similar enough, some translation works (Italian >into Spanish). But Chinese into Italian or English, while the >literal meaning can be mostly preserved, the subtleties and >double plays and even humor are lost.
Only in bad translations. Kids all over the world speaking dozens of languages have been turning themselves inside out over each successive Harry Potter book. Again, there are thousands of other examples.
#11. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 10
>You couldn't put it better!!
. . . And you are in Barcelona, one of the great cities of the world. So Spanish writing brought to the rest of the world by great publishers and translators is an appropriate subject I think.
One of the greatest novels of all time (at least it's on my top 150), is El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, which we know today as just Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes. It has been translated into over 100(!) languages and people all over the world have been absorbed by the great story, its subtleties, great humour, and great message.
Forget about the 17th century. How about Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca, whom we know popularly today as just Garcia Lorca and his remarkable play The House of Bernarda Alba (among others, and among his great poetry). Translated into dozens of languages so far, the character of the old widow Bernarda is one of the great ones in theatre and most of the great stage actresses have strived to earn the role.
There are a hundred other great Spanish writers whose work has been brilliantly translated, and I think we must thank those amazing writers and publishers for the efforts to bring great literature and great works from all languages and cultures to the rest of the world.
#12. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 11
San carlos, US
You have not read Chinese poetry in its native language, have you? Or Vietnamese poetry?
Yes, books and stories with loose themes and structures can be reasonable translated with not much losses. Yes, I read the Girls with Dragon Tatoos in english, not in Chinese or Vietnamese. I liked the books, hated the story.
No, poetry with very structure rhymes, very strict rules on syllables and phrases, and very demanding on syntax cannot be translated. Jokes that are based on synonyms, antonyms, and the likes cannot be translated. That too is part of literature.
If you have direct experienece, then I would like to hear it.
#13. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 6
Bidford on Avon, GB
Nikonians isn't the place for a political argument (or conversation), so I hope I'm not straying here.
Remember that this is a Norwegian, not a US committee. It doesn't see the world with US eyes, so much of what it does may seem political from a US perspective. By its nature a proportion of the people winning a peace prize are going to be politicians. However, none of the recent winners have any ties to Norway (the closest is Martti Ahtisaari of Finland), and none of them are involved in issues which are tied closely to Norway's interests.
Apolitical = the committee don't take someone's politics into consideration, and they don't let their own politics impinge.
This doesn't mean they can't award the prize to someone who is political, otherwise it would be nonsensical.
And, seriously, are Tawakel Karman, Martti Ahtisaari, Muhammad Yunus and Mohammed ElBaradei really seen as political nominees?
#14. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 12
>Well, > >You have not read Chinese poetry in its native language, have >you? Or Vietnamese poetry?
>No, poetry with very structure rhymes, very strict rules on >syllables and phrases, and very demanding on syntax cannot be >translated. Jokes that are based on synonyms, antonyms, and >the likes cannot be translated. That too is part of >literature. > >If you have direct experienece, then I would like to hear it.
I think it is absurdly easy to demonstrate the universality of literary power across all languages and cultures. Among its more important lessons, the universality of literary experiences teaches us to avoid assumptions in any dialectic. For example, you don't know me and you don't know many millions of other people around the world who regularly transition between languages which we regularly use and practice. Some skills, admittedly, are limited but still worthy of inclusion. For example, during a rather fractious period of my life, in Vietnam in 1970, I learned enough to get by and to appreciate some of the writers and folk poets of the day who were at the time publishing in Saigon. So much for your Vietnamese example, though I have but a few words left in the language today. I can point you to some great works in Vietnamese and to some superb translations containing intact all of the original subtleties, pathos, humour and drama.
Those of us who speak two or three languages regularly, can safely judge the efficacy, depth and quality of translations between two of which we speak. If you're suggesting that it is functionally impossible to perfectly translate one idiom into another, well then you are certainly correct. However, such a point is too narrowly construed to in any way denigrate the hundreds of thousands of truly great literary translations which have come to us throughout the centuries. It is through cross-language and cross-cultural dialectics that we grow as a species; translation must exist in order for us to fundamentally understand each other. Suggesting that true translation is somehow impossible essentially denies the history of the human race. Such a position is dysfunctionally absurd. We are here, today, having this conversation, because others who went before us managed to communicate and understand each other across cultural and language barriers. That was accomplished through clear understanding of subtleties, humour, pathos, intent, intellectual discourse and mutual interest. People learn each others languages, people translate each others languages, all to spread thinking, humour, drama, philosophy and science.
I also speak enough French to read with some clear understanding the local papers in Paris or Marseille, Lyons, Toulouse or Strasbourg or wherever I happen to be traveling. So for me, the original serial Les Trois Mousquetaires, which was thrown at me in French classes still obtains to an amazing literary adventure when I was 14 years old. But the modern English translation and novelization turned out even better for me because all the action, tension and political strife was brought home so clearly in my first language. Nothing at all lost, but much gained in the process.
Suggesting, as you have, that works in a particular language read by native speakers in that same language will always be preeminent is a supportable contention no doubt. But at the same time denying the possibility that superb translations somehow automatically, and by default, lose some essence of quality or value or fact or humour or whatever, is simply not historically supported by millennia of translations which have essentially helped shape the world. Go back to Homeric epics, the Dialogues of Plato, the teachings of Aristotle and on and on. How on earth does anyone think the great works of great minds and writers throughout the ages have come to us - each of us in our native languages - to so demonstrably influence our cultural, moral, ethical political and global dialectics?
There is equally no doubt that translations can be deliberately manipulated, and have been, for nefarious social, economic and political ends. Nowadays though, cross-culturalism, pervasive telecommunications and other technologies reveal such manipulations for what they truly are and have always been. Enjoy translated works. Denying oneself access to them will only limit thinking, and that may be the biggest mistake of all.
#15. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 12
I can't reply for Howard, but in my case I have to say that my two years learning Chinese are not even enough to get me properly checked at a hotel in Shanghai. Nontheless reading their rich poetry. I'm sure poetry is particularly difficult to translate. But I know of bilingual people Chinese/Catalan or Chinese/Spanish working on poetry translation. Maybe they don't convey strictly the rythm and the rhymes of poetry. But as they have devoted their lives to work on these translations I need to open my mind and give them a confidence margin. Otherwise, if we try to live in sealed compartments we would loose the richness of diversity for the sake of the accuracy. As I think I share with Howard, dismissing translations we would miss many opportunities to get culturaly richer. I'm fortunate enough to read Roth, Frazer, Mc Cormack, Auster and many others in English, and sure I have often to check dictionary (Thanks iPad!!) but I don't hesitate to read good tranlations for the joy of widening my knowledge of other cultures. I must admit I'm not a great poetry reader, though, but I felt great emotion reading greek poetry from Kavafis greatly translated into Catalan by Carles Riba, one of our classics. Accurate or not, he managed to convey emotion. And if I was in a jury, I probably would consult authorities rather than judge by myself based upon translations only. Stretching it to absurdity, all literature Nobels would only be awarded to Swedish authors.
#17. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 14
San carlos, US
I started this post out of curiosity, without judgement. The answers that were given above were sensible and helped me understand that the Nobel Prize of Literature is not given for the beauty of the works but rather for the significance of the impact the works have generated. OK, that is fair.
My follow-on question, and perhaps I should not have asked, is along the line of how one judges the beauty of such literrary work without being able to enjoy it in its native language.
I am a multilangual person speaking both eastern and western languages. I read novels and stories from both sides of the fence. I also enjoy poetry from both sides of the language and cultural fences.
While I pefectly agree with you that superb translations of literary works have been invaluable in helping different peoples understand each other. I will even concede that 80% of literary works from one language can be translated into other dissimilar languages to a degree that will allow the non-native reader to comprehend the works, to recognize their significance, but still to fall short of appreciation of the true beauty of the works.
Perhaps we will both agree that appreciating the beauty of a literary work is not required to comprehend its significance in human development. That I can agree with.
There is a very old but well know poem in Vietnamese titled The Caged Tiger. It is made up of about 100 phrases of alternating six and eith syllables, all conforming to the specific sequence of tonal variation that exists in some eastern languages but not in English and French for example. The last word of the six-phrase must rhyme with the sixth word of the following eight-phrase, and the last word of the eight must rhyme with the last word of the following six.
Yes you can translate that poem into English (I have not not seen one) and the reader can comprehend that the tiger is pining for the old days when it roamed free looking for a prey. You can understand why many prisoners of war can relate to the poem which helps them recall their days of thunder. But, until you read it in Vietnamese, you will not be able to apreciate how beautiful that poem really is.
#19. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 17 Wed 17-Oct-12 01:20 AM by agitater
>My follow-on question, and perhaps I should not have asked, is >along the line of how one judges the beauty of such literrary >work without being able to enjoy it in its native language.
A fair question you may think (and I too, from time to time I admit), but the Nobel literature winners nonetheless come from all walks of life and from many different countries. That is because the Nobel committees communicate on a variety of levels in a variety of languages through the filters of a variety of cultures. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in this situation.
>While I pefectly agree with you that superb translations of >literary works have been invaluable in helping different >peoples understand each other. I will even concede that 80% of >literary works from one language can be translated into other >dissimilar languages to a degree that will allow the >non-native reader to comprehend the works, to recognize their >significance, but still to fall short of appreciation of the >true beauty of the works.
I appreciate the point you're making, perhaps in a way that I did not when responding to earlier posts. But that only clarifies a feeling I have that you may be making a point that is self-evident. So why does it matter that the story of Tevye and his Daughters written by Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich under the pen name of Sholem Aleichem, originally published in Yiddish and Ukranian, ended up as the basis for Fiddler on the Roof? I say that an understanding of the Tsarist hatreds and pogroms of the times in which the author wrote (1879-1910 primarily) is not necessary to deeply enjoy and appreciate the sadness and the humour, the frustration, the sense of loss, and the redeeming idea of starting a new life in a different land. That some point can be made that the Jewish experience of the time is impossible to understand by someone who did not grow up speaking fluent Yiddish and who did not grow up (through the influence of grandparents who came from Russia and the Ukraine) at least partly inculcated by the history, is wholly irrelevant - at once perfectly true and just as perfectly unimportant.
>Perhaps we will both agree that appreciating the beauty of a >literary work is not required to comprehend its significance >in human development. That I can agree with. > >There is a very old but well know poem in Vietnamese titled >The Caged Tiger. It is made up of about 100 phrases of >alternating six and eith syllables, all conforming to the >specific sequence of tonal variation that exists in some >eastern languages but not in English and French for example. >The last word of the six-phrase must rhyme with the sixth word >of the following eight-phrase, and the last word of the eight >must rhyme with the last word of the following six.
So do we mourn our cultural inability to understand every nuance of every language and culture on earth? To me that is an impossible errand, so I'm not sure what point you're making. If you're suggesting that there are things in other cultures which we're not wired to fully understand, I agree - but what of it? To me it is just another reason to keep the eminence of my own cultural background in some sort of perspective so that I do not unvaryingly think so highly of it that it overshadows the wonderful history and value of people from other backgrounds who write and enrich the world. That too seems self-evident.
>Yes you can translate that poem into English (I have not not >seen one) and the reader can comprehend that the tiger is >pining for the old days when it roamed free looking for a >prey. You can understand why many prisoners of war can relate >to the poem which helps them recall their days of thunder. >But, until you read it in Vietnamese, you will not be able to >apreciate how beautiful that poem really is. > >And that is all the point I was making.
Once again, that point has always been self-evident. Implicit in your original post though, was the idea that translated great works are fundamentally insufficient. It is with that implication that I completely disagree. It is because we can come so close to the original, translating from language to language and culture to culture, that the world is as intellectually rich as it is today. That any translation can never be idiomatically perfect is completely unimportant, again, because different groups of our species have never needed such perfect conversions to understand one another. In fact, it has always been the distinctive differences between us which, once sufficiently understood, have enriched the lives and experiences of the great explorers, literary minds, philosophers and scientists. If we all understood each other perfectly, the world would be a boring place, absent of cultural discovery, and absent all of the distinctive nuances which you have so accurately noted and which perforce make us interesting to each other in the first place.
Those remaining differences hinted at, perhaps only poorly understood, perhaps well understood - and at least well translated - far from keeping us from understanding are actually what enrich us and make the reading of great literature so fascinating. We sense the differences and dive more deeply for understanding because of them.
Some may strive for absolute perfection because they believe that only by achieving the perfect translation will they ever truly understand what was written. I believe such striving focuses effort on everything but the fact that successful translations capture more than enough for readers to create in their minds all that is necessary for imagination, understanding and emotion. We are not missing anything. In my view, a quest for the perfect translation is a hopeless one which advances our knowledge of each other not one bit. It is better that translations are by definition imperfect, for in that way do we still maintain our distinctiveness.
I am moved to remind people of the science fiction stories in which one race absorbs another in order to perfectly assimilate its distinctiveness. It is by doing so that the invading race comes to thoroughly understand its victim races, hence the statement:
"We are the Borg. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."
I think we must revel in the differences and nuances that are forever just a centimeter from our grasp. It is just such differences which attract us to each other, and which make us try all the harder to understand each other.
#20. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 15
Once I determine how or why certain photographs win awards and not others, I will start to think about how or why Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded. I suspect that the answers to both will remain "Mysteries of the Universe"
#21. "RE: Off Topic: How can one judge the Nobel prize of literature" In response to Reply # 19
San carlos, US
A vey long and elegant post which I will not try to match or recreate.
I will agree that the differences make us more interesting to each other and sometimes we try to explore those differences by learning the other's language and immersing in its culture. That is certainly not a quest for perfection, it is mere curiosity.
Alright, this is long enough. We agreed to our minor differences.