A Brain-Dump Comprising 8 Anecdotes Roughly About Translation

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, come on in! 

Biographical Fictioning Proceedings, April 2022 

1. The subject of translation came up in a recent seminar and I offered up the story of how Terence Kilmartin discovered that Marcel Proust had killed off one of his characters in À la recherche du temps perdu but had forgotten and included him sometime later, something his first translator had missed.   

2. Later in the same event I mentioned Jacques Rivette’s film La Belle Noiseuse and as I hurriedly looked for an English translation, could only find ‘The Beautiful Nut’, (the UK release was titled The Beautiful Troublemaker). 

3. John Ashbury initiated student-writing workshops by asking his class to translate a text from a language they didn’t know. Dick Hebdige did something similar at Cal Arts, suggesting his students use a speech to text program, mistakes and all. In The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom uses the term ‘misprision’ to describe an act of wilful misinterpretation for creative purposes. 

4. From reading Michael Bracewell’s latest book Souvenir I discovered Prefab Sprout’s name comes from a mishearing of the first line of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s song Jackson. Misheard lyrics can produce images in the mind’s eye that dissolve on correction. A friend used to believe Paul Young sang, ‘Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you’, while I thought Ziggy Stardust was ‘making love with his eagle’.  

5. At the height of the pandemic I presented a Zoom talk for the Royal College of Art from my kitchen. When the audience was asked for comments and questions, someone pointed out that I was keen on blending. I replied suggesting ‘blending’ was a good synonym for collage. ‘No,’ they replied, ‘you have a lot of blenders behind you.’   

6. On Test Match Special (Radio 5 Live Extra) the listeners were asked to send in their favourite business jargon. The best I heard came from a brainstorming session during which the chair replied to one proposal with, ‘I’m going to put that in the ideas fridge and snack on it later.’ 

7. I once heard of an artist who had an Italian meal with a man who introduced her to all the dishes as if she had absolutely no knowledge of the country’s cuisine. ‘This is lasagne,’ he would say, ‘a layered dish made from sheets of pasta’ etc.  She, coincidentally half Italian, spent most of the night utterly bemused.    

8. Someone else told me he knew a rather grand employee of the British Council who developed a habit of pronouncing the names of cities in the accent of the country they were in. Paris was ‘Parrees’, Milan was ‘Meelan’ etc.  This didn’t stop when his job changed to the British Isles, where he would use local accents, resulting in exclamations like, ‘I’ve just returned from ‘Liverpeul’ or ‘In Noocassle I met a wonderful group of young artists’. 

Of course, all of this may have been misremembered.