Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An interview with translator Elvana Zaimi from Albania

Elvana Zaimi was born in June 23, 1980, in Skrapar, Albania. Finishes her studies for Language and Literature in 2002 and works in many newspapers and local media, radio and television. Her works vary from translating firstly movies and documentaries, parallel to artistic literature. From 2001-2006 together with Agron Tufa they ran a literary weekly newspaper, “Fjala – The Verb”, publishing there a lot of affirmed and new authors, Albanian and foreign, essay columns, translation, poetry, literary critics, affirming a new generation of poets and writers. Among her translations are: Henry Miller – Quiet days in Clichy, Haruki Murakami – Sputnik Sweetheart, Stephen Vizinczey – In praise of older women, novel, Wirginia Woolf – The mark on the wall and other stories; and other works from Gertrude Stein, W. H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky, Sandra Cisneros, Thomas Pynchon, and from Italian authors like Pavese, Maria Luisa Spaziani, Giuseppe Napolitano, etc. This year she concludes her MA studies for Translation Theory: “The role of translation in modernizing the literary system of rare languages – the Albanian case”.
She is married with three children, two girls and a boy, and lives in Tirana, Albania.
1. Why is translation important as regards to languages such as Albanian and other minority languages in relation to literature?
Translation itself may be considered as the most stable and influent part of literature itself, as well the mediator or ‘flowing water’ between different languages, literatures and cultures. When it comes to minor or rare language, such as Albanian is among many other rare languages, it is a specific case, due to the importance of incoming literature in this language – meaning that translation not only enriches Albanian with a new vision and a new point of view of what happens abroad and broadens its own boundaries, may they be cultural or even in the mere literary sense. For example, when it comes to Albanian, this language has started its life as a written language exactly with the translation of some parts of holy scripts and gospels from an Albanian priest… This proves that in a way or another, translation was and still is an important part of every nation’s literature, somewhere less, somewhere more… in our case, a lot more.
2. Do you think translation is an art in itself? How much is there of the original poet and of the translator in a translated poem?
Where there’s love and altruism, there’s always art. But translation is more than that, more than art, I guess. It takes not only artistic skills, talent and will, but also noble human values to be a translator. For me, a translator is always a great altruist, thinking and wanting to share with others what he reads in a language others (most) don’t know. This happened to me quite a few times, just to mention here, when I first read the Death Coach of William Blake for example: when reading, I translated parallel into Albanian and wanted so badly to bring it into my language; or Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Sandra Cisneros, Auden and many many others I cannot recall now, but which gave me this wonderful feeling of having this mission – to translate, to share and to make it sound as if written in Albanian. Concerning the fidelity to the original, this is far from judging and giving a sharp opinion. There are a lot of translators who are originally poets and translate their preferred poets into their language. This is a delicate case we deal with, since the possibility of influence in this case is high. The translated poet can interfere in the poet-translator’s poetical system or vice versa, the poet-translator brings in translation a poet of similar affinities, risking though to be regarded as an epigone. Luckily, in my case, I am a translator-non-poet. Meaning that is easier for me to be ‘more objective’ regarding the poet and his poetical system when it comes to choosing one. The translation is considered as well as re-writing and re-inventing from the beginning, though we may come to what Walter Benjamin says: “Any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information -- hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations”. Thus, the art of any translator hides in how he can transmit as much from the poet as he can restrain oneself of giving too much as a person. In brief, he should be invisible or merely, just a shadow, as my professor Edmond Tupja puts it.
3. You have been one of the active participants in the Gaeta Mediterranean Poetry Festival 2011. How do you describe such an experience? Why are such initiatives important in today's world?
In a world where art, poetry and all cultural means aiming to enrich a man’s mind and heart (art is not for all people) are constantly headed to a wider range of population, it comes out the necessity to preserve what makes art what it is. When it comes to poetry and its sharing and spreading (!) ways, the poetry festivals, are one of many ways. The experience in Gaeta was beautiful, adding to the atmosphere the fact that with most persons there we met for the second or third time, so it was more familiar, a very comfortable and informal atmosphere, already a family gathering. Such experiences help one to rejoice poetry, the love of mediating and interacting by that and essentially, makes a poet reachable, though unreachable he might be or seem.
4. How is Elvana Zaimi as a person? Main activities during the day, pastimes, studies…
As a person, I am a full-time mother of three - two daughters and a son - and a full-time employee. After work, I try to manage things at home, with kids’ needs and other tasks I have to fulfill, speaking of translation.
I started to translate when still a student; while in exams, I translated better. Apparently, it was much easier for me to translate under a certain pressure such that of exams was. After that, it became clear and dear to me this matter of translations. After finishing studies for language and literature, I started to dedicate a lot of time to it, with a special interest on English and American modernists of the 20th century. My first ‘serious’ and long translation was “Quiet days in Clichy” of Henry Miller, and after that, authors such as Gertrude Stein, Thomas Pynchon, Virginia Woolf, Murakami, Philip Roth. A collection of 23 short stories of Virginia Woolf named “The mark on the wall” has just been published in Albanian, translated from me, a translation that took me more than 10 years; all these years probably define the relations I have with this writer’s works.
At the end, I can say that a real translator strives always for perfection, he’s too close to it and luckily… never touching it. That is an option only the original work has!!!!
See poet Agron Tufa's blog:

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