In an article for The London Library Magazine, Shaun Whiteside, translator of Wu Ming's novel Manituana, counters the predicted demise of the linguist and imminent redundancy of the translator made by a recent caller to Radio Four's Any Answers. Insisting that there is more to the literary situation than Babelshot addicted iPhone users understand, Whiteside has detected a shift in the prestige of the role of the translator in the world of books:
I can't remember the world of literary translation ever being quite as confident and outgoing as it is right now - translation prizes attracting a lot of public attention, a rising generation of translators who aren't afraid of the spotlight, endless and lively public discussions. One might be forgiven for thinking that a law had been passed making it compulsory to read Scandinavian crime fiction on public transport. Even the Queen's speech last Christmas was about a translation, the King James Bible, which has, of course, just celebrated its 400th birthday.
Translation is also an art of constant negotiation, a demonstrably imperfect one, that attempts to convey the sense and the mood, the timbre and texture, of a piece of writing from one language to another. Different languages have different histories, of course, different references, different music. And that is where the mystery of translation comes in... As a translator one seeks to inhabit the author's voice, and when it works the effect is almost alchemical, the essence of the voice persisting through its transmutation.
This week has seen student demonstrations and occupations across Italy as well as more in the UK. Amongst the students protesting Berlusconi's proposed education reforms, some of the most colourful took the form of the 'Book Bloc,' a group using painted shields representing works of literature against police in Rome.
Q, the first novel (written under the nom de plume Luther Blissett) by Wu Ming, the authors of Manituana, was, much to their satisfaction, on the frontline:
This afternoon, in Rome, students confronted the cops while carrying shields with book titles on them. The meaning was: it is culture itself that's resisting the cuts; books themselves are fighting the police. It was in this incendiary midst that our novel Q showed up, and in good company to boot: Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Plato's The Republic, A Thousand Plateaux ... It goes without saying that, whatever will happen, we're proud of what our novel is doing in the streets. Omnia sunt communia!