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Translation: A Bridge Between Civilizations

Morocco World News

Ksar El Kébir, Morocco, December 17, 2011

Moroccan Novelist & Translator Mohamed Saïd Raïhani interviewed by Rebekah Thibadeau, Shaniel Wright & Tiffany St. John.

Question: When translating stories, do you ever find yourself at a loss for words?

Raïhani: I think that one should distinguish between a professional translator who is always ready to translate anything in any field at anytime and a literary translator who is either a writer or a critic or a good reader of literary works and who specializes in translating the literary field in which he feels at home…

As far as I am concerned, I am a prose writer. I write in fields of Novel, Short Story and Short-Short Story… And when it comes to translation, I translate the texts and works belonging to these very literary genres without the least feeling of being surfing away to loss…

Question: Do you feel that, when you translate stories, it takes away from its cultural origins?

Raïhani: when converting a text into another language, many contexts are being equally converted along on many levels: socially, politically, culturally and religiously… shaping what I call “The spirit of the text” or “the power of the text” which, if well handled, preserves the text from being rooted out of its original cultural and literary soil…

Question: Does the message of your stories change once they have been translated?

Raïhani: I am the translator of my own texts. That may sound weird but the reasons that I have long kept for myself can make it now acceptable.
When translating other writers’ texts into other languages, I surely have to adopt a strict methodology in converting the power and glossary of  the text subject of translation into the other language in the other culture. When translating other writers’ texts, fidelity to the text is a more than priority, more than a sanctity…
However, in translating my own works,  I opt for a quite different  approach as I find it a gold opportunity to add, remove, rectify and re-write what, following the norms in use, I can never have the right to do once the original text is published and handed over to the reader…

Question: Why not just leave the stories to be told in their original Arabic language?  What is your reason for translating them?

Raïhani: Translation has many vital functions that if properly invested, good results are expected. For clarification needs, I can enumerate some of them…
Translation contributes to converging cultures, establishing dialogue between civilizations and defeating chauvinism. It is one of the chief values of coexistence and convergence as it is an effective weapon against “Egocentrism”… The more languages converge, the more cultures get nearer to each other.

Another important goal targeted by translation throughout the centuries is to give a positive image of oneself in eras of glory as Japan, USA and Europe do now by exporting their cultures/images to the worlds in all languages…

Even at the individual level, translation can be a mirror reflecting the image of the self in other peoples’ languages. I can set an example here with German poet and philosopher Wolfgang Goethe, author of “Faust”, who was greatly surprised at reading the English version of his book, identifying newer visions that he himself has overlooked in the source language of his own book.
Moreover, translation makes it possible for a literary work to reach away to a living language in a sort of “cultural rescue”, by depositing one’s cultural productions in the banks of History in times of collapse, as happened with Averroes, greatest Moroccan philosopher whose entire works written in Arabic were burnt in the Middle Ages. Only the Hebraic versions of his works survived and were retranslated into Arabic and other languages in the following centuries. Without the Hebraic copies of his philosophy, Averroes’ works would have been lost forever.

Question: In the short story, “Love on the Beach” it starts off by saying : “Temperature inside her chest exceeds that in mid-August” (“Speaking for the Generations: An anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories”, Ed. Diké Okoro. New Jersey,Trenton: Africa World Press, 2011, Pg. 159).  If temperature is used to signify her love is ‘flaming’ for this guy, why did you choose to use this word choice?

Raïhani: Sometimes, fidelity to the original text wins over any other choice.

Question: Did you write the story “Blue Temptations” originally in English? If not, why did you decide to use the word “haunts” on page 30 to describe how birds build up their own nests.  Why didn’t you use a different word like “homes” or “nests”?

Raïhani: Fictive text titles are the chief key to understand the text itself, grasp its structure and identify its mechanisms. Therefore, when translating text titles, it is highly recommended to be careful as any misuse may redirect the whole text into newer horizons of reception…
“Blue Temptation” is the title of the English version of the short story. In the original Arab text, the title is “Frustrated Birds’ Land”. To reassure the reader, that was the only modification in the text.

The text deals with a central yearning for freedom through three narrative leaps in three attempts to fly high up in the sky: the first jump is that of obedience to the status quo with the crippled father as a prototype; the second jump is that of recklessness with the late brother as a model; and the third jump is that of flight and freedom which is postponed to the end of the text as a definite decision expressed in “direct speech” uniting the voices of the speaking character within the text with the meditating reader outside it:

” I will fly, daddy, and I will succeed in my try.”

“Blue Temptation” may be regarded as an allegory. Hence, words are assumed to be chosen carefully.  As far as habitation is concerned, the word “home” is commonly used for humans, “nest” nearly restricted to birds, whereas “haunt” remain open to all species and valid for all uses…

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