The importance of employing a sleeping cat when translating Kropotkin into Spanish

Carles Miró has serendipited one N Tassin’s enlistment of Josep Pla and Eugeni Xammar, as short of money as they were of Russian, in his mission to bring to the benighted South Americans the curious blessings and recommendations produced in such prodigious quantities by his compatriot. Here’s a high-speed bit of unplanned Pla:

Tassin placed himself in front of a Russian edition of the book and began to translate aloud using a mixture of French and German. At the typewriter Xammar converted Tassin’s segregation [sic: think about it] into South American form and grammar. I was responsible for refining the work’s philosophical lexicon and for reinforcing, in some fashion, its substance. It was a method that was very complex, but there was no other solution if one was to respect the authenticity required by the Argentine publisher. It was a method that created situations that were positively comical. When Tassin encountered an erect [?: enravenada] difficulty, he opened his mouth like a child and appeared to bear the lily of truth in his hand. When he encountered a case like that, he invariably ended up watching the cat that slept on top of the cupboard. Meanwhile, Xammar sometimes struggled to find the correct turn of phrase and the machine ground to a halt. Then his gaze turned to the the cat. Of the three translators, I had to be the most laboured, not only for the intrinsic difficulty of my role, but also because of my inexperience. Thus I often broke down, causing me, due to the same mechanism acting on the others, to look at the cat. It was curious to see all three of us intermittently, silently, bewilderedly, pensively, looking at the sleepy and indifferent cat.

Yes, said Tassin, this method is somewhat long and difficult. I suspect we will have to spend long hours looking at this animal. But there is no choice.Above all we have to do a clear translation. This celebrated author has written a book of an extraordinary childishness. He has written an anti-Darwinian ethics. To the ideas of natural selection and the struggle for life, the Russian author opposes a contrary thesis. In the life of the animal species is to be found permanent mutual help and a tendency to kindness and generosity. Translations of books like this, so infantile and dangerous, must be clear, because, for every small quantity of obscurity they contain, they cause the throwing of a disproportionate quantity of bombs…

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Föcked Translation (413): I posted to a light-hearted blog called Fucked Translation over on Blogger from 2007 to 2016, when I was often in Barcelona. Its original subtitle was "What happens when Spanish institutions and businesses give translation contracts to relatives or to some guy in a bar who once went to London and only charges 0.05€/word." I never actually did much Spanish-English translation (most of my work is from Dutch, French and German) but I was intrigued and amused by the hubristic Spanish belief, then common, that nepotism and quality went hand in hand, and by the nemeses that inevitably followed.

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