Grossman Discusses Translating Don Quixote

Translator Edith Grossman recently discussed Don Quixote’s singular place in the Spanish canon:

It was Grossman’s ambition to honor the significance of Don Quixote as a prose model for Spanish literature. "Though we have Shakespeare and the Bible for poetry," she said, "there’s really no equivalent for prose in our language. In Spanish literature, everyone is informed by Cervantes." The English template she chose as a point of entry was the novel of the 19th Century, in part the work of Jane Austen. "I hope Austen doesn’t mind," she said. Grossman has read Don Quixote many times in Spanish but only one version in English, and as a teenager. She mentioned Tobias Smollet’s 17th-Century translation as a work she’d like to read, having heard that it is a "beautiful piece of writing."

And, of course, put two translators in discussion and eventually they’ll get to the whole "can it ever be as good as the original" matter:

As the talk went on, each of them seemed to be informed by Benjamin’s
"Task of the Translator," from Lago’s claim that even bad translations
cannot prevent important works from being appreciated in another
language (he cites early Spanish translations of Faulkner) to his point
that certain works, from Don Quixote to Ulysses, are
universal books, "not quintessentially Spanish or Irish." She told a
story about a talk she had with fellow translator Gregory Rabassa, who
was asked by "some idiot," she said, if he felt like his Spanish was
good enough to translate Marquez. "He asked the wrong question," she
told us. "He should have asked if his English was good enough."

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