The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews novelist, journalist, and French translator Sam Taylor, author of The Ground is Burning and The Republic of Trees. The Seventh Function of Language, a bawdy and fanciful detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, is the second novel Sam has translated by France’s Laurent Binet.
Andrea Gregovich: The Seventh Function of Language is a detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, who in real life died when he got hit by a laundry van under what I’ve always understood to be unsuspicious circumstances. This novel proposes, instead, a fictitious conspiracy around his death: he was onto a higher function of language than the ones he’d already identified in his theoretical work, and this new function would allow a speaker to use their words to make anyone do anything. Kind of the holy grail of literary theory, which could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I’m fascinated by this Seventh Function—did the author invent this? Is it a concept somewhere in the texts of literary theory?
Sam Taylor: My understanding is that it was originally a minor addendum to Roman Jakobson’s six functions of language, which Laurent Binet imagined as a sort of superpower. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews translator Kerri A. Pierce. Kerri translates from many languages. Her translation of Justine, an unsettling Danish novel by Iben Mondrup, is a recent release from Open Letter Books.
Andrea Gregovich: I would call the style and flow of this novel impressionistic. The narrator Justine is an artist, and the narrative unfolds more like art than fiction, each chapter a pastiche of smaller sections that kind of throw paint at the story, one might say. Scenes, dialogue, imagery, and Justine’s internal voices all hit the page in this book, which is only somewhat chronological. What was it like to translate a book with such a patchwork narrative? Did you ever lose your bearings?
Kerri A. Pierce: Translating a book with, as you put it, a patchwork narrative certainly presents its challenges. I don’t know if any translation happens in a linear way, from beginning to end, but this one certainly didn’t! Some sections I returned to again and again, as I was progressing through the book, making significant changes to the language according to how I had translated later sections. I also had the luxury of being in touch with the author, who was wonderful to work with and very prompt with answering questions. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews poet, editor, and Chinese translator Canaan Morse. Canaan co-founded the literary journal Pathlight: New Chinese Writing as its first poetry editor, won the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation in 2014, and has published translations and book reviews in several international journals, both print and online. The Invisibility Cloak, a captivating experimental novel by Ge Fei, is Canaan’s first translated book.
Andrea Gregovich: The Invisibility Cloak feels unique to me—a Beijing-based freelance designer of custom sound systems for wealthy people takes a sketchy job that goes awry, and trouble ensues. Its narrative is a patchwork of classical music discussion, shop talk about audio components, and the political and philosophical opinions of various characters. Did you detect any literary influences when you were working on this book? Does it fit into any literary trends in China?
Canaan Morse: I’m so glad you asked this question, because my answer is a resounding “No.” While much of the earlier, experimental fiction upon which Ge Fei built his reputation is deeply (and clearly) influenced by American Modernism, his later fiction speaks with a much more individualized voice. This book in particular leaves an aesthetic impression unlike any other; its terse yet suddenly mellifluous narrative style and its embrace of suspense distinguish it clearly from all the English and Chinese literature I’ve read. Continue reading