cover image This Little Art

This Little Art

Kate Briggs. Fitzcarraldo, $20 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-910695-45-6

This beautiful book, part memoir, part love letter, gives a glimpse of the art of translation, as Briggs recounts her struggle to render into English Roland Barthes’s late lecture courses, La Préparation du roman and Comment vivre ensemble. She attributes her title to Thomas Mann’s translator Helen Lowe-Porter, who saw translation as a “little art,” little “as distinct from the big ones. Neither very important nor very serious.” While differing with Lowe-Porter’s view, Briggs shows her craft to be fraught with difficulty; one wishes to avoid mistakes, but often the correct interpretation of a sentence requires a deep level of empathy with the author. Translation is the product of “the dance of readerly excitement: the smack of an open hand on a desk, abrupt shifts in position, breath quickening or slowing down.” Or it occurs in reaction to a sentence or paragraph that “you find... has acted upon you.” It is in such encounters with the text, and through the text, with the author, that translation happens—almost, it seems, as the byproduct of an intense intellectual adventure. Lucid and engaging, Briggs’s book is essential, not just for translators, but anyone who has felt the magic of reading. (Apr.)