On Translation

This interview was given in Portuguese to the Brazilian website Escrita Criativa, por Marcelo Spalding. The translation into English is mine. To read the original in Portuguese, please click here.

Désirée Jung is a Brazilian-Canadian writer and translator living in Vancouver. She studied film at Vancouver Film School and creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she obtained a master’s degree as well as a Doctorate in Comparative Literature. She has published translations, poems, and short stories in several magazines around the world.

In this interview, Desirée talks about her routine as a translator and writer living in another country. If you are curious about this kind of work, read the complete interview bellow. Every contribution is well received!

Here is the complete interview:

You have a solid career in translation, a work that requires careful attention to details. How can you maintain a text’s essence after it undergoes a translation?

As a matter of fact, I would say that more than a solid professional career in translation, my experience of living between two countries, Brazil, and Canada, is what allowed me to see the other, and the difference among countries, as something strangely attractive. At first, I usually do a first draft of the translation that is very close to the original, something very rough. Then, I normally forget the original, and do another version, which, to my ears, will sound closer to the language the text is arriving at. The final text, for me, is something hybrid, not that close to the original, nor totally different. I believe that any translation is a traversing of sorts, an experience, an in between places. I also believe that is true about any writing I do: the style and the voice of an author are their most essential attributes. For even though the final text must work in whichever language it is being translated or versed into, there will always remain a rest, an estrangement, that is contingent to any encounter with another one, be it a text or a life’s encounter.

Tell us a little bit about your process of translation – routine, technique, studies.

I came to Canada to study cinema, and, truly, I learned about translation by doing it. I never worked with translation professionally, mostly because I ended up focusing on my own texts and their translations, more than other people’s. I live in an environment surrounded by the English language, since I am in Vancouver, and I rarely speak Portuguese here. On the other hand, I also write in Portuguese, whilst most of my publications are in English. Another important aspect to highlight is that I do versions: in other words, I move from the Portuguese to the English language, which in many cases is badly regarded by the editorial market, since many still believe one should translate only into their mother tongue. Having lived here for so many years, and writing in English, I never imagined doing it otherwise. 

In your opinion, besides an expertise in languages, what is the ideal formation, including readings, for someone who desires to work with translation? 

Above all, I think one must love words. Feel seduced by language. And, of course, to what is stranger to you. Being curious about what is foreign, uncanny, in others, is a must. And, if possible, experience, perhaps for a period, living in the country or region whose work interests you. 

You publish a lot of your texts and translations in literary magazines. How does your work gain from these publications?

I think the editorial market in North America and Europe, in respect to literary magazines, is very different from Brazil. I might be a bit out of date, but here is possible to be published without necessarily knowing an editor or someone inside a publishing house. I have never been able to publish a lot in Brazil, honestly, perhaps for not knowing how to. The gain of having my work published in these magazines is great, especially because there is a lot of interest nowadays for writing that isn’t necessarily the norm. 

How do you balance your work in translation with the creation and publication of your own texts?

It is a bit complicated, because in many cases I am creating and translating my own work as well. When I have a long translation to make, I usually spend a lot of time with the text, especially because I feel I must dive into the author, a bit like dressing someone else’s skin. For me, and it is odd to say it like so, but I need to feel the writer inside me, and usually I make a draft (of course, if there is no issue with deadlines, and often there isn’t, since I work with individual writers, and not an agency), and I sit with the text a bit before rereading it. Normally, in the second draft, I can already hear the author’s voice. Very rarely this happens in the first draft. 

Since you live in Canada, and work with translation, you move between Portuguese, English and French languages. They are individually very different. How does that experience relates to your work?

Since I live in Vancouver, despite Canada being officially a bilingual country, in this side of the country French is not spoken. Of course, all the products you buy in a supermarket, for example, have the two languages printed on them. Now I do speak French because I have, for years, been learning it, and I often travel to Montreal. I must admit English is not my favorite language, I just live in it, and somehow, learned to like it since it is part of my experience with North America, and the certain objectivity this culture imposes – compared to French or Portuguese. On the other hand, the French language is truly a passion for me, since I have always loved its music, culture, and somehow, I think they complement each other, I circulate freely amidst them. Certainly, this crossing over and across languages always gives me a surplus, since I am constantly speaking about the same topic in different ways, and diversity always adds, never restrains.