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October 3, 2010

Regrets Only

On the misery-loves-company front, Michael Cunningham offers some solace to those who, in meeting their deadline and staying within their word count, have written something that falls short of the crystalline and indelible prose they'd meant to achieve. He's speaking of the novelist's experience, but it's not far removed from the journalist's:

A novel, any novel, if it's any good, is not only a slightly disappointing translation of the novelist's grandest intentions, it is also the most finished draft he could come up with before he collapsed from exhaustion. It's all I can do not to go from bookstore to bookstore with a pen, grabbing my books from the shelves, crossing out certain lines I've come to regret and inserting better ones. For many of us, there is not what you could call a "definitive text."

Cunningham's larger discussion of translation, meanwhile, put me in mind of editing, and how difficult and essential it is for the editor to both respect and -- where necessary -- channel the writer's intent.

His essay in today's New York Times Week in Review section is here.

October 3, 2010 2:49 PM | | Comments (1)

1 Comments

Interesting -- Lydia Davis recently wrote a piece about translation and I found some points in it to be very relevant to what it means to be a critic. Her criteria for good translation were similar to what I think makes a good critic.

Here's a link to her piece:

http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/category/on-translation/

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