Sunday, 13 October 2013

Festival finale

Ten days is ample for a literature festival, it seems to me, before fatigue sets in. The last event I went to was this morning's "Translating China": my photograph shows (from left) writer Anne Witchard, one of the "Misty Poets", Yang Lian, and Xinran, author of "The Good Women of China", translated into 37 languages. I took it at the very end of the session, while Yang Lian's publisher was reading a translation of a piece from "The Third Shore", after the poet had read it in the original.

Hearing a poem in Chinese brought home the immense gulf there exists between our cultures, so much of which is down to language. Xinran expressed one difference succinctly: "Chinese people," she said, "first understand, then think. In the West, though, you think first, then understand."

Translation arose as a side issue earlier in the Festival, in the two (of several) sessions about Proust which I attended. He disapproved violently, we were told by the excellent Cynthia Gamble, of the translation of the title of his great work as Remembrance of things past. Neville Jason was on hand to read from the novel, and - at the second session - from various rather fascinating letters. His voice can be heard for 140 hours if you listen non-stop to the Naxos recording.

The audio publisher, Nicholas Soames (this one thinner than the MP) spoke of involuntary memory as a means of overcoming the tyranny of time. From The Captive, he quoted the passage following Bergotte's death, "They buried him, but all through that night of mourning, in the lighted shop-windows, his books, arranged three by three, kept vigil like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection." And from the last page of Swann's Way, "Remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment."

I have struggled through to half way into volume two, and am inclined to think now of the reviewer who described a book - not Proust - as "one of those works which, once you put it down, you just can't pick it up again."

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