Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Carnets de Seattle: An Evening with Ursula K. Le Guin

Two wonderful posts up on Loic's blog, Carnets de Seattle.  Loic is a French expatriate living in Seattle, my hometown.  It is always a pleasure to read his impressions of life in the Pacific Northwest, a region that is hard to define precisely but includes the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington and Oregon.

For reasons unknown, this region is home to some of the very best writers of science-fiction and fantasy:  Frank Herbert (Dune), for example, and Ursula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Tombs of Atuan and many others).

Ursula K. Le Guin is hands down one of my all-time favorite authors.  As I child I read all of her "children's" books which are deep and dark - they both entertained and disturbed me.  Her sci-fi is just as good and her essays are outstanding.  One of the first books I gave to the younger Frenchling when she expressed interest in becoming a writer was The Language of the Night which is a series of superb essays on fantasy and science fiction.  In that collection is one that I have read and re-read many times over the course of my life called  "The Child and the Shadow."  It's an interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a man who sends his shadow off to meet a beautiful girl in a house across the street because he's too afraid to go himself.  His life is never the same after he loses the dark side and it doesn't end well.  Le Guin described it as "a story about insanity, ending in humiliation and death."   And the lesson to be learned from it?
"Reduced to the language of daylight, Andersen's story says that a man who will not confront and accept his shadow is a lost soul.  It also says something specifically about itself, about art. It says that if you wish to enter the House of Poetry, you have to enter it in the flesh, the solid, imperfect, unwieldy body, which has corns and greeds and passions, the body that casts a shadow.  It says that if the author ignores evil, he will never enter into the House of Light."
I never met Le Guin when I was living in Seattle but Loic had an opportunity recently to do so at an event organized by one of Seattle's many fine public libraries.  He wrote two posts about the encounter:   Une soirée avec Ursula K. Le Guin and  Une soirée avec Ursula K. Le Guin II.

I learned a few things from Loic's post.  Le Guin is married to a Frenchman (I had no idea) and she does translations.  The event, in fact, was a presentation of a partial English translation of Squaring the Circle by Gheorghe Sasarman.

And here is where it gets very interesting.  Why a partial translation and not a complete one?  Loic said that the second half of her answer to that question surprised him.
"L'autre raison est complètement différente: Ursula K. Le Guin n'a pas traduit certains textes car ils présentaient une vision de la femme qui la choquaient profondément."
(The other reason is completely different:  Ursula K. Le Guin did not translate certain texts because they presented a vision of woman that profoundly shocked her.)
In other words, this woman author who was censored decided to censor someone else's work because she did not like what he had to say on a subject she felt strongly about.

And I have to wonder if this means that Le Guin sent her own shadow out into the world while she did this work.  Did she "ignore evil" by not translating words or ideas that shocked her?  In doing this, did she cast herself out of the House of Light?
"Unadmitted to consciousness, the shadow is projected outward, onto others.  There is nothing wrong with me - it's them... If the individual wants to live in the real world, he must withdraw his projections;  he must admit that the hateful, the evil, exists within himself. "
All good questions for a Monday morning.  Read Loic's posts and, if it amuses you during the day, set your gray matter to answering them for yourself.


Ellen said...

This has always been a problem with translation. How do you keep out your own censorship, or just your own feelings. Sometimes, when it comes to choosing which word or turn of phrase will best fit the original, you are making a choice, based on your interpretation. I think that translating literature is extremely difficult.
Was she refusing to translate some of the text because she censored it or because it made her so uncomfortable that she didn't feel up to the job?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Ellen, From Loic's post it appears that she simply chose not to translate parts of the texts at all because she did not like the way the author portrayed women.

She gets points for honesty but I still don't like it.

How are we to learn if we don't confront ideas that make us uncomfortable? As a translator is it really her role to prevent the rest of us from being able to make our own judgements?

Anonymous said...

As the Spanish translator of the book, I can say that Le Guin didn't translate the texts she didn't feel urged to translate. There was a single text that could be a problem for a feminist (if one doesn't just understand the irony of the original), the other ones have nothing to do with this difficult subject. There is a French version of the whole book, as well as my Spanish one, so they can dispel this legend of Sasarman being a mysoginist! He is not, he's a real European gentlemen, not a macho!

JuliaLikesFrogs said...

Translation issues aside (it sounds to me like she was a writer even when she was ostensibly translating), I have always thought Le Guin was one of the great authors of the English language, and I'm glad she's still writing!

What an honor it must have been to meet her.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous, Thank you so much for your comment. What you said confirms my sense that Le Guin's interpretation of that text was heavily influenced by the cultural lens through which she read the piece. I am curious to read it for myself and will pick up the French translation. Somehow I think that I will not have the same reaction as she did. What is considered misogynist in that part of the world is rather particular and not at all viewed as such by other cultures.

@Julia, Oh yes, Loic was very lucky. I wish I had been there too....