Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Intimate Enemies: A Discussion with Marlene Van Niekerk and Michiel Heyns about Agaat and Its Translation into English

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Intimate Enemies: A Discussion with Marlene Van Niekerk and Michiel Heyns about Agaat and Its Translation into English

Article excerpt

Leon de Kock: Michiel, every translation has a feel about it. How did this one feel for you?

Michiel Heyns: Much of the time I was stimulated, and occasionally I had to ask Marlene what she meant. As you know, Marlene's Afrikaans is not just a matter of redoing the old thing, and that was sometimes strenuous, but by and large--I'm generalising now from the experience of seven months--it was stimulating, exciting, and very seldom boring. I round it a great experience, and I think I had a very good working relationship with Marlene. I felt I could always ask her things when really in doubt. We lived about 20 km apart, and we'd meet once a week, or once a fortnight, to have an afternoon session, followed by a meal, perhaps.

LdK: How would you characterise this translation? The level of co-authorship, the eo-translation here seems to be quite marked, as it was with Triomf. In such a case, I sometimes wonder whether one is beginning to talk about something more than just translation.

MH: Yes, it's a collaboration; I suppose you did the same in Triomf--we attributed copyright for the translation to both of us, because Marlene had a huge share in the translation. Yes, it's not a matter of me sitting alone translating, and then presenting it to Marlene; there was an interaction all the time. I'm looking for a word for this ...

Marlene van Niekerk: Co-creativity ...

MH: Yes. It gave me perhaps an inkling of something you said yesterday, Leon [at Boekehuis in Johannesburg]--that sense of freedom, that I could sometimes exceed the limit because I'd checked with Marlene, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I'd simply been working on my own.

LdK: Yes, that's the other side of my notion that you should "never translate anyone but a dead author"; (1) you have more freedom this way, whereas if you were translating a dead author, you wouldn't dare.

MH: No, you would not if you honoured his memory. This is where your word "licence" comes in, in a sense, because the author can give you licence; of course the author can also deny you licence, but in this case usually the "licentiousness" that you also talked about yesterday, was indeed licensed by Marlene, so that gives one a kind of freedom.

MvN: I felt that Michiel brought a whole lot of his structures and machinery of erudition to the text, took it into his structures and machinery, and, ja, I felt it was entirely gerymd. It was at some points quite explorative in its sentences and quite improvisational in its development of certain thoughts, and I thought, well, fine. If you put it into another machinery of erudition, and creativity, you'll get something that works, and I was comfortable with it because I felt it was gerymd. What is the word I'm looking for?

LdK: Congruent?

MvN: Congruence. Concomitant.

LdK: I felt that congruence. [To MH:] You got me reading T.S. Eliot this morning, the "Four Quartets", and I felt the congruence, knowing Agaat, in the strains of "time future" and "time present".

MH: Yes, and "in my beginning is my ending and in my ending is my beginning", which is an accurate description of the structure of the novel....

LdK: ... so, in a sense, it was similar to what happened in Triomft; the English version is slightly different and it's slightly, an extended version, almost ...

MH: I think something potentialised. It was there to be brought out. So it's not as if you're imposing something on the original; you take a hint from the original and expand it; and because you're working in a different language and it has a different cultural tradition, you can draw on that. As I said yesterday, I hope I'm not violating the work, but I'm pleased to hear you say you also found it, reading the "Four Quartets"; it resonates for me with this novel.

LdK: I love that phrase "machinery of erudition", because that's what writing is about, and it's quite unique to see this level of cooperation between two living South African writers, writing out of different languages and creating this one work, which is now . …

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