Monday, June 20, 2005

Reflections on Translating French Art PR

Here’s an infalliable sign of bad writing about art: it’s heavy on abstract nouns, linked into sentences with the shoddiest of verbs.

Here’s another: it piles descriptive sentence fragments together into which the writer might think is a crescendoing flood but is actually just a list.

Here’s a third: the tone and style have a certain self-satisfied cleverness of the “clin d’oeil erudit” school.

It’s enough to make a writing instructor scrabble at the floor, vomiting blood. Dilemma below the fold.

Writing about visual art tends to be bad, but the rococco standards of French prose pose a particular problem for an English-language translator, whose audience expects more substantive, plain-prose commentary.

As I see it, a translator of French art-journalistic
glitter and powder has two options.

The first option appeals to the honest Puritan: extract the sense from the foldelol and make it conform to Anglo standards of coherence.

The second is the default
option: render the original silliness and hope that nobody will blame it on you.

If I like the writer, I'll tend to go for the first. If the writer seems pretentious and overblown, I'll tend towards the second. Is this wrong? Have I got it backwards?


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