Thursday, December 10, 2015

Interview with Buket Başören, Certified Translator. Innovative Thinkers Series.

The ability to translate a literary work can seem absolutely magical. It requires so much more than simply being a dictionary. It requires the translator to open his or her mind, heart, and ways of perceiving the world, and to search for the best ways to take the magic within an artistic / literary production to a reader who may be from a very different context.

Welcome to an interview with Buket Başören, a certified translator, who works in the Turkish and English languages.

1.  What is your name and your background -- how did you become interested in translating?
My name is Buket Başören. I graduated from Istanbul University, American Culture and Literature department. I started working as a certified translator as soon as I graduated, although I did some more work on project basis in my studentship years. My interest in languages and in literature goes back to as far as I can remember. I honestly never thought about becoming anything else. Many would say that translation is not a form of art simply because you do not create anything. You copy another person's work. I find some truth in this statement, especially when it comes to technical or more scientific translations since they mostly require word-to-word translation techniques. However, when you move into the world of literature, your role as a translator changes drastically. A literary work may enliven in another language through the words picked meticulously by its translator or die and be forgotten if it is done wrong. There is power in translation and it feels like magic to me. I think it might be the reason why I chose this.

Buket Başören, Istanbul, Turkey
2.  What are some of the works of literature that have influenced you most?
This is a very long list, As for my individual enlightenment, I have to name Sylvia Plath for bringing the darkness and loneliness out of me and teaching me not to fear it. She carried me through a troublesome time of my life. Anja Meulenbelt's The Shame is Over. I love science fiction because of Ursula Le Guin. I love Hemingway because he is able to make me really emotional and he is able to get on my nerves at the very same time. The fact that someone can make you feel so many emotions through written words is impressing. A friend of mine, who is a painter, once kindly took it upon himself to teach me how to read paintings. He made me look at a painting and asked me what it made me feel. I instantly told him that I didn't like the painting. As for why, I told him that it made me uncomfortable and that it is irritating and offensive. I remember not wanting to look at it at all. Enjoying my displeasure, he then assured me that it was precisely why this painting was a good one because it was meant to make me feel so. Art is not for our pleasure only. It is for us finding the truth. Whether you like it or not, if it leads you somewhere with more baggage than you had when you took off, if it contributed you somehow, then it is worth experiencing. As for me, there are so many works did that for me.

3.  Who are some of the thinkers / philosophers who have influenced you?
I would have to say Nietzsche. I relate to his frustrations about humanity and his unforgiving manner about the truth. I am perfectly aware that it is not a conventional way to back up this not so conventional thinker but he mostly keeps me humble, helping me understand true honesty - especially towards myself - and what may become of me in its absence. I think it is safe to say that I am nowhere near his confidence in such matters. Yet I'm learning.

4.  How does literature touch us now?
Literature is the diary of the history of man. Literature, regardless of genre, has the power to reflect humanity for what it truly is. Literature is the soul of mankind because it does not only show what is or what has been. It shows what we could have been, it reflects what we wanted to be, our ideals, our dreams and then again what we settle with. Literature all by itself shows the endless potential of man and all the possibilities. It takes us to the limits of both cruelty a man can demonstrate and then mercy of some more. It reveals our failings and celebrates our potential to be better. This is how literature touches us now, and how it always will. It is what we are both for good and ill. When I want to dig in a particular time of a particular land in history, I first visit the authors of that time and see what they had to say about what happened. I see what they thought was worth writing for. I know that they will not let me down and they will tell me what people were thinking when they did what they did along with all the possible outcomes of their actions. Literature, by its very nature, cannot be more or less than what man truly is. It is the perfect instrument to give you true references on our history.

5.  Are there concepts or ideas in the philosophy of translation that resonate most with you?
I believe what makes a translation most perfect is translator's ability to empathize, and I mean it linguistically. When you translate a piece of work, you don't bring your translating or linguistics to the table only. When you translate, you have to transcend the perception formed by the original language to reflect the same meaning, the same feeling in the target language. You have to keep in mind that man is only capable of understanding within the limits of his own language. We are restricted in questioning within the scope of our interrogative adjectives. This is an idea not easily understood by those speaking their native language only but I believe it is crucial for a translator to understand if you do not wish to have your intended meaning lost.

6.  What are the things that you try to do when you translate a work of literature? 
Ethically, what you do is to remember your responsibility both towards the author and towards the readers. Both parties rightfully detest the possibility that readers might be deprived from what the author intended for his or her audience due to translator's inability to convey the author's work. I remember my professor pointing out in a translation class that we simply do not have the right to slaughter Virginia Woolf. Obviously, it goes for all those trusted you to bring their works alive in another language. In technical terms, you do not abandon your linguistic skills, but I believe anyone should remember that while technique is crucial, in translation, it is more important to bring out the meaning and the feelings in the original work. You cannot indicate what it feels like or what the author meant in the original text. That's not how it works. You have to instill the same meaning, the same emotions into your translation.

Susan Nash and Buket Başören, Istanbul, Turkey, September 2014
7.  When would you advocate a "fluent" translation rather than a "faithful" one?
If you asked me which one I prefer in general, my official answer would be a "faithful" translation, although I use the word loosely. While my purpose and interest is to maintain the original text and its meaning in the target language, in cases where words alone cannot translate themselves into the meaning I strive for in translation language, I start to deviate to fluent translation. This is what I do when I want to stay true to the original text in literary terms instead of maintaining my faithfulness literally. If I cannot feel the anger, the despair, the madness or helplessness I read in between the lines of the original work within my "faithful translation", I prefer staying true to the meaning, for the sake of not depriving readers of all the feelings they would feel if they had read the original book. It is a translator's job not to steal from the readers, and eventually from the author by depriving readers from anything the book offers.

8.  Are there any specific words of advice that you might have for people who want to do literary translations?
I qualify myself as an "ever-so-enthusiastic student" when it comes to literary translation. I have the deepest respect for this job, and I will not presume to have become one. Translation is about practice, which includes both writing and reading. Although both technical and literary translations have their own challenges, I believe the former requires more research, while the latter requires your own interpretation. This is why there are so many translations of the same literary works and none of them gives you the same taste. Last but not least, do it if only you'll do it wholeheartedly. Otherwise, don't do it at all because it will show on the paper.

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