February 25, 2016  By Idra Novey


7325118-1Haruki Murakami has taken part in the reckless practice of writing while translating, and so has Lydia Davis. Some suspect that Elena Ferrante has, and Jorge Luis Borges definitely did. I find it no surprise that so many of the most innovative writers of the last century have experimented with translation. Vladimir Nabokov and Clarice Lispector did, and Samuel Beckett ventured into the slippery realm of self-translation more than once.

I can’t speak for the motivations of any of these literary renegades, but as a writer-translator myself, I’ve found that translation begins with the prefix “trans” for a reason. Like transcendence and transformation, it requires an acceptance of progressing with uncertainty, which is essential for authors who want to write around and over what’s currently expected from a novel. The prefix “trans” comes from the Latin word for “across.” To turn to one’s own writing after translating is to cross there with one’s mind already in motion, and emboldened from the verbal leaps and linguistic freefall that translation demands.

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