From Translation to Creation

Less than a year ago, a friend called upon me to translate a play from Persian to English. After replying “yes” without any hesitation, I started to worry if I would be able to translate professionally or not. Before that, I had always used my knowledge of English for translating English to Persian and not the other way around. As a Persian speaker, I thought I was well-equipped for rendering an author’s text into my native language and not vice versa. However, I believe that I said “Yes” to the offer because I knew, deep down, that translating from Persian to English was a challenge that I wanted to accept. I wanted to see if I could re-create a Persian text into English, my second language.

After watching a performance of and reading the printed play, I got involved with the text and really wrestled with it. Sometimes I lost hope, and sometimes, when I found a suitable equivalent for a provocative word or phrase, I gained confidence. My translation was done after a couple of weeks, but I was not satisfied with the quality of the English text. With the collaboration and supervision of an editor, the text was re-written and ultimately turned out to be an eloquent piece. Aside from some moments of frustration and failure, the whole experience was one of my most creative ones. During all those nights that I was playing with different words to see which one fits, and throughout all those sessions that my editor and I were discussing the diverse associations of each synonym, we not only translated the source text but also re-fabricated it with our own choice of words, and thus created a new work.

After this challenge, there’s no wonder why I was inspired to practice my creative writing in English. Before this, believing that I was taking a realistic and professional approach, I only let myself use my knowledge of English to write about literary topics for school and to translate from English to Persian. In other words, I considered English to be the language of my academic discipline and not the one to fuel my creative desire. However, the experience of translating from my native language and re-creating an entire text into my second language showed me that not only was my approach to translation unwise and conservative, but also that it suppressed innovation and creation. It is not that the act of translation necessarily sustains the power of creativity, but it can be considered as an inspiring practice for a potential creative writer. To translate is to enter into the realm of words, the basic material for writing. It is to know their names and characters, their capabilities and disabilities, to like or detest them, to befriend or avoid them. Translation can be considered a practice for creative writing on the ground that it generates a playful game with “names”.

In July’s issue of Parsagon, you’ll read Poupeh Misaghi’s “Hedayat/Translated, Hedayat/the Translator”, a translator note’s on “Bombay Rain”, which draws on the importance of translation in the course of literary creation and indicates how crucial the interaction between translation and writing is and how narrow the line could be between a translator-writer and writer-translator.

Reading these text, we might like to think more about creativity and to examine how it can be woven into our process of reading and writing.

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Leili Adibfar

Leili Adibfar

holds an MA in English Literature from Loyola University, Chicago. She has over ten years of experience in literary translation and research. Her interests include Interdisciplinary studies in modern and contemporary literature and visual arts, critical theory, Persian literature, and creative writing. Born and raised in Iran, she moved to the U.S. in 2010 to attend graduate school.

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