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The following excerpt is from In Translation: Honouring Sheila Fischman, by Sherry Simon.
That translation has ongoing and sometimes unexpected effects is suggested by both the Latin word vertere and the medieval French term tourner. In contrast to the more mechanical idea of “carrying over” (transferre), these terms for translation emphasize the way that new versions turn a work in fresh directions. The winding circular ziggurat of the famous Tower of Babel painting by Brueghel (an image often used to represent translation) evokes a pattern of spirals, suggestive of the outward and inward journeyings that fill a translator’s life. The rich career of Sheila Fischman has been the occasion for many such translational turns and returns.
Canadians have had long and close experience with translation. Daily exposure to the mirror-image doubles of national institutions, the matching paragraphs that line up two versions as equal, provides one image of translation. But the exchange of poetry, novels, essays, and plays across the country provides another. This movement has become a familiar and honoured part of Canadian cultural life. Over the past forty years, the library of Canadian literature has been augmented by hundreds of works from the other language – both Quebec literature translated into English, and English-Canadian literature appearing in French versions. But here, the doubling is uneven. Translations are read differently by a second readership; interpretations diverge. It is the impossibility of a perfect fit, of the identical mirror image, that constitutes the challenge and the promise of literary translation.
The arc of Fischman’s career corresponds to the coming of age of Canadian literary translation. Her work was among the first to be funded by the newly established Canada Council program (1971). By the late 1970s and 1980s, literary translation was emerging as an organized and collective endeavour, tied into Canadian cultural policy and embraced by Canadian publishers. Fischman worked closely with publishers, operating a kind of individualized wire service delivering news of the latest developments on the Quebec scene. She has become one of Canada’s most respected literary translators and its most prolific. She has now translated an entire library of Quebec literature, including most of the names that have marked Quebec letters in the past four decades: Anne Hébert, Michel Tremblay, Jacques Poulin, Gaétan Soucy, Elise Turcotte, François Gravel. Her commitment to the profession is singular. She is known for championing young authors and for her subsequent commitment to their entire oeuvre. She has made translation her life and embraced the devotion it demands. She has also achieved unprecedented recognition, rewards that honour both her personally and the literary activity she has brought to visibility.
This volume recognizes all these facets of the singularity of Sheila Fischman and is an homage both to the translator and to the art to which she has brought honour. It combines essays on translation and personal expressions of recognition to Sheila, and includes prose poems, an interview, and a translation by Sheila herself. It grows out of the circles of reciprocity she has inspired.
We’ve posted some archived photos of Sheila Fischman, courtesy of Donald Winkler. You can check them out here.