11. 27. 2017. 08:41

"Nobody speaks that way now" – an interview with Adan Kovacsics

"Then there are writers who I regularly translate and who’ve taken on a lot of significant for myself intellectually. For example, Imre Kertész or Karl Kraus." In 2017 Adan Kovacsics recieved the Balassi Literary Translation Prize. Owen Good's interview with the Spanish-Hungarian translator.

Firstly, congratulations are due for receiving the Balassi Literary Translation Prize, and deservedly so, tell us, how long have you been translating Hungarian literature, and how did you start?

Thank you!

It really started in the beginning of the nineties when I was asked to translate Kerti mulatság by György Konrád. Interestingly that book was actually published much later with a different publisher. But that’s when I started translating from Hungarian regularly, and then László Földényi’s Melankólia was published. Afterward, my relationship (and friendship) with Jaume Vallcorba, the publisher, was very important, and it was for him I began translating names like Imre Kertész, László Krasznahorkai, and Ádám Bodor.


How many works in total have you translated, and are there one or two which really stick in your memory?

I generally translate each work enthusiastically and diligently, and they do stick in my memory. Then there are writers who I regularly translate and who’ve taken on a lot of significant for myself intellectually. For example, Imre Kertész or Karl Kraus. I’ve engaged myself with their work a lot, not only as a translator; I’ve written essays or held numerous lectures on Kertész. I wrote a book about Kraus.


How long does it take you to prepare a novel; and how does the translation process look from the inside?

For me, translation is a frame of mind. I don’t remember one period of my life when I wasn’t translating. I spent my childhood in Chile and I translated for my grandmother who lived with us and didn’t speak Spanish well. Given I’ve always commuted between languages, I speak all of them a little oddly! I once was holding a lecture in German for a seminar, and somebody said: “Nobody speaks that way now, you sound like Hofmannsthal!”


You also translate from German; as a reader who can view the 'golden cage' of Hungarian literature from the outside, can you reveal any peculiarities of our Hungarian literature in contrast with German, or say, Spanish?

Not really. Usually I just see writers and I see a world literature. For me John Keats reads like János Pilinszky. There are only the peculiarities of the writers themselves. Once I was asked the same question regarding Austrian literature; I answered that you can only know what the essence of Austrian literature is when the world ends, and by then there’s not much point. All I can say is that I—because of my life, my career, my history—I was left out of something, something collective. I’m completely unable to see things collectively, I only see the individual, the individual soul, because I believe that’s where the seed of the universal lies. That’s why nationalism is so alien to me, here in Catalonia for example, or in Hungary.


Are you currently working on?

I’m putting together a small anthology of Karl Kraus’s short texts which were published in the Die Fackel journal under the title ‘Glosses’. In these short texts Kraus’s major questions are still relevant today, such as the inclination toward satire.


Are there any Hungarian works you would love to translate or believe deserve translation?

I’d love to translate Gyula Krúdy, because I think it would be a great challenge. The question is to what extent I could give back his language and his world a hundred years later, in a seemingly different society and literature, so that his work would live in another language… and be Krúdy.