Now that I got your attention, let’s talk about translation of lust.
Did you know that the oldest love poem found in human history is an erotic monologue? “Istanbul 2461” carved in a tablet around 2000 BC. Going a little bit forward, “Chin P'ing Mei” (The Plum in The Vase), written in 1600, is one of the classical pieces of Chinese literature and distinguished for being the first to contain explicit depiction of sexuality in this country. More recently, 50 Shades of Grey became a best seller with more than 125 million books sold and translated into 52 different languages.
These are just some examples of written lust. Sexuality is part of our lives, history, and culture, and so the different ways of expressing it: paintings, literature, plays, and the list continues. These artistic channels have been through an unsteady path, being encouraged in periods of sexual liberation and forbidden in times of strong censorship. In spite of its ups and downs, erotic literature has endured this journey with its codriver, translation. As the saying goes...behind every great piece of literature, there stands its translation.
As we have already mentioned in previous blog posts, language proficiency is not the only ingredient needed to achieve a successful translation. Other key elements needed for the recipe, especially in the erotic field, are culture-awareness, creativity, and multi-perspectives in gender.
Lust is an interesting field where words are culturally bound to specific countries. What is considered erotic in one country can be considered taboo or funny in another. In order to produce the same feeling as the original text, adept translators are conscious of the polysemic meanings of the words. A clear example is the translation into Spanish of “fuck”. In Spain, it is “follar”, whereas in Argentina it is “coger”. If the latter were used in Spain, readers will be dazzled since “coger” means to grab for them. Meanwhile, if “follar” were used for the Argentine, chances are that the readers will understand the meaning but they won't experience the effect intended by the author.
In addition, some languages count with unique words that encompass a whole world of meaning. Usually, there isn’t a direct equivalent in the target language but the exact idea should be transmitted. In this step, the translators’ creative skills come into action and produce an identical aesthetic rendering.
Furthermore, a multi-perspective in gender is required in erotic translations. the way in which translators interpret and reproduce the text directly affects how the target readers will receive this information. Doing this correctly implies a great contribution to the spreading of diverse sexual practices/relationships. Thus, gender diversity gains more ground and recognition, eroding unique paradigms of what is deemed as the norm. Consequently, the podium won't be led by one single normative model but shared with a variety of perspectives on sexuality.
From Istanbul 2461 to the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey we can see that erotic literature has been present in human history and there is a demand for it. Translation in this field involves great dedication and heightened sensitivity to language, culture, and diversity.
By: Andrea Chetti