Posted on

Amanda Doxtater talks about her translation of Karin Boye’s queer classic

Literary translation, not unlike Boye’s literary production, can be a personal, creative endeavor with political implications. Translating and publishing this novel marks a concerted attempt to broaden a canon of modernist literature still dominated by white, straight, male Anglophone writers. But as a translator working in the academy, I am equally excited about the ways that translating a book like Crisis might open up the possibility for new forms of literary scholarship that draw no significant distinction between emotion and intellect, or between translation and the scholarly practice of literary criticism. This is a decidedly political proposition. Crisis is a book that screams out for the personal to be acknowledged and attended to rather than ignored or subdued in the name of objectivity or equivalence, and I have tried to hear that.

This novel, with all of its elegance and awkward peculiarities, has compelled me for half of my life — unlike any other book I’ve encountered. I was an awkward nineteen-year-old when I first read it in a course on Swedish women’s literature at the University of Washington — an initial exposure that coincided with my first taste of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, all of whom Boye had engaged with to write it. Undaunted by the fact that Boye’s prose would stretch my undergraduate Swedish skills to their utmost limits, I set out (pencil to paper, with a heavy, bound dictionary) to bring it into English. It was an automatic reflex. I was self-aware enough to know that it was a naïve undertaking, but I was convinced that being so close in age to Malin would afford me insight into her experience that would compensate for my deficiencies. Thinking back, I would like to believe that my decision to translate Crisis went something like the moment when Malin first glimpses Siv sitting in front of her and is both struck and soothed by the beauty of her gently-sloping shoulders. As it did with Malin, the vision of Siv also offered me a reprieve of sorts after having made my way through a significant portion of a book that I still find largely perplexing (if wondrous). The scene sparked desire, and translation was the most appropriate way for me to express it. If undertaking the labor of translation began with a flush of infatuation, it eventually transformed into a project of admiration and even a kind of love. Crisis became the center of my own intellectual Bildungsroman. I returned to it as an MA student and wrote my thesis on the novel, comparing Malin to Diva, the protagonist in Monika Fagerholm’s postmodern novel by the same name. The two protagonists had too many compelling similarities, I argued, to allow us to draw a sharp distinction between modernism and postmodernism. During this period, I had the fortunate opportunity to workshop a section of my draft in a translation seminar with the amazing translator, Tiina Nunnally. I finished my thesis, but set the translation aside for more than a decade.

This is the opening of the Translator’s Afterword. To read more from Amanda Doxtater about her working relationship with this original and exciting book, get your copy of Crisis here.

Karin Boye, circa 1930s. Public domain.