Suppose you ask me who my favorite composers are, and I respond with the usual trio of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I then add that
(a) the only works of these composers that I know are Bach's Cantata BWV 12, Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and
(b) the only performances of these works that I am familiar with are recordings by Leslie Howard.
Knowing that Leslie Howard is a pianist, you give me that hard, squinty Dirty Harry look and ask if I'm fucking with you. I assure you that I am being utterly sincere, and point out that Leslie Howard has recorded the complete piano works of Franz Liszt, among which are
(i) Prelude for piano after Bach's Cantata BWV 12,
(ii) Operatic fantasy Réminiscences de Don Juan on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and
(iii) piano transcriptions of all nine symphonies of Beethoven.
At this point, if you are a kind and very patient person, your voice will fill with pity as you exclaim: Boom, you hopeless imbecile! These works of Liszt are at best only approximations of the original compositions, and at worst they are outright recreations whose ties to the original music are as tenuous and superficial as your apparent grasp on the concept of authorship in music!
This imaginary exchange is more than an exercise in gratuitous stupidity. I know intelligent, well-educated people who will readily name Dostoevsky (or Proust, Böll, Moravia, Hemingway, etc.) as one of their favorite novelists, even though these people cannot read Russian (or French, German, English, etc). They read foreign literature in translation and, as far as I can tell, take it for granted that it is Dostoevsky's literary talent and craft they appreciate when they read a translation of Crime and Punishment. Why else would they name Dostoevsky as one of their favorite writers, and not, say, Smith or Dostoevsky-Smith - if Smith was responsible for the translation they've read? Why else would they predictably fail to know (or at least to remember) who translated the foreign novels whose authors' names they have so firmly committed to memory? And this tells me that such appreciative consumers of translated literature are no less delusional in their attributions of literary authorship than the above imaginary Boom is in his attributions of authorship in music.
To see why lets poke just a little bit at the task of translating something like a Great American Novel - say, Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men - which exploits, as an important literary component, the phonetic, syntactic, idiomatic, and etymological peculiarities of English spoken in the American South of the 1930s. Put yourself in the shoes of a Russian (or French, German, etc) translator who, like a deer in the headlights, stares at the mangled phonetics and syntax on page two, where "a nigger chopping cotton" notices the rising column of black smoke from a distant car accident and wearily remarks:
Lawd God, hit's a-nudder done done hit!
What I still remember after many years (correctly I hope) as the Russian translation of this utterance is a syntactically and phonetically ordinary Russian sentence - so ordinary that it could have been spoken (if informally) by anyone, from an illiterate peasant to a professor at the Moscow State University:
О Господи, ещё один сковырнулся!
(Oh Lord, another one bit the dust!)
The translator is not at fault. The Russian language has plenty of regional dialects, professional and criminal jargons, slang expressions, and other sources of phonetic, syntactic, and semantic deviations from the linguistic mainstream. But using any of them would give the readers a thoroughly misleading and faintly surreal impression that under the skin of a Southern plantation Negro hides a Siberian peasant, a Chechen gangster, or an old Jew from Odessa.
Never mind such minor issues as that the Russian translation uses the same word - негр (negr) - for both Negro and nigger. The translator was absolutely right to use an ordinary word (for "Negro") to translate a racial slur ("nigger"). There are plenty of racial slurs in Russian, including those aimed at dark-skinned people. But none of them can be used the way nigger is used in the inner monologue of Warren's university educated, highly intelligent, and good natured young Southerner: not as a conscious, deliberate insult; not with the slightest feeling of hatred, anger, or malice; but simply as an ordinary, matter-of-fact word used to refer to blacks in everyday life.
There are still even more minor issues, such as that the names of the two main characters - Burden and Stark - are meaningful English words, and there is every reason to think that a great writer like Warren chose these names at least in part because of their meaning. But the major, general problem is that there is nothing in the language of the Russian translation to suggest (as Warren's English does in numerous places) that the novel is first and foremost about the American South. And this loss obliterates a good deal of Warren's literary craft.
Of course translators, if good, try to compensate for this kind of loss in some way: by choosing appropriate idiomatic expressions, inventing colorful turns of phrase, perhaps employing non-standard phonetics here and there - anything that will augment the translation with some "local" linguistic colors and flavors in place of the irretrievably lost colors and flavors of the original. Which means that good translators of literary works always end up doing some amount of rewriting, with the newly generated literary flesh being grafted on the skeleton of the original work. (Boris Pasternak's Russian translations of Shakespeare is one example that readily comes to mind.)
All this is a rather trivial "lost in translation" stuff, but I am not concerned here with the legitimacy or usefulness of literary translations, or with the criteria for judging one translation as being better than another. I am only interested in the following simple and straightforward question:
Why the fuck is there no explicit acknowledgment of joint authorship for literary translations, the way it is explicitly acknowledged for musical transcriptions?
After all, the world of music never had any problems with "hyphenated composers" being prominently listed on the concert programs, Lp covers, or CD booklets: Bach-Vivaldi, Liszt-Schubert, Brahms-Schoenberg, etc. Yet in the world of literature we're lucky if we notice the translator's name printed in a tiny font at the very bottom of the book's cover. All too often, however, the translator's existence is not acknowledged on the cover at all: