10 Questions for Lidia Vianu
- By Christin Howard
“it’s true that we’d been very close
but never did I imagine that
I’d see him flayed right before my eyes
with his heart tumbling down to my feet
just because we were going to say goodbye” —From "Two Snails Stuck to My Cheek," by Matei Visniec, translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu, Summer 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 2)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
It was Joyce Carol Oates, followed by Joseph Conrad, Mirror of the Sea.
The former was—miraculously, for communist times in Romania—published in our then best world literature magazine. It was my one-time publication before 1990. The latter took some twenty years to go to print [after the fall of the Iron Curtain], and I still find shameful errors of understanding when I am asked to proofread it for a rerun. A translation is never finished, even though a work may be.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve been an academic all my life. My dream [at eighteen], come true.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I have always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t think I am one. Yet.
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
To be honest with you, Adam Sorkin, my co-translator, twisted my arm... Not that I am sorry I did it. Working with Adam all my life has taught me a lot.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I haven’t seen that many, but the place is the one I call home. When I am not at home physically, I am always at home in my imagination, but that world has so very little to do with this one that I can hardly say it exists—
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Well, I am very fond of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It helps me go through anything.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Just to listen to myself and make sure I do have something to say.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Before I am certain they are worth anything, nobody. If they are not discarded, all readers are the same. I may be happy if they like it, or sad if they don’t—but they are all the same. A P.S. to that would be that, when I write in English [which is not my mother tongue, but has become my only language lately, in poetry], I worship the advice of a native poet or editor. One’s own mother tongue is the only one that can be used safely, and yet some of us do happen to sin and take refuge in English—in my case, because we address a secret reader who doesn’t have any Romanian at all].
What are you working on currently?
Too many things at once. And besides, when I write my own stuff, since I am [or think I am] a poet, it’s rather “inspiration” than work... The work comes at the end, and, like the good critic that we all are [Eliot thought so, and I totally agree], the work consists of brushing up, adjusting the wording, and, as I said, discarding most of it.
What are you reading right now?
I find myself reading contemporary authors, but I am also interested in everything that comes my way, since my publishing house feeds on them all.
Lidia Vianu is professor of Modernist and Contemporary British Literature at Bucharest University, where she also directs the publishing house Contemporary Literature Press. She has been Fulbright professor at the UCal Berkeley and SUNY Binghamton. Author of more than twenty books of literary criticism, she has translated over seventy books into English and Romanian, among which Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge, translated with Adam Sorkin, won the 2005 Poetry Society (U.K.) Prize for European Poetry Translation.