Saturday, 17 November 2012

Translation and the Academy

As I've probably mentioned before, there are few links between practitioners of literary translation and Translation Studies scholars - at least in the UK and Germany. In the US, however, the links are more obvious because many translators are also academics. I have no clear explanation for why this might be, other than a feeling that language learning takes place earlier (and more commonly) in Europe than the US, which means Europeans can reach the high level of understanding of foreign languages required to translate without necessarily having to gain a doctorate. Or have been able to in the past, when it comes to the UK.

I find European translators are often dismissive or wary of translation theory, or at least often say it has no influence on their work. I'm not sure that's actually the case - all of us are aware of equivalence of effect or translator invisibility, foreignising and domesticating, ideas that have trickled down over the centuries from scholars to practitioners. Personally, I think it makes sense for translators to take a look at translation theory, if only to help us defend our translation decisions in a more coherent way.

Whatever the case, those American translators working in academia seem to be gradually gaining more respect from their scholarly peers, as this interesting piece in Publishing Perspectives points out. Anna Clark tells us about what's going on at various American universities, including a cross-campus Translation Theme Semester at Michigan. Fascinating stuff.

I'd like to add a footnote on the subject of translation as part of creative writing courses. For writers, translation is a wonderful exercise in duplicating style, and a skill that they can hone, for example, on Columbia University's creative writing programme. I met a group of students taking part in an exchange between Leipzig and New York last year and felt they got a lot out of it. In fact one participant later received a PEN translation grant to continue his work. It would be great to see other creative writing courses adopting translation - although of course that will always require students to have sufficient foreign language skills, which may not be a problem in Germany but may well be in the States, and almost certainly will be in the UK, what with the general decline in language learning there.

My second footnote is on an academic conference at IULM in Milan, home to Tim Parks and his theory of globalisation leading to bland literature. I can heartily recommend Michele Hutchison's take on the conference and the issue on the English PEN website, partly because she shares my opinion that we have no proof of the phenomenon taking place to a significant extent. Swiss writer Peter Stamm had a chance to defend himself against accusations of writing plain style specifically with a global market in mind, and I particularly like the view of the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi:
who claimed similarly that, ‘all novels take place in imaginary space’. His own novels are set in Germany, France and the US. It was only when he was published in Spain that he realised, to his great surprise, that he was considered ‘an exotic Mexican writer’. He repeatedly had to defend himself against the question – why had a Mexican written about Germany. The only possible answer was: why not?


English German Translator said...

Europeans have already reached the high limit of understanding the foreign languages and that too much closely. It’s the world now have got clouded with variety of two-legged intelligent animals who could be spotted by their name (if told true ones) from origin otherwise the communication via is now a different tale…

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