Translators in action together

London – Translation is essentially a solitary activity, so any event that enables practitioners of the craft to meet and exchange their experiences and expertise is welcome. Translation Days, a conference held by the British Center for Literary Translation (BCLT) and the Translators Association at South Bank, London on September 20-21 achieved that and much more. Every aspect of literary translation came under the microscope – from hands-on translating in Saturday’s workshops, to the theoretical, cultural, ethical and commercial dimensions in round-table discussions on both days, and culminating in the political dimensions explored in Tariq Ali’s Sebald lecture on Language and Power at Festival Hall on Sunday evening. And, appropriately, some fine products of literary translation were aired during the session devoted to the translation prizes, where the winners read from their work. Social norms, cultural specificity, the collision between the writer’s and the translator’s voice and the extent to which the translator should be a cultural mediator were just some of the questions broached in the opening session, where Michele Roberts, professor of creative writing at the University of East Anglia (UEA), poet, novelist and playwright, conversed with her French and Italian translators Sabine Boulogne and Giuliana Schiavi. ‘A sort of reverie’ Both translators spoke eloquently of that magical moment where difficulties arising from the text seemingly resolve themselves, not without hard work, but after a period of respite from the text. Roberts described the time needed before a piece of writing gels as «a sort of reverie.» Participants had a choice of five different literary translation workshops, working on French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish fiction or Latin American poetry. At the French contemporary fiction workshop run by Roz Schwartz, the practical problems of lexis, syntax and register presented by a specific text led into all the larger issues of choice facing translators – professional, cultural and ethical choices that most translators face alone and were delighted to thrash out together. As Schwartz, freelance translator and Chair of CEATL, the European Council of Literary Translators Associations, told Kathimerini English Edition: «The event is a rare and enjoyable opportunity for translators to come together to discuss the nuts and bolts of our craft with our colleagues and to give the public an insight into what it is translators actually do.» At the round-table discussion on poetry, British writer and translator Jo Balmer gave examples of translations of the classics that reflect particular cultural moments in the target language and of some fruitful outcomes of deliberate mistranslation. And Argentinean poet and translator Cecilia Rossi ventured the view that poetry itself is a foreign language, which subverts the usual meanings of words. Theater translation was the subject of the next discussion, followed by the final round-table discussion on translation and the media, which covered a rather diffuse range of topics, from subtitling Greek films and dubbing Italian ones to the views of Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent and publisher Gary Pulsifer of Arcadia Books. Referring to the role of his paper’s prize for foreign fiction, Tonkin spoke of the importance of creating a culture in which people think about what to read. Pulsifer described the extensive traveling his two-person company does in the search for foreign literature, and mentioned the significant role translators play in alerting him to good books. Readings by the winners of the translation prizes were a highlight of the conference. The prizewinners were: Sam Garrett, the Vondel Prize for translation from Dutch or Flemish for his translation of «The Rider» (Bloomsbury) by Tim Krabbe; Linda Asher, the Scott Moncrieff Prize for her translation of «Desolation» (Hamish Hamilton) by Yasmina Reza; Anthea Bell, the Sclegel-Teck Prize for her translation of «Rain» (Bloomsbury) by Karen Duve from the German; Sam Richard, the Bernard Shaw Prize for his translation of «Not Only Fire» (Faber & Faber) by Benjamin Prado; Sarah Death, for her translation of «The Angel House)» (Norvik Press) by Kerstin Ekman from Swedish, and David Constantine, the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry 2003 for his translation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s «Lighter than Air» (Bloodaxe Books). Among the most striking moments were Constantine’s deeply felt reading of his subject’s poems, and the delicious contrast between the immaculately groomed, beautifully-spoken Bell and the raunchy text she translated. Several speakers paid heartfelt tribute to the small presses that bother to publish poetry. The event ended on a high note with Tariq Ali’s timely lecture on Language and Power, and his take on imperial languages past and present. Catherine Velissaris, director of the Athens-based European Translation Center (EKEMEL), praised the conference for the opportunities to communicate it provided: «It was a very positive experience,» she told Kathimerini English Edition. The conference is an annual event, BCLT Deputy Director Carol O’Sullivan told Kathimerini English Edition: «It started out in Norwich, where BCLT is based at UEA, and it keeps growing all the time.» Long may it continue to do so.

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