‘Falling in love again with literature’ through translation studies course

Translator and critic Aris Berlis is the newly appointed director of the European Translation Center (EKEMEL), where he is also head of the Department of English. For Berlis, a dedicated teacher, the school is the heart of EKEMEL and his eyes light up as he describes the enthusiasm of students who fall in love with literature all over again through studying translation. One of his own students was so fired up by working on «The Dubliners» at an EKEMEL course that she is now in Dublin, doing an MA on James Joyce. He talked to Kathimerini English Edition about what EKEMEL has achieved and where he sees it going. Excellent results Having established itself, what can EKEMEL do to develop? It’s been in operation for exactly three years now, with excellent results. We already have our first graduates in French, English and German. I’m very pleased with all the departments. Of course, the English Department is the most populous – because of the language, I suppose – but the French and the German departments are doing very well. We started the Spanish Department two years ago and the Italian Department last year. We would like to expand to another language in the near future, especially to Turkish and/or Russian. It depends on the demand. There is some talk of Portuguese as well, but not for a full two-year course. It would be as a seminar in the beginning, an intensive seminar for one or two months to see what demand there is. Will EKEMEL continue to run some summer courses, bringing in students from abroad? Yes, we have already had Spanish students here this year. We are always open to groups of students who would like to practice their Greek or work on translation. Some of your pupils have already started working as translators. How do you help them? EKEMEL provides education and help, but it does not guarantee students a job afterward. We help them when we can. Publishers often call and ask for our recommendation for specific translations. Knowing the students and knowing their competence or their specialization, we can tell them we have somebody who is very good at that sort of thing. What about the other activities held by EKEMEL. Are you going to continue with those? Yes. And the House of Literature on Paros, which was an excellent idea of [former EKEMEL director] Catherine Velissaris and the mayor of Paros and it has worked very well. The House of Literature was full in June, July and August, and it’s almost full now in September. The authors and translators who have gone there to work are very pleased. What other events will you hold? First of all, the kind of monthly events that we’ve always had since the very beginning, which have to do with translation theory and problems. We start this year on September 30, St Jerome’s Day, which is Translators’ Day, with a big event on translation theory and practice on the occasion of the publication of George Steiner’s «After Babel,» which will be published this month in a Greek translation by Grigoris Kondylis. We’ll have two panels on that. Every month we have some event on translation. These are open to the public. Do you have any ideas for new ways of promoting the work of EKEMEL? I think the two events which have done very well up to now. That is, the yearly meeting of the publishers and translators, which will be with English publishers this year, plus the yearly meeting in June of Greek writers and literary critics from European newspapers – last year on Rhodes and this year on Paros. These two things, which started with EKEMEL from the very beginning, and especially the second, which was Catherine Velissaris’s idea, have gone very well and we’re going to continue them. We don’t have new plans for this year. How do the meetings with foreign publishers work and what kind of benefits come from them? There’s a panel, mainly of local translators, who talk about their experience of translating books and their dealings with publishers. They get to know each other, which is no small thing. The publishers get a better idea of modern Greek literature, especially prose, and recent publications. They contribute to the discussion as well and try and find ways for the better promotion of Greek literature abroad. I’m afraid that we have neglected poetry so far. But poetry is such an odd activity. It has nothing to do with commercialism, it has its own rules. I feel a bit guilty that we haven’t done much about modern Greek poetry. I’m not talking about Seferis and Elytis – they don’t need our help – but poets that are active now. I promise to think hard and do something about it. Bursting with life Speaking as the director, I think EKEMEL is mainly the school. That doesn’t mean that I scorn the other activities regarding the promotion of Greek literature, not at all. But the school is the heart of EKEMEL. Last year we had over a hundred students; it was bursting with life. We’ve done very well so far and my job is to sustain and expand that and make it stronger. I’m keeping the directorship of the English Department, because I can’t picture myself being director of an organization of which the only job is to promote Greek literature. It was a condition I set – and of course it was accepted willingly – that I keep the teaching and the directorship of the department.

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