BUILDING BRIDGES: FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRANSLATION AS CONVERSATION
Posted 7 months ago by John
These final thoughts on Translation as Conversation are the result of conversations during the second Cove Park Translation Week in November 2019, presented in association with the National Centre for Writing and Publishing Scotland.
Kari Dickson is a literary translator from Norwegian. Her work includes crime fiction, literary fiction, children’s books, theatre and non-fiction. She is also an occasional tutor in Norwegian language, literature and translation at the University of Edinburgh, and has worked with BCLT and the Writers’ Centre Norwich.
“I have previously thought of translation as a conversation between cultures, but these days I also see it as a political act, a kind of quiet rebellion, pushing back against the xenophobia and ugly nationalism that has been unleashed. Translation allows people who may not otherwise be able to, to travel and learn about others from their armchair. It keeps us curious.”
Jozef van der Voort
Jozef van der Voort is a Sheffield-based literary translator working from German and Dutch into English. He was a New Books in German emerging translator in 2013 and was named runner up in the 2014 Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize. His translation of Lieve Mama by bestselling Dutch author Esther Verhoef was published by Amazon Crossing in 2019. Jozef is also admin of the Emerging Translators Network – a 1,000 strong UK-based network of aspiring and established literary translators working in all manner of language combinations.
“The work of a translator generally takes place in silence, which makes it easy to forget that it is in every sense a conversation: with the source text, with the author, with editors, with fellow translators and ultimately with the reader. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started translating, it’s that engaging in that conversation is essential to both my work and my own well-being.”
Katherine Mendelsohn is a freelance drama translator and dramaturg based in Glasgow. She has translated a number of Francophone contemporary plays (from France, Africa, Québec and Belgium), which have often gone straight into rehearsal and production on UK stages.
“Let’s go on a journey 'between shores, ... two lives, two pavements, two countries' (Jean-Michel Ribes). Translating living playwrights’ plays starts with actual conversations: between playwright and translator, between languages, between cultures. These conversations narrow geographical distance, but widen the conversation with audiences, bringing another world to those who ‘can’t travel’. Spread the word.”
Jozefina Komporaly is a London-based translator and academic. She lectures in performance at the University of the Arts London, and translates contemporary theatre and fiction from Hungarian and Romanian into English. Amongst Jozefina’s co-translated and co-edited volumes are Matéi Visniec: How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients and Other Plays (Seagull Books, 2015) and András Visky’s Barrack Dramaturgy: Memories of the Body(Intellect, 2017).
“Translation is a form of creative practice that can be conducted without a hierarchy between ‘native’ languages and languages of habitual use. In this sense, the identity of the translator is less relevant than their linguistic competence. Translation generates a continuum between the familiar and the unknown, and I champion a dialogic translation whereby translators are neither assimilating nor foreignising texts, but truly building bridges between places and cultures.”
Stephanie Fernandes is a Brazilian literary translator based in Rio de Janeiro. She has worked across a broad range of styles, periods and genres: from Virginia Woolf and Christina Rossetti, to Neil Gaiman and Monty Python, and Muriel Spark.
In 2013, while at university in São Paulo majoring in Modern Languages and Literatures, Fernandes partnered up with Scottish Professor John Corbett and a group of colleagues to create a web resource of Scottish culture: The Digital Companion to Scottish Literature
, a compendium which has received positive feedback across the world.
"Co-translating is a deep, constant conversation. Having a partner with whom to exchange interpretations and let off steam, day after day, is a ray of sunshine over the gloomy isolationism of the craft. “Don’t you get a Frankenstein text?” I get usually asked. Not by a long shot. Years of collaborative work have made my writing more cohesive, more tightly knit—I end up reading both the source text and the translation more often, and my skills and flaws have never been more evident to myself. It’s been a growth spurt, and I can only be thankful. Do converse, translators."
Polly Barton is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction based in Bristol. Recent publications include Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press), Friendship for Grown-ups by Naocola Yamazaki and Mikumari by Misumi Kubo (both Strangers Press). Her translation of Aoko Matsuda’s Where the Wild Ladies Are will be out with Tilted Axis Press in February 2020.
"Of course, there's that magical moment when I'm inside the text, and it feels like I'm guiding the words towards a new voice, a new conversation. Enabling a conversation: that's the thing I'm here for, all told. But the more time goes on, the more I see that translation encompasses all kinds of interchanges--that it works best when translators talk to one another, talk to authors. When their authors are enabled through the translation to talk to readers, when translations spark new, different, ways for readers to talk to one another. We may be solitary, but recently I think we translators are in some way the ultimate conversationalists."
Ghislain Bareau is a French translator of English and Dutch living and working in Tongeren, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. He holds two Master’s degrees, one in English Literature from the University of Bordeaux, and one in translation from the University of Liège.
"I took some drama lessons in my younger days, and this experience left its imprint on me. Much like a stage performance, the act of translating is an act of self-giving and self-effacement. Channelling one’s creative energy to bring someone else’s words into existence, giving them flesh. To achieve this, the actor and the translator must be in sympathy with the author. While limited, the translator’s (and the actor’s) input is decisive. It is through this channel that the conversation between the author and the public can take place."