Literary Translation Workshop, Yale, USA (18-21/06/2015)

Yale Writers’ Conference 2015

Literary Translation Workshop – Mark Polizzotti

June 18-21, 2015

For some, translation is the poor cousin of literature, at best a necessary evil; for others, it is the royal road to cross-cultural understanding and literary enrichment. Translation dances along the boundaries between art and craft, originality and replication, altruism and commerce, even genius and hack work. Vladimir Nabokov (himself a noted translator) tarred translation as “A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter, / And profanation of the dead,” while writers such as Ezra Pound, John Ashbery, Paul Auster, and Harry Mathews, have produced translations that are literary marvels in their own right. At a time when the globe is just a mouse-click away, and when authors such as Roberto Bolaño, Karl-Ove Knausgaard, Patrick Modiano, Stieg Larsen, Umberto Eco, and Marguerite Duras—to name only a few—have become an indelible part of the American literary landscape, the issue of translation is ever more relevant.

Focusing on translation from other languages into English, this course takes a practical and conceptual approach to literary translation, examining—by select readings of published translations, comparisons of alternate renderings, and critiques of the students’ own work—what does or does not make a translation successful. It also looks at the larger questions raised by translation: What is the ultimate goal of a translation? What does it mean to label a translation “faithful” or “unfaithful”? What are the translator’s ethical responsibilities toward the reader, and toward the original text? Is something inevitably “lost” in translation? What makes some translations sing and others screech? Can a translation ever be better than the original? How does one go about publishing a translation, and what pitfalls should the first-time translator avoid? And, ultimately, why does translation matter?

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