Calque on ALTA Conference

I can’t express how disappointed I was to have to miss the ALTA conference this year. This is by far my favorite annual conference for any number of reasons. (I once wrote a piece for Words Without Borders about how I loved ALTA because most of the translators were shorter than me. That’s incredibly unusual and still true.) Translators are some of the nicest, most interesting, most open, people in the world. Translators love to talk about books, and in contrast to the MLA (which, for a lot of people, is a do-or-die job fair), there’s a levity to the ALTA that makes it incredibly enjoyable and fun.

Unfortunately, this year ALTA and the Frankfurt Book Fair coincided, so I had to miss it.

Thankfully, Lucas Klein wrote an amazing summary for the CALQUE blog.

Translators are, by definition, interested in more than one thing. This makes translators great people to talk to, and marks a distinction between translators and academics, who are often interested only in one thing [1]. Translators are also different from writers, many ALTA participants reminded me, who also tend to like to talk about one thing: themselves. You can’t be a translator and be egocentric. While we all bemoan the translator’s invisibility, in Lawrence Venuti’s words, the benefit of being under-noticed is that as a group we’re generous, considerate, and, because we’re conscious of how much we haven’t read and grateful for what we have, very warm to each other. Of course we all enter this profession for money and fame, but somehow in pursuit of that we have learned the value of listening to others before we speak, and of incorporating the viewpoints of others into our self-expression. With translators, you get lots of personality without lots of ego.

This also means that, as opposed to an academic conference, where people go not to learn but to cherry-pick, and where possibilities for discussion boil down to possibilities for one-upmanship, at ALTA the panels are very well attended and discussion is abundant. I was in two panels where panelists found ways to contradict each other and yet somehow be in total agreement. People actually want to go to panels.

[. . .]

Saturday morning began with Esther Allen’s Plenary lecture, “Pastiche, Imposture, or Commentary? Thoughts on the Scholarly Status of Translation,” focused mostly on the problem of tenure-review committees ignoring translation. Such a speech could have been little more than preaching to the choir, but in bringing up—and pushing through—any objections to talking about the necessity of making translation tenurable (which is not to say making translation “scholarly”), she ended up with both a sociology of our culture’s academic sphere and a number of new approaches to understanding translation as scholarship and commentary. She says she hopes her talk will be published in the PMLA, and I say if they do not print it, we should all withdraw our subscriptions in protest (by a show of hands, the vast majority of her audience at ALTA were academics of some stripe).

The whole piece is worth quoting—and reading—in its entirety. I haven’t seen too many other posts/reports on ALTA, but as I find them I’ll put them up. (I have heard from a number of attendees that this was one of the best ALTA conferences ever.)

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