Symposium on Literary Translation: Part Two

This past weekend, the University of Western Sydney hosted a Symposium on Literary Translation featuring a ton of great speakers and interesting panels. Since I couldn’t be there—not only wasn’t I invited (sigh), but I was in Scranton for the very fun Pages & Places Festival—I asked Joel Scott to write this up for us. He graciously put together a couple posts for us. Click here for Part One.

And by way of introduction: Joel Scott is a Sydney based writer and translator, whose poetry and critical writing has been published variously, in Australia and beyond. He is currently completing a PhD at Macquarie University, which looks at how translation might redeem a truly contemporary writing practice. He blogs at hedgingyourbets.wordpress.com.

A few other highlights.

Apart from the plenary sessions this symposium gave a space for some really challenging and important ideas and discussions. Chris Andrews’ raised some extremely interesting ideas about reading and sense, asking whether we can understand foreign literatures (this question moves in all directions), in what ways do we under or over-read foreign texts? And what does this mean for the reception and translation of texts that are structurally resistant to plain reading(s)? Do we as translators ascribe meaning to texts where there was none, or can texts become a new assemblage in a new literary system?

The symposium also touched on some very large questions to do with what is increasingly becoming known as ‘world literature’. Do we focus only on texts which ‘travel well’ across geographical and temporal boundaries? In the globalised market we know that many things travel well: capital, businesspeople, certain breeds of fresh produce. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have intrinsic worth. As Simon West pointed out, our conception of the literary tends to remain very monocultural. This also goes for the kinds of value judgements we make of literary and aesthetic techniques in foreign literatures. To this end, Stuart Cooke’s presentation on ways to translate indigenous song-poems provided an exemplary approach.

A lively line of discussion was raised around the comparison between literature and music as something that is less bound by linguistic and cultural differences. Yet this conception has its own dangers, as Mridula Nath Chakraborty pointed out, signalling the culturally problematic phenomenon of ‘world music’, which essentially becomes a dumping ground for all that is non-Western. In this context, it is extremely important to turn our critical eye back onto our own literary culture, our prejudices, entertain other systems of reading and writing and interpreting. These discussions were in no way resolved by this symposium, but they certainly helped to suggest some of the issues that we have to tackle as a critical community. Let’s hope this symposium has started this movement.

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