This past weekend Columbia University (and the Center for Literary Translation) hosted the Graduate Student Translation Conference. E.J. and I were lucky enough to be there, and with so many great translators attending and events taking place, it’s worth recapping some of the activities.
First off, in case you’re not familiar with the conference, this started a few years ago at UCLA at the urging of Michael Henry Heim. It’s a biennial conference, organized by grad students studying translation and takes place (on a rotating basis) in L.A., Iowa City, and New York. The conference consisted of a combination of morning workshops and afternoon panels (the panels were free and open the public) on topics like “Translation and Publication,” “Translation and Canon Formation,” “Translation and the Academy,” and “Translation and Theory.”
Before talking about anything else, I want to praise Idra Novey, Lytton Smith, Mary Kate Hurley, and Audrey Truschke (and anyone else involved) on the fantastic job they did putting this conference together. Everything was incredibly smooth, and panels even started and ended on time! There was a great turnout, especially for the opening reception, the keynote address with Charles Simic and Michael Scammell and the panels. Esther Allen also deserves special thanks for all that she’s done for the Center and for making the event possible. (And I want to thank Dedi Felman again for reading one of the Fonseca stories we’re publishing at the opening event.)
I was on the Translation and Publishing panel, so it’s hard for me to judge how successful this was, but I loved meeting all the people in the audience, and it was great to finally have a chance to meet Bob Weil from Norton and Jennifer Kronovet from Circumference. The conversation was pretty lively and fun. And I was personally thrilled to find out that the galley for the forthcoming Antonio Lobo Antunes book — What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire? — will be available in the next few weeks . . .
The session on “Translation and the Academy” was pretty interesting, with the conversation circling around the problem of positioning translation work within the university setting. There are a multitude of issues related to this, the most crucial being the fact that translations generally don’t help one’s case for tenure.
The most shocking story I’ve heard about this is the case of Susan Bernofsky and Bard. She was on the panel and made passing reference to this situation, but basically she was denied tenure at Bard despite being one of the true “rock star translators” working today. She’s translated Robert Walser, won the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for her translation of a book by Jenny Erpenbeck, and is generally considered one of the best German translators working today. Quite frankly, among people interested in international lit, she’s almost a household name, and one would think that a university with an interest in translation would really want to hold on to her. . . .
I don’t know much about the tenure process, but I think this, as it relates to literary translators, is going to become a really hot issue over the next decade or so as more programs start up, graduates enter the workforce, etc., etc. ALTA has some info about this situation on their website, and in theory could become the national “lobbyists” for this issue.
There are a few other items that came up over the conference that are worth noting in bulleted fashion:
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .