Thursday, 25 August 2011

International Fiction Reading Group

B.J. Epstein, who teaches in the MALT programme, helps to run an international fiction reading group at the Norwich Library. It meets once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month at 1.30 – 2.30 pm. The group is relaunching for the new academic year on 12 October. Everyone is welcome.

You can read more about it on the library’s blog.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Is the author dead or alive?

The translator’s job is a lonely one, just as the writer’s. You are alone with the words. Yes, of course, there will be times when the translator will be stuck and will look for help, but usually such help comes from research, a friend or a native speaker that may clarify something that might be unclear for the translator. At least that is what I always thought about translation. I never expected that any substantial help can some from another person, let alone from the writer. That is why my answer to the title question has always been: DEAD.
After all, even if the author is actually alive, you can’t always expect her/him to be open to questions and willing to help. From the beginning of the MA we have been hearing stories about authors refusing to collaborate with translators. One example is J.K. Rowling who gave no instructions to translators even though it was certain that the translations would reach large audiences. Then, there are authors who are willing to help but simply cannot due to language limitations or because a part of the creative process just cannot be explained, so no matter how much they want to help the translator they cannot. Finally, there are the ones who are eager to help but perhaps are too eager and have overestimated themselves thinking that they know best no matter their target language proficiency. So again, all things considered, my answer remained: DEAD. I really saw no reason why a translator would want to complicate her/his life by contacting the author. And then, when I started working on my own translations again the answer was the same because I chose to translate work by Cavafy, Leivaditis, Bishop, Kariotakis and Gogou, all of them indeed dead.
But then, for an essay I decided to include my translations of some poems by a poet who is alive and kicking and though I was not particularly stuck or anything, I had access to his email address and thought I’d use it. So, I sent an email saying who I was and what I was doing. The reply came soon and read ‘Of course, ask me questions’. It was unexpected in a very pleasant way. The answers to my questions took some time to come, but they meant I could fully support my choices and even quote the original author in my essay. The poet had his doubts about the poems I had chosen and was not sure I was going to be able to render them in English but in the end, the feedback I got for my translations from my tutors suggested that contacting the author had helped the quality of my work. So, perhaps, I thought after that, the author is not-always-dead?
And finally, the summer came which, for MALT-students means one thing; dissertation period and again, I decided to translate an author that is alive and kicking. Again, I was able to get the author’s email address and thought there was nothing to lose, I could use it. And I did. Again, the reply came very soon and was very friendly and encouraging. I went on to send a long email with many questions and the author got back to me giving me answers and –perhaps more importantly- giving me freedom and telling me not to worry too much about translating the original names and puns as such, but to be creative instead. What works in one language does not necessarily work in another. He also offered to look at my translations –he is very fluent in English and has been living in the UK since the early 1970’s- but kept stressing to me that I should not worry too much and should be creative, always politely answering any questions I had.
The above experiences have helped me reach one conclusion in the search of an answer to the title question, that is that the translator should try to see whether the author is alive or dead because there is no fixed answer. Sometimes the author is alive and kicking, but, kicking you away and thus, should be considered dead, and others the author is there to make the translator’s job just a little bit easier.

Avgi Daferera is a translator of English and Spanish into Greek, and Greek and Spanish into English. She just finished an MA in Writing at Warwick and is currently doing an MA in literary translation at UEA. She is interested in the translation of poetry and children’s fiction.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Translators should remain invisible

Domestication; Foreignisation; Venuti: some of the most bandied about words in translation theory. Particularly in the case of the first two, extensive usage , along with their evolving meanings over the course of Venuti’s publications, has led to their suffering from a certain erosion in their precision of meaning. It seems all too simple to identify certain features in a translation – the inclusion of ‘foreign’ words in the translation, the presence of non-standard spellings - and to jump to the conclusion that the translator was foreignising.
Much of this conjecture focuses on what lays within the body of a translated text when what lies a step away can be of equal interest. Metatextual content, for example, is barely touched upon by translation theoreticians. How it integrates with the notion of invisibility is, I feel, a fascinating subject.
At its most fundamental, invisibility is an affliction affecting a given entity’s visual existence within the space of a limited environment . Any attempts to address and alter the level of the entity’s visibility will question not only the ecology, but also the finite nature of the environment.
Most commonly, the provision for footnotes, translator’s forewords and prefaces enables the reader to be more more aware of translatorial decisions and, as a consequence, of the translator. As translators (hopefully) become more inclined to incorporate such features into their published translations, or at least clamour for their inclusion, existing literary conventions will be broken for the better.
As long as this quest for visibility is kept strictly textual, the translator will, in theory, be able to use his or her ability with the written word, the skill which comes most naturally, to address this invisibility. The problem arises when translators follow the lead of the publishing world as a whole, and seeking to appropriate the space on the cover of a dust jacket.
The dreaded photo of the author alongside that of the translator. I say ‘dreaded because I feel that the practice, in both translated and untranslated literatures, is aesthetically unfortunate. It detracts from the power of the written word by placing more emphasis on the visual image of the translator. Perhaps mimicry is understandable as the translator vies for the same rights as that of the source author. Yet it reduces the book, translated or otherwise, to little more than an item for consumption as opposed to a work of art.
While there may well be something endearing about seeing a kindly face on the front of book, it will more likely than not attract the consumer to consume, firs t and foremost, and to read as an after- thought. In the same way that a pop band’s image is arguably more important than the music it produces, the written text becomes secondary to the image of the author.
Respect must therefore be reserved for those faceless authors and translators who consciously choose the path of invisibility ( and a certain pity put aside for those, such as the dead translators, who have no control over it). Or rather, Dust jackets should be allowed to gather dust without the dust having sleepless nights about the toothy mugs, often times two, that may be gasping for attention and breath.

-- Andrew Nimmo is a translator working from Spanish, Portuguese and French into English. His areas of interest include music, journalism, fiction and film. You can contact him at

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Subject: Unprofessional interviewers make me sad

Well, I sent off a job application for a subtitling company about a month ago, and actually managed to get an interview with them a few weeks later. Not too bad, one would think. Except that they weren't exactly professional about it.

First, they never confirmed when the interview would actually be, so when the phone call came, I wasn't really prepared. One would think that if you've given a company 4 or 5 different times when you're available that they would confirm it, but no, not this company.

Second, the woman who interviewed me (we'll call her RN, short for Ridiculous Name, because her name, was, in fact, ridiculous) seemed to think that I knew nothing at all about anything to do with the British TV industry. RN's tone of voice also reminded me of the way I've heard some British people speak to non-native English speakers – loud, slow, and incredibly condescending.

Thirdly (is that even a word? If not, it is now), when the interview was about to end, I asked RN if she had any other suggestions for similar jobs (I could tell by this point that the interview wasn't going well, and I thought it made sense to ask her if she knew if anyone else might be hiring in that field). Perfectly reasonable question, I thought. Not to RN, apparently. She gave me a really snide answer – something like "use your university degree and look it up yourself."

That's it for now. I'm sure karma will bite RN in the face some day.

Sabrina Steiner is a Spanish to English translator and Beatles fanatic. You can contact her at