We’re four weeks into the MALT programme now, and I’ve been reading all manner of fascinating books and articles, most of which have lead me to the realisation that there are a hell of a lot of ways to mess up a translation if you don’t take a very long list of things into consideration. I thought I knew how to translate, but no: my job has just got a lot more complicated. This is a terrifying yet exhilarating realisation. As an undergraduate I was taught that I must be sensitive to register, cultural specificities and tone, for example, but now I have to deal with the texts worlds and ideal readers and the wide-ranging implications of cognitive poetics. How am I supposed to know what goes on in other readers’ heads and imagine the responses that they might have to a text when I’m in Norwich and they’re in New York, for example? And how on Earth do I go about translating poetry, when so much of the meaning is between the words rather than in them? My mission, should I choose to accept it, seems to be just that.
And yet, I have to remind myself that I am still a translator (and quite a good one, I must tell myself so as not to be discouraged). I may be getting back into the murky world of theory, but my goal is still to make a career from translation. Rosalind Harvey’s workshop last week was a welcome reminder of that: she spoke about her journey from graduate working in a bookshop to literary translator and what has made the difference for her along the way, certainly made the point that taking part in the BCLT summer school should be top of our lists of priorities, and presented us with a passage to translate. This was taken from Down the Rabbit Hole, Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos’ brilliant first novel, which Rosalind translated and which has just been published by & Other Stories. I relished the challenge of translating the troublesomely Mexican term ‘la chingada’ into English, felt the excitement of finding what seemed to be a viable solution in that context and made a mental note to translate more, rather than get bogged down thinking about essays too much. I was encouraged by Rosalind’s advice to ‘be stubborn and friendly’ faced with the daunting task of networking (I’m with her in being horrified by the term alone) and to meet a real-life person who is has come through the MALT programme and is doing just what I hope to do: making a living from literary translation.
On that note I shall return to the books, to reading as an academic, a lover of literature, and a translator. Perhaps these readers that coexist in me could get together and discuss where exactly it is that they overlap, then let me know their findings?
Lucy Greaves translates from Spanish, French and Portuguese into English. She is currently studying the MA in Literary Translation at UEA, and is particularly interested in Latin American literature. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.