Friday, 9 March 2012

Theory and Practice, or, How to Wear Two Hats at Once

This semester I feel as if the MALT programme is pulling me in two drastically different directions which (somewhat paradoxically) complement each other, through the modules we’re studying: ‘Process and Product’ and ‘Translation Theory’. I imagine these modules as requiring me to sport two kinds of headgear that are both present in my translator’s dressing-up box. The first is a practical translation hat, but despite the name it’s not practical at all, in fact it’s garishly coloured, many-textured and covered in pompoms, and I can redesign it whenever I choose (encouraged by the very creative seminars we’ve taken part in during the Process and Product course). The second is a translation theory hat, which is much more subdued, and doesn’t fit me quite as well: I have the feeling that I’m trying on someone else’s hand-me-down. It’s really quite heavy because although Translation Theory is a new discipline, this particular hat has been around as long as there have been languages to translate between, and as such it is imbued with a lot of weighty History. Thus my problem is as follows: I have been very much enjoying wearing my practical hat to translate poetry and short stories, and thus I am, at the moment, reluctant to take it off in favour of my theory hat.
I understand the need to possess both hats, because wearing the theory hat helps me learn about what other people do when they’ve got their practical hats on, what others think translators should do when wearing their practical hats, the decisions I myself make when wearing my practical hat and the stylistic and ethical issues faced by practical hat wearers. And vice versa, the experience of wearing my practical hat feeds into the work I do in those moments when I have removed it in favour of my theory hat. But despite this I still don’t feel entirely comfortable translating myself from practitioner to theorist through the substitution of hats.
When I finish the MALT I may decide to consign the theory hat to a dusty corner of my dressing-up box, or give it to a translators’ charity shop (a shop whose only customers are members of a thriving community of translators, rather than one raising money for a dying breed of multilingual bookworms, I hope). But while I am still on the programme I shall continue to strive to find a way to wear both hats simultaneously. As yet I have had little success in this task; the practical hat is too irregularly-shaped for the theory hat to stay on if I try and put it on top, and if I reverse this configuration and put the theory hat on first I can’t help but feel it as a barrier between me and the creativity of the practical hat. Perhaps I shall have to learn to juggle at warp-speed so as to create the illusion of wearing both hats at once, a blurring of the boundaries between practical hat and theory hat, but then of course I’ll have to figure out how to type at the same time. Unless I choose to perform my translations orally rather than writing them down (I’m sure there’s a theory about that; maybe I am getting the hang of this after all…)
Any suggestions for translation hat solutions gratefully received at this address:

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.

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