I have always been a real geek (after school Latin club: yes please!), and coming to UEA to study the MA in Literary Translation has been a way for me to indulge in further geekery, as well as to propel myself along the path to becoming a professional translator. Now that the MA is coming to an end, however, with my dissertation due in only two months, I am already starting to think about what I might like to study next.
I am writing a dissertation about the phenomenon of pseudotranslation, which is when a text is claimed to be a translation although no source text can be identified, i.e. it is original writing under the guise of translation. Although earlier examples do exist, this phenomenon can be seen as linked to the rise of the writer as original genius during the eighteenth century, because it plays on ideas of authorship and originality which were cementing at that time (there are many other interesting aspects of, and motivations for, pseudotranslation but you’ll have to read my dissertation to find out about those). To learn about this period I have had to delve into the history of English literature, and this research has been fascinating but equally hard work because although I studied languages for my BA and hence know a lot about Latin American literature in particular, I didn’t study English beyond GCSE level. This has made me feel like there are gaps in my knowledge which I will have to plug if I am to fulfil my potential as a literary translator. I know a lot about the literature of my chosen source culture, but perhaps not enough about that of my target culture. What this boils down to, I think, is that although I have read extensively in English, I have never read critically in English.
The MA has also confirmed my suspicion that to translate literature into English requires me to be a great writer in English. I have particularly enjoyed the workshops which ran during our second semester and were based on the kind of workshops that take place on a creative writing course. In each of these sessions we discussed a piece of translation by one member of the group and suggested ways in which it could be improved as a text in English; from these sessions I learnt more about translation as a writing practice than from any other part of the MA. In the end, translations are rarely read alongside their source texts, and to be successful they must be able to stand independently from the source text as well as to read brilliantly. I imagine that it is through lots of practice and by engaging in close readings of texts (translations and otherwise) that I will move towards consistently achieving this goal.
The upshot of having become aware of all this is that I feel like I could do with a degree in English and Creative Writing so as to produce my best work as a translator. My plan once I finish the MA is to launch myself head first into the world of freelance translation, but the idea of further study is already tempting me. The thing is, I know that if I did take up another course, I would get to the end and feel the same as I do now, that there is so much more to learn. I think I shall have to accept that this is a lifelong challenge and engage in further, and further, and further study accordingly.
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.