Sunday, 26 August 2012

Watching Shakespeare in Translation

On the occasion of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and perhaps under the auspices of the cultural events leading up to the London Olympics, the Globe Theatre in London had organised the Globe to Globe theatre festival as a part of the World Shakespeare Festival. The premise was that 37 plays of Shakespeare will be performed in 37 different languages consecutively; with each play being performed two or three times. The programme and other official literature highlighted this multilingual aspect of the festival which aimed to cater to ‘audiences from every corner of our polyglot community’.  The festival organisers perhaps did this to make a distinction between ‘nation’ and ‘language’ – an argument used to justify their controversial inclusion of a Hebrew The Merchant of Venice by the Habima National Theatre from Tel Aviv. For me, as an Indian, this distinction between ‘nation’ and ‘language’ is something I take for granted as India is a nation of many languages.
The festival did have two plays from India, or rather from Mumbai – Twelfth Night in Hindi by Company Theatre and All’s Well That Ends Well in Gujarati by Arpana. Also being performed were The Tempest in Bangla by the Dhaka Theatre Company and The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu by Theatre Wallay from Lahore which would have been understood or would appeal to some Indians.  I managed to see Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew, as well as Cymbeline in Juba Arabic (From South Sudan), Richard II in Classical Arabic (from Palestine). As a theatre-loving student of literary translation my interest at the start of the festival was to see and enjoy theatre in translation, and I did manage to do this. However, reading the festival brochures, talking to some of the organisers and seeing the particular plays that I eventually did, led me to think about the ways in which nationalisms and national identities are performed.
Interestingly, the only one which did not have a national element, probably due to the reasons mentioned above, was the Hindi Twelfth Night. This production made effective use of the globe stage, with the live music and the performers interacting with the standing crowd. The weather (since it is an open-air theatre) – dreaded British rain – contributed quite nicely especially in the final song which was about the rain.  It was also a production which acknowledged and was quite self-conscious about the fact that it was a translation, a fact I found quite heartening as a student of translation. It used a fair amount of English, contravening the rules set out by the Globe which, according to an insider at the festival, expressly told the various groups not to use English. However unlike some other performances (like the Cymbeline) English was not used merely to reach out to non-Hindi speakers, rather a lot of humour depended on it and on an audience that was multilingual – fluent in both Hindi and English. The way this was achieved was clever and commendable and greatly increased my appreciation of the play. I watched the play with an Indian friend of mine and we both agreed that it was the most fun we’d had in a long time, but we did wonder whether non-Hindi speakers would have enjoyed it. A couple of days later, when I went to see another play, I spoke to a woman who had taken it upon herself to see all the plays in the festival. She said that this production and the Bangladeshi Tempest were her favourites because they ‘stuck most closely to Shakespeare’ and so she could enjoy it without knowing the language.
This play was the first one I saw at the festival, and I have since seen a couple more as mentioned above. However, if someone were to ask me which play I enjoyed the most I would still say Twelfth Night in Hindi, followed very closely by Richard II. In thinking about my responses to the various plays, and degrees of enjoyment (which itself is a dubious and not necessarily fruitful comparison, because of my varying degree of familiarity with the plays, the problems of comparing comedies to tragedies and histories etc.), I have been thinking about the role my national identity plays in the creation of this response. Is the fact that I’m an Indian, and in that I’m more culturally aware of things ‘Indian’ than things ‘South Sudanese’ for instance the reason why I enjoyed Twelfth Night the most? I’d like to think that this wasn’t the case. But, perhaps it had to with the fact that even though I enjoyed the other plays there was a barrier between me and the performers and some members of the audience that I wasn’t able to cross because I wasn’t part of a national community – real or ‘imagined’. The play from South Sudan was, even in the way it was promoted, with people holding south Sudanese flags the primary image, a declaration of a new-nationhood on an international platform, the Urdu play began with an instrumental rendition of the Pakistani national anthem, and the play from Palestine while resonating heavily of the Arab Spring, meant something different and perhaps more powerful and specific to the Arabs in the audience around me, despite the fact that I was in Morocco when the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia began and witnessed first-hand the protests in Rabat.
In the end it made me see that perhaps the distinction made by the organisers of distinguishing between nationhood and language was more about being cautious and politically correct rather than anything else. One of the aims of the festival is to reach out to the various diaspora communities in London. Given this, the choice of Gujarati seems justifiable, but why not Punjabi or Tamil or Malyalam (which has a history of performing Shakespeare in translation), why Hindi? This is not to take anything away from the troupe themselves, who were brilliant, but perhaps this choice was made in order to appeal to ‘Indians’ in general, ‘Indians’ like me, who don’t know Gujarati. If you add to this the fact that the festival ended with a play like Henry V, with its nationalistic undercurrent, in English being performed just after the Queen’s Jubilee, one begins to really wonder what it means for Shakespeare to go globe to globe, to be translated and most of all, for these translations to be watched in London. 
 Anandi Rao translates from Hindi and Arabic to English. She is doing her MA in Literary Translation and is interested in theatre and women’s writing. She can be reached at

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

My Dream not Come True

A few weeks ago a close friend forwarded me a job post at the British Council with the tag line: ‘Dream Job?’.  Up until then I had always considered my dream job as being a literary translator; spending my days locked up in a small room at a desk, just the text and me, and my trusted laptop of course.  Then, I clicked on the link and realised that what I was looking at was an application for a job I never even knew existed: ‘Literature Adviser to the British Council’, working with translated literature from Turkey in particular.  As I read the job description I realised that this job was the perfect combination of everything I loved: Turkish, literature and translation.  Then, of course reality and that awful feeling of self-doubt started creeping in and excitement soon made way to disappointment, before I had even applied for the position.  Throughout our time on the course it has been made quite clear to us that life after MALTeser-hood wouldn’t be as plain sailing as we would like it to be.  Trying to convince publishers to pay you to translate a novel seems harder than trying to get an original piece of work in print (or in electronic form).  As a consequence, many of us will have to get a ‘proper’ job that pays the bills.  I hadn’t thought about what type of job that would be.  Up until now that is.  Teaching could be nice, I thought, but that would mean getting another degree.  So after getting over my initial reaction, I applied for what appeared to be my new dream-job-on-the-side.   

Many literary translators do their work simply because they have a love of languages and literature.  However, as a translator working with Turkish, a minority language, I have always had slightly stronger motives.  While Turkish novels such as Orhan Pamuk’s Kar (Snow) have been quite successful, the number of Turkish authors being translated into English is rather limited.   I want to change that.  It appears that the London Bookfair also have the same vision in mind and have announced that the market focus of 2013 will be Turkey.  This is an exciting opportunity for Turkish translators like me who live in England and do not have a lot of time to fly back and forth.  Working for the British Council, I would be working alongside the LBF, developing ideas and projects.  Yet another reason to apply for the dream-job-on-the-side.

Filling out the application form, I knew I didn’t have a lot of the credentials needed.  However, I decided to give it my best shot and make the most of my skills and the little experience I had gained over my short time in employment.  

 As our time on the course comes to a close, I wish all of my fellow MALTesers the best of luck at finding jobs as Literary Translators.  Even more so in finding their dream-job- on-the-side.  Although, as I found out, it might end up finding them. 

I didn’t get the job in the end and an opportunity like this will most likely never come up again. I shall try to remain positive in my plight of having to find two jobs.  However, I might set my sights a bit lower this time and simply hope for a job that helps me pass the time while I wait for my real dream to come true.

Selin translates from French and Turkish into English. She is currently studying the MA in Literary Translation at UEA where she did her undergrad in Modern Languages. Her literary interests include magical realism and crime fiction and she occasionally translates Turkish poetry.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Satisfied Feelin’

Strutting through with speed...
Coming down with a bump...
Highs don’t last forever...
For another glorious eight hour night shift, tapping away, out there on...
   Okay, so it wasn’t an all-night-out, Soul-beat dance affair exactly, more me locking myself in with a dead author, for a couple of days, to the sole beat of my long fingers tapping away on the old clavier – my best friends Marvin and Tammi would have to wait a good 48 hours for my renewed attention; I must have been serious!
   Still, when I say 48 hours, I don’t mean 48 consecutive hours – emphasis on the above “days”; these “days” I need my beauty sleep, as any of my so-called friends will confirm...
   Come to think of it, my translation of more than 11,000 words of Christiane Rochefort’s Les Petits Enfants du Siècle, as part of my MA dissertation, was completed in much less than half that time, and with my adviser telling me that my ‘1st draft’ will indeed suffice as my final draft.
   And I have to agree – he types with a conceited grin.
   No, but seriously, the reason I say this – and this my point – is because I could have actually translated those 11,000 words at the same pace before I began my MA course... except that the result wouldn’t have been anything like this one. I’m not at all suggesting that I’ve altered my style of translating, in terms of the physical act; I translate just as quickly, and maybe just as early, whenever I feel it time to begin “the physical act”. Nor I am suggesting that I now translate much better, and that the 11,000 words are superior to those I might have done before the MA course – that all depends on the individual reader. What has altered over time, however, while I’ve been on the MA course, is my mental act of (sub) conscious prefacing, or the thing I carry around with me for however long. Furthermore, I am now just as capable of carrying out my convictions.
   So just what do I mean by those last two lines?
   Firstly, the mental preface thing: Cluysenaar believes that a translation “[m]ust be faithful in any worthwhile way, work on the basis of prior stylistic analysis” (1976:41).  Allow me to quickly clear up the first part of this sentence, the “faithful” bit; the forbidden word – to use it around the translation fraternity is akin to an actor mentioning the ‘Scottish play’ in a theatre’s greenroom, just before a performance... Funny, why am I calling it the Scottish play? This room’s not green... Anyhow, to faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty etc – I’ve a good mind to capitalize them! For me, a translator’s duty is to endeavour to be true to his/her interpretation of the text in question, that is being faithful to the text and that is all s/he can ever do; that is the “worthwhile” way. As for the sentence’s second part, the “prior stylistic analysis”: well, believe or not, but each individual’s interpretation of a text is based on the stylistic choices of the original author, be they conscious or unconscious choices; Tabakowska states that “Stylistic choices reflect a speaker’s (subjective) choice of a given conceptualisation” (1993:7). Sufficed to say, Tabakowska is right, but I could use quotations all day, and I don’t want to. What I will say is that style is an expression of a cognitive state, and, therefore, the meaning we obtain from what is not on the page is driven by what is on the page... Stylistic analysis is thus fundamentally important to the fidelity a translator hopes to achieve, according to that ever-important interpretation.
   So what do I get from believing that? Well, firstly I’ve become better at the prefacing bit, through practice; that kind of reading on two levels, responding in both a reader and translator sense; doing two jobs at ones, it doesn’t have to be such hard work, the two levels complement each other. That’s how we find that ‘voice’. And it doesn’t all happen for me by staring at a page; it can happen while I’m walking my little girl to school, as in retrospectively of course, or even having just nipped downstairs for a bite...
   So to the physical translating, which, I believe, has improved too, in that I don’t find the work as hard as I once did. Something more important, though, is that... well, take the above-mentioned translation as an example: I’m sure that, had I translated the text previous to my MA course, I would, to use a laundry metaphor, have added far too much conditioner, smoothed out all those ‘rough spots’, and been far too keen with the old iron, on those slightly ambiguous bits, to such a point that the text would no longer have belonged to Christiane Rochefort , apart from having her name on the front of the book – there’ll always be a translator’s voice, that’s the interpretation bit, but I would’ve gone a little too far in the wrong direction. Venuti is right only partially, because I’m not talking about some political stance; I’m talking about replicating what a text does for a translator, not foreignisation versus domestication, for the sake of... With Rochefort’s text, I have gone completely against the grain of my writing – or have translated in a way that I never thought I could, rough bits, warts and all. And I think the text is better for it; it’s more it and less me, the perfect ‘blend’, and it wasn’t that difficult. What’s more, I like the feeling. I have truly found what the author’s voice says to me in my translation.
   And I have the course to thank for that. So thank you.
   Thanks more individually to Jean Boase-Beier, BJ Epstein, Valerie Henitiuk, Cecilia Rossi, Philip Wilson, Anne Cluysenaar – the quote – Elżbieta Muskat-Tabakowska – likewise – and to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell for their patience in letting me get on with my work, and for donating me the title of the blog, just one of many wonderful tunes.
   I’m Chris Rose and have a couple of blogs further down too, about Michael Caine and Tom Stoppard. If you’d like to drop me a line – whether you’re interested in translation or just a fan of Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Michael Caine films or... – my email address is
   Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Viva ,vidi, vici...

Vivas. The mix of anticipation, worry, excitement and enthusiasm serves as an adrenalin-fuelled rollercoaster. The prospect of having to explain your dissertation topic in front of a panel of three stalwarts of translation studies can seem daunting (the fact that one is ten minutes late with nobody to contact to inform said panel of one’s tardiness due to connecting buses running late also adds to the pressure–believe me!)
But after crashing into the room with my breathless apologies, and with no time for delay, the viva commenced...
Oral exams are usually nerve-wracking but on this occasion it was anything but. It actually, in my case at least, was an enjoyable experience. If you’re ever faced with having to attend a viva, I’m sure you would disagree and, of course, I cannot speak for everybody. But after some preamble about what I had written in the abstract and explaining what the ‘umbrella’ topic would be, it turned out that my blindness to what I was really trying to say was revealed to me.
It is rather a lonely experience: an abstract written and sent a month before the viva takes place can always change by the point you reach exam day, with no input from anybody but yourself. This is why the viva is a fantastic experience: it can provide a new focus on the topic from the perspective of not just one person, but three.
My topic shifted during the viva to an idea which was cursorily mentioned in my abstract. However, upon further scrutiny, it was revealed to be the new ‘umbrella’ topic which would easily encompass most things I had planned to incorporate originally. This input showed itself to be most invaluable and I walked away with a reinvigorated sense of direction with the dissertation.
I found it to be extremely informative and the panel ended up picking the relevant threads from my abstract, a sentiment expressed by one member who declared, ‘well, we’ve done the job for him.’ That is of course not strictly true but it demonstrates my point that input from external translation studies forces can provide new insights into one’s own ideas.
The viva should therefore be considered as a conversation, a debate perhaps, where ideas criss-cross and are thrashed out across the table rather than the stilted notion of an oral exam.
Now that I am in the process of writing my dissertation according to the clarification of the topic during the viva, I can honestly say that without it I would be lost! My original abstract was disorganised to say the least, with far too many ideas competing for undivided attention. That is why, in my case at least, it is not always a bad thing when someone comes along and turns everything on its head. What the viva gave me was a meatier topic to discuss i.e. the argument for the translator’s invisibility. There is one downside though: I now have to argue against Venuti and his notion that fluency in a translation always equates to a domesticated translation.
Not the easiest of tasks, I assure you, but that is the point of a dissertation. It allows one to push those extant boundaries and paradigms in translation studies...I relish the challenge!
Adam Kirkpatrick translates from French and Swedish into English and is currently studying towards the MA in Literary Translation at the UEA. He is particularly interested in Fantasy Fiction, Historical texts and the work of J.M.G Le Clézio.       

Monday, 6 August 2012

The End of the Beginning...

As the MA in Literary Translation is coming to an end, I can’t help but look back at all the wonderful opportunities I have been given throughout the course. Not only have I learnt a lot about the theory and practice of literary translation but I have also had the chance to develop further skills which I know will prove indispensable to me in my future career.
Firstly, in October, I was chosen to be one of the interns at the British Centre for Literary Translation. My main task involved using my experience as a library assistant and working with the staff at the BCLT to organise and arrange the books in their library, which is made up of a large number of extremely varied translated novels, poetry and plays as well as translation reference books and journals. The aim was to make this extensive resource more easily accessible to staff and students who could benefit from it. I think this may have been achieved by the newly implemented strictly ordered system and bright yellow labels for each section!
In my role as intern, I also helped to promote the International Fiction Reading Group, run by          Dr. B. J. Epstein and held at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. Each month, I designed and displayed posters around the university and city centre. I soon became a member of the group which meets once a month to discuss a work of translated literature, some of which were thoroughly enjoyable whilst others were slightly more challenging (if you ever get the chance to read The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, translated from the Persian by Tom Patterdale, it is worth it in the end!). It was great to be part of such a unique and inspiring reading group and I would love to set up a similar group dedicated to reading literature in translation sometime in the future.
Another role I took on during the course was as a member of the editorial board of Norwich Papers, an annual, student-run journal about different aspects of translation studies. As a team of five, we started off with lots of ideas and plans for our issue of the journal which we decided would be called ‘The Next Big Thing: Current Trends in Translation Studies.’ We set up a blog (, created a facebook page ( and decided to add interview and review sections to complement the range of interesting articles we received from around the world. Working on Norwich Papers has required teamwork, organisation and strict time management but I have a feeling we are all going to be extremely happy with what we have achieved when we see the finished product (which should be available in September this year).
Although there is now less than two months left until we have to hand in our completed dissertations, there is still one incredible opportunity to look forward to. The BCLT Summer School. Over the course of five days, a group of literary translators will come together in Norwich, recently named as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, to work with translators and writers to produce a consensus translation of a text in workshops and attend other exciting translation events. This will be the last in a long list of opportunities and I cannot wait! I’m looking forward to putting what I have already learnt on the MA into action as well as learning a whole lot more!
I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you to the University of East Anglia, the British Centre for Literary Translation and all the staff and students that have made the MA in Literary Translation such an enjoyable experience.
Fiona Hayter translates from German, French and Spanish into English. She is currently studying the MA in Literary Translation at UEA where she also recently completed an internship at the British Centre for Literary Translation. You can contact her at

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Meddling with Myths: Or, My dissertation, but less serious.

In the beginning was the word. Or the void. Music. A lump of mud fished out of an endless sea. Something big that went bang. Whatever it was, it was at the beginning, and it started it all. It got the ball rolling. Across all cultures, explanations for natural phenomena start with stories. All cultures have myths, tales, fables, folklore about how they came to exist. And the stories change, like flowers springing out of a different soil, growing in different environments, some reaching with their roots deep down into the culture they find, some only lasting a couple of seasons, before they are eradicated, trampled or forgotten. But they all try to cling as tenaciously as possible, like limpets, for survival. As Roland Barthes said, myth ‘is a language which does not want to die’ (1957). And here is where we come in. If myth is a language, it can be made to travel to other lands, cultures and minds – it can be, no, it wants, even needs to be translated (Benjamin 1923; Chesterman 1997). If myth is a language, storytellers are translators, reflecting, refracting, amplifying, modifying those tales for the new audiences. If myth is a language, it cannot be set in stone (Warner 1994). The new audiences, however, will not want sloppy repetitions of a fourth-hand story heard from some guy at the market, with frail horned gods and overhyped floods. They will want the new snappy, snazzy, jazz-handful up-to-date version, with CGI (Culture Generated Innovations) and special effects (Hermans 1996; 2002). To go, please, too – they have a busy schedule. And so we, the translators, the unacknowledged (re)creators of the world, will step into our performance tights, pack our satchels with some theory (and a towel, always bring a towel), grab the academic gloves – in case of critical conditions – and go, towards our goal, towards the creation of the new stories, the new myths. Which are actually the old ones, but with different clothes. We will tell tales of Titans and Olympians, fighting in court (or The Jeremy Kyle show, at the audience’s request) over who owns fire. We will sing of the twelve labours of Heracles, from queuing at the Job Centre to trying to cross Times Square on foot. We will reveal where man-beast Enkidu gets a haircut, before chilling out with Gilgamesh. We will recount of the wolf Skoll’s quest for mouthwash, after he swallowed the sun on Ragnarok. We will spin new stories of the old gods, for a land and age that feel no need for any of their own. And by doing this, we will choose who to let speak, we will give a voice to the unheard, shift perspectives and points of view, manipulate details to let the tales within the tale shine brighter (Tymoczko 2007). We will adapt to the audience, but tell our own tales, with our agendas, our ideologies, our points of view (Holman and Boase-Beier 1998: 9). For, in the end, myths reflect values held dear by the society and culture that created them. In recreating them, translators imbue them with their own belief system. Sneaky. The serious version also contains horrible things like memetics, norms and DTS, stylistics, psychoanalysis, anthropology and sociolinguistics. Oh, and is about 20000 words long. Aren’t you glad I wrote the abridged version? People I have intentionally plagiarised: Mike Carey, Percy B. Shelley, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Cesare Pavese. ---- Alex Valente translates Italian and French into English, and English and French into Italian. He will be starting a PhD in Literary Translation at UEA in October 2012, on the translation of comics (which are really just myths in disguise). He can be found in front of a computer screen reading messages to