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.