Dissertation thoughts: translation, creativity and play

One of the things I’m really enjoying about student life is the way my routine keeps changing. For five months I was attending lectures, working on translations and writing essays, then I was at home for a month or so revising for exams, and now I’m working in a bookshop and reading for my dissertation. Come October, the dissertation will be over too and I’ll be working on something else. On the other hand, it’s a shame that the year seems to be flying by so quickly – I can’t believe it’s been over nine months since I left my job in publishing. And also I’m supposed to be reading for my dissertation today and I’m blogging instead :/

My M.A. course offers two options for the dissertation: you can translate 6000 words and then write 4000 words of commentary explaining why you chose them, or you can write a 10,000-word theoretical essay about some aspect of translation. Most of my classmates chose the first option, but there are about six of us doing the second, on topics ranging from the techniques used to translate Catcher in the Rye into Arabic, to the use of code-switching in contemporary Singaporean novels. My own ideas so far are slightly less…defined.

It started when I read Mouth: Eats Color. It made me think about translation as something other than a straightforward source language-to-target language process, about the creative nature of translation, about different languages coexisting within the same text and what that does to the reading experience. I did some reading and found quite a bit of work on the use of these kinds of heteroglossia as a political act – to make a point about identity or about the treatment of ‘minor literature’ in translation. What I found interesting about Nakayasu’s work, though, was that her motivation seemed to be playful, rather than political. She’s testing the limits of language and translation because she wants to, because it seems like an interesting thing to do. There’s an interview somewhere where she frames her work in terms of Lawrence Venuti’s ‘translator’s invisibility’ theory – she says that she deliberately set out to become a very visible translator.

I looked around a bit more and found some other examples of this – different ways of celebrating the creative potential of literary translation. It also occurred to me that this phenomenon isn’t just a case of the translation world talking to itself about translation again: there’s something about this idea that is appealing to non-translation specialists as well. The popularity of events like the BCLT’s translation duels show that other people are taking an interest in how translation works, in the idea that it might not just be a simple matter of substituting a word in one language with its exact equivalent in another language. I am interested in what is going on, and what it all means, and why it is happening now, and whether it will mean an end to those dismal reviews where people say ‘I’m sure this book has been badly translated, because I spotted some wordplay which couldn’t possibly have been there in the original, and as a result the GENIUS of the original author remains inaccessible to me’. And I want to write something about translation and Modernism as well, and the Zukofsky Catullus and Asterix and some other things too. I am a bit concerned that the dissertation will just end up being 10,000 words of me thinking aloud about all the things I find interesting about translation, but I think if I rein it in a bit and give it some sort of structure it might turn out okay.

I also need to think of a concise way of explaining all that, so I don’t have to go on for ten minutes every time somebody asks me what my dissertation is about.

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One Response to Dissertation thoughts: translation, creativity and play

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Literary Translations | Arts & Entertainment Articles

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