Some thoughts about my MA

This week I’m taking some time away from other stuff, to finish off my dissertation and hopefully have some time for reflection before Yom Kippur on Friday night. The dissertation is actually pretty much finished, I think, so it’s just a case of formatting it all correctly, proofreading everything, and getting it printed and bound. I sent my first draft to my supervisor and made the amendments he suggested, and I’ve even come up with a title: ‘Visibility in Practice: the translator’s visibility and its role in the promotion of translated literature’. I’m quite pleased with it as a piece of work, though now it’s over I wish I’d managed to enjoy the writing process a bit more. I ended up doing it in alternating phases, both of which made me feel worried: I spent weeks reading, researching and making notes while worrying that I wasn’t writing anything and was running out of time, and then I wrote like fury for two or three days at a time and then worried that I’d written a chapter too quickly and it couldn’t possibly be any good if it took so little time to write. But now it’s done and I think it’s okay. I hope my supervisor agrees.

This also means I’ve only got one more week of studenthood left – next Monday is the official dissertation deadline, and then it’ll all be over bar the grading (eek!). This year just seems to have gone so quickly. I’m in a reflective mood, so I thought I’d list a few of the things I’ve learned about myself and about translation this year.

Being a student is really great. Seriously, being able to devote all your time to reading books, writing essays and learning about interesting things? What a luxury. I wish I’d appreciated it more when I was an undergraduate, but I think you need a few years in the working world before you can really understand what a blessing studenthood is.

University is often not as good as you thought it would be. So, you’ve got a year to study and you can do six courses in that time, and one of them is a compulsory one that you think is completely pointless, and one of them looked really interesting but the lecturer is utterly disinterested and makes the lectures feel like a waste of time. And that’s a third of your courses right there. You’d better hope the other two-thirds are good. Also, everything is disorganised and nothing seems to function quite as smoothly as it does in the outside world, the nice practical world of work you’ve left behind.
At first I thought this was a SOAS-specific problem and it made me angry for a while, but then I thought back to my undergrad days and remembered that I had exactly the same problems there, and so did most other people I knew (I’m still a bit sad that I was forced to do Politics in my fourth year instead of a second year of Classical Japanese). The courses you really look forward to turn out not to be running that year or not to be so great after all, and you have to waste your precious student-time doing things you don’t want to do. On the other hand, that course you took on a whim may turn out to be one of the best things about the whole year, and might give you a much deeper interest in something you were only vaguely interested in before (thank-you, Dr Grace Koh and your Literary Traditions of Premodern Korea course. You were amazing).

Translation theory is very interesting, and I think that learning about it has made me a better translator.

I do not want to do a PhD. At least not right now. I think I’ve got a fairly good grounding in the basics of academic research and I’d like the opportunity to do some further study of various things, but I don’t think I’m cut out for academia in the long term. At least not right now.

I do not want to be a full-time translator. It seems that if you are a literary translator, you have two main options for actually earning a living: either do some non-literary translation, or do some non-translation-based literary things. I would like to do the latter. More precisely:

I want to get back into publishing. I think it’s a great industry and I miss it. I’ve done a few freelance projects for publishers this year and I’ve really enjoyed them – I hope I can carry on like this, at least for the time being.

I like doing reader’s reports! I hope this will be useful, because I know that quite a few translators don’t really like doing them (they take a long time and don’t pay very much). But I think it’s a nice way to get to know some new authors, and the report writing is something I enjoy doing and I think I’m quite good at – my background in publishing and my bookselling experience mean I have a pretty good grasp of various markets and of what kind of information is important to publishers.

I like working in a bookshop! I’m surrounded by books all the time and I get to talk about them to people who are interested. I discover new authors all the time because I’m shelving books every day, and I get to order in books for my section and try my best to let more people know about my favourite authors. Also, it fits in well around my freelance work, and means I can count on having a certain amount of money coming in every month. What an excellent job to have.

Generally, I feel very lucky to have been able to take this whole year out to learn stuff, and to think about translation and my career and where I want my life to go next. I’ve improved my Japanese and my practical translation skills, I’ve gained a solid grounding in translation theory, I’ve finally studied some post-Meiji Japanese literature and, as a bonus, I’ve also gained an interest in p’ansori. A pretty productive year, in all. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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