Foreword by Cecilia Rossi
What is the relationship between translation and place? Perhaps the most widely quoted definition of translation, especially when considering its etymology, is the one that implies a change of place, a movement across from one place to another, a carrying across of something from one point to another. But we know that, in reality, there is no movement at all and the translator, with the magic of her language, merely creates the illusion of movement, of journeying across places and times, borders, oceans, mountain ranges. In her essay “Translation: The Biography of an Artform” (2001) Alice Kaplan states that “[w]hat interests me is the possibility of accounting for the lived experience of translators, those silent agents of literary history.” Because every translation always tells two stories: the writer’s story and the story of the translation, which is, in effect, the story of the translator. Every single word, comma, or full stop, is always the result of the translator’s choice and choices are born out of one’s lived experience.
So let me go back to place. There isn’t a better word to link all the translators in this volume – coming, as they do, from far-flung corners of the globe: Myanmar, Greece, Armenia (via the United States, though the opposite would also be valid), Japan, Norway, Germany, the UK – than place: they all arrived in Norwich, where they met, and spent a year learning how to turn their lived experiences into acts of displacements.
Because translation is an act of displacement, from the OED definition, displacement is a replacement, a removal, in the case of translation, of every single word of the original writer by substituting it with something else. And in this process the translators turn their lived experience into writing, and come closer, on the page, not only to the writer they have translated, to her language, culture and world, but also to who they really are. As Kaplan affirms, “[i]n the act of translating, we come closer to the literary object than anyone else except the writer who has created it; and in so doing, we learn something about ourselves as writers.”
There is something about the translation process that facilitates reflexivity, introspection, self-knowledge. The slow movement across the words on the page, the pausing and hovering over each metaphor, each figure of speech. Something about this process is best experienced in a workshop situation, in the sharing of thoughts and stories, of perceptions and personal experiences of individual words. As someone who has guided this talented group of translators through the course of a year, I am privileged to have been at the receiving end of their stories. Translation is an apprenticeship – and has been, for me, as much as for them. As Mireille Gansel reminds us in Translation as Transhumance, in Ros Schwartz’s English words, “[t]ranslation, like practising scales, learning to listen, that never-ending fine-tuning of nuance” helps us “fashion [our] own interior language.”
I believe this is also true of the process of putting together this anthology of translated texts: all of the stories and poems here speak of some kind of displacement, from forms of resisting the unfamiliar, to the discovery, precisely, of the familiar in the strange, the new, even, perhaps, in the dissonant. Like the many characters on these pages, the writers and translators who wrote them have found in the journeying, in the process, a form of arrival.
Introduction by Don Bartlett
Thank you very much for asking me to write an introduction to this, the 2020 MALT anthology. I feel very privileged, especially as I was also a UEA MALTster, but twenty years ago, and probably not as well-equipped to face the big adventure as you are.
For me, the connection with UEA and MALT happened very slowly. In the 1990s I had been working in Zurich and read a series of novels by a Swiss-German author I liked. At the time I enquired whether he had been translated into English and found to my surprise that he hadn’t. That started me thinking and a couple of years later I did the Diploma in Translation to see if it would be worth thinking about a ‘career’ in that direction. More years passed, and one summer I went on a walking holiday in Spain with my wife, who taught at UEA, and she told me about the MALT course. Fired up once again, I applied for the two-year part-time MA and started a couple of weeks later. I knew UEA, from running around it several times a week, and I lived and worked near Norwich.
What can I remember from the course? Writing about Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and discovering that there was a British and an American translation of the same Danish book (and meeting the American translator afterwards). Being encouraged by Clive Scott to take shockingly creative risks with a translation of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Enjoying the workshops – my favourite part of the course – where we met poet Don Paterson, Rainer Schulte from the University of Texas, Anthea Bell, W G Sebald, translators, Peter Bush, publishers, Christopher MacLehose, editors and reps from the Translators’ Association, who, very sensibly, warned us that we were unlikely ever to be able to live off translation. We needed several strings to our bows, they said, in order to survive. Oh, and I remember losing my dissertation in the bowels of a computer three weeks before the deadline and having to rely on sketchy notes and memory. Well, that’s my excuse.
What we didn’t have on our MA and what I like so much about your course is the writing element, the chance to choose something you would like to translate and then receive feedback on what you have done, the opportunity to discuss with others in a non-threatening environment (at least I hope it was), to have practice in experimenting with language and styles, and to confront a multitude of genuine translation problems. That is the beauty of your anthology.
After the course was finished I remember a gaping void and then a slow accretion of translation jobs, having to rely to a very large extent on the TA’s recommended archery skills, until in 2003/4 I was more or less where I wanted to be. My Swiss-German bubble had burst; I had abandoned other hopes and dreams and eventually I went in directions I had never imagined. Life at that time used to remind me of hitch-hiking; you head off towards one destination and arrive somewhere completely different, but that is fine too.
I think you have a better base than I had and there are structures in place now to help you (e.g. mentorships, supportive Arts Councils etc) and attitudes to translated fiction have changed dramatically for the better. I wish you none of the trepidation I went through, but all of the immense pleasures of sitting over a book you really like. And in the end all the luck you can have. As so many have said, you can have all the talent in the world, but you need luck. I wish you luck, in spades.