Essays on Translation

In this section we publish short essays on the art and craft of literary translation, on translation theory, on reading literature in translation, or reports from events on literary translation. Our goal is to introduce new ideas or reflect on old ones, to create a dialogue around issues in literary translation, and to keep you informed about happenings in the world of literary translation.

Stumbling Through the “Foreign”: A Look at Poupeh Missaghi’s Poetics of Translation

By Anna Learn

Poupeh Missaghi wants you, the reader, to stumble. 

In her genre-twisting 2020 novel trans(re)lating house one, the writer and translator declares, “I want you to be disrupted when you arrive here, feel some discomfort, feel out of place” (35). 

Although trans(re)lating house one is presented to us in English, Missaghi insists that Persian is the true language of its characters and city. The book was ‘translated’ from Persian to English, then, before it was ever written. 

For this reason, throughout her novel, Missaghi seeks to “acknowledge the Otherness of both the territory and the language to you, make them visible, and celebrate them” (35).

Erasing the Dividing Line: On Christian Bancroft’s “Queering Modernist Translation”

By Conor Bracken

“Translation is having a queer moment,” Christian Bancroft writes in the introduction to his monograph, Queering Modernist Translation (Routledge, 2020). The moment has been a long time coming: both fields, translation and queer studies, were thriving by the turn of the 21st century, but only over the past ten years have special issues and edited essay collections begun to emerge with some frequency to consider their intersection, and the resulting “expansive ways of imagining the relationships among languages as they relate to the identities, cultures, and societies that produce them” (1). The uninitiated may wonder, what can queer theory offer translation, as a study and practice, aside from ways of uncovering or confronting the gender biases and heteronormativity in and between languages? Much more than that, I can enthusiastically report.

Reading Elena Ferrante in Bulgaria(n)

By Stiliana Milkova

Last year I read Elena Ferrante’s new novel The Lying Life of Adults (La vita bugiarda degli adulti) in Bulgarian, in Ivo Yonkov’s translation. It was September 2020, it had just been released by Ferrante’s Bulgarian publisher, Colibri, and I was in Bulgaria myself. I went to Helikon, the largest bookshop in my home town Burgas, and asked for Ferrante’s new novel. The saleswoman quickly showed it to me on the shelf and recommended, since I was interested in Ferrante, that I also buy Nora Roberts’s (or was it Danielle Steel’s?) latest novel. I didn’t argue with her – I just picked up The Lying Life of Adults, paid for it and left. I refrained from telling her that Ferrante’s book was not a romance novel and the bookstore should reconsider its classification. I didn’t tell her that I was a Ferrante expert, that my book Elena Ferrante as World Literature was coming out in a few months, that it was the first scholarly monograph on Ferrante written in English, and by a Bulgarian at that.

Always to Seek: On Reading Russian Literature in Translation

By Brandy Harrison

It all began with youthful audacity. When someone asked me one day, “What are you reading?,” the answer was War and Peace. There was a pause, a faint flicker of confusion in the face hovering above my own, and then a slower, more tentative second question: “Why . . . are you reading that?

I, at seventeen, sitting propped up against my locker in the hallway, didn’t really have an answer. The plain grey hardcover teetering against my knees looked as thick and heavy as a brick (he said), and why would anyone want to read some novel about the . . . Russians . . . during the – what was it, again? The Napoleonic Wars? What was the point?

I shrugged with adolescent nonchalance. “I don’t know. It’s interesting.”

Neither Here and There: The Misery and Splendor of (Reverse) Translation*

by Ekaterina Petrova

Photo: Ekaterina Petrova

Translation is a gnarly business. Even more so when you’re doing it the wrong way around.

In Bulgarian, which I translate from, translating into a language that’s not your native tongue is colloquially known as obraten prevod, which literally means “reverse translation.” As an adjective, obraten carries the negative connotation of something abnormal or backward, something that goes against the grain, or something that simply isn’t right. 

A Materialist Approach to Translation

By Sophie Drukman-Feldstein

The translator’s sin is that of breaching the mythology which surrounds the individual authorial voice. The literary world erases the translator in order to preserve the liberal ideal of individual genius. And yet this erasure is not a distinctive problem of translation, but rather an expression of the worker’s alienation from the product of their labor. It is in fact the narrative of authorship which is unusual, in that literature is one of the few commodities which, rather than being conceptually distanced from the workers who produce it, is viewed as an extension of that worker’s self. By arguing that translation is art, translation theory abandons the possibility of fighting alienation writ large, and instead pursues for translators the unusual forms of acknowledgement which writers receive.

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