Translators as Writers and Scholars
This past July, I had the privilege of participating in an NEH Summer Institute on the Centrality of Translation to the Humanities at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. For three weeks, we discussed issues of translation with numerous experts in the the field, including renowned translator Gregory Rabassa. (The full program and reading list are available on the institute website.) Many aspects of the seminar were exciting and thought-provoking, but my favorite part was learning from my fellow program participants, who came from various disciplines, including Latin American Studies, Creative Writing, and Religious Studies. Some were working on literary translations, while others were engaged in more theoretical research (participant project list here).
Although we came to the subject of translation with very different perspectives, we generally agreed that translators should be valued as writers and that their creative agency should be made visible rather than being obscured. In the same vein, we agreed that the practice of translation itself can be an interpretive, scholarly undertaking – a view that most traditional academic institutions are only slowly coming to accept. Literary translations require both careful research and theoretical deliberation. A completed translation, as it reflects this work, should also be considered valuable scholarly output, rather than something academics should do “on the side” or “in their free time.”