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Translators as Writers and Scholars

Written By: Robin Ellis on October 11, 2013 2 Comments

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.”

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2 Responses to “Translators as Writers and Scholars”

  1. leslie martin on: 5 November 2013 at 12:47 pm

    It is indeed puzzling and dismaying that translators so often remain in the shadows; here’s hoping that they receive the kudos they well deserve for making fine literary works available to so many. Considering the art they bring to their work, gifted translators certainly deserve more than a mere mention on a dust jacket or title page. As for the inept translators, well, that’s another story. For anyone interested in reading an analysis of translators’ transgressions, Nabakov offers a perceptive, often amusing, and scathing commentary: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113310/vladimir-nabokov-art-translation

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