Back to last year’s Sydney Symposium for Panel Three, Ideas of the Literary. A panel about creative possibilities in literary translation.
We start with Eric Abrahamsen (3:07 – 24:00), founder of Paper Republic, a fellow translator who guided us through the translation of contemporary Chinese literature – generally not very popular with most sinologists and translators, especially those who can afford to translate older and more refined texts. Eric’s presentation was one of the most entertaining of the whole symposium, very interesting yet unassuming, just how I like it. I loved his blend of irony and literary as well as political commentary, and I particularly enjoyed his explanation of how Chinese writers, overwhelmed by too much history and by a society where everything takes on a political connotation, are fighting for the right to interpret society straying from the supposedly “correct interpretation.” I also really enjoyed how he focused on the practice of translation itself, analysing texts and translation options, and investigating the role of personal taste and the balance between language and story in producing great literature. If you are interested to know something about where Chinese literature is heading, do not miss his paper, and visit Paper Republic.
Then we had Simon West (25:15 – 47:05), poet and translator, who translated the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti (in case you don’t know who he is, we are talking about a thirteenth century poet whom Dante Alighieri called “his mentor”) into English, no mean feat at all. He focused on the role of translation and translated poetry and analysed the notion of “national literature” versus “fluid, open international literary spaces,” exploring the ideas of “cultural traffic” and “literary negotiation”. World literature is certainly inextricably linked to the practice of translation, and Simon also explains how translating poetry and writing poetry are very interconnected activities. Simon certainly has a more academic point of view, compared to Eric’s, and therefore it might be a bit hard for outsiders to enjoy, but every translator who likes thinking about translation will absolutely love it.
Brian Nelson, Professor Emeritus of French and Translation Studies at Monash University and president of AALITRA (Australian Association for Literary Translation) delivered the final presentation (48:30 – 1:11:00), focusing on the failure of academics to fully recognise the value of literary translation. Brian’s excellent presentation was an exhaustive reminder of the vital importance of translation in the development of literature. Brian Nelson advocates a move away from the old paradigm of national literature, even past the post-national and towards the trans-national. The imagery he uses will show you why he is a Professor Emeritus, and you are going to love the idea of translation, the poor cousin of literature, being denied citizenship within the national paradigm. Not to mention the notion that translation is literature’s circulatory system. From Goethe’s idea of Weltliteratur to Kundera’s cosmopolitanism, Brian Nelson very clearly explains why the academy should start taking literary translation more seriously. Enjoy.