The Translation in Transition conference held at Columbia University’s Barnard College in May featured nineteen panelists and three round table participants from colleges and universities across the country. Organized collectively by the Center for Translation Studies at Barnard College, Mary Grace Alabese of Columbia University, Heather Cleary of Whitman College, and Bret Maney of the University of Pennsylvania, Translation in Transition sought to answer certain questions regarding the process of translation and how this process has shaped past, present, and future ideas of translation studies. Two questions formed a base unit for discussion: “How can we consolidate the gains made by translation studies over the last quarter century?” and “What are the future coordinates of a field that is always—and perhaps should remain—in transition?”
The goal was to highlight emerging and innovative approaches in translation studies. On Saturday, May 2, the first panel to present, “Figures and Fables of the Translator,” included participants Bahareh Gharehgozlou, Adriana Vega Mackler, Meg Matich, and Marko Miletich. The second panel, “Topoi: The ‘Otherwheres’ of Translation”, involved Brian James Baer, Nimrod Reitman, Jamille Pinheiro Dias, and Jenine Abboushi. The third, “Generation, Alteration, Translation”, included participants Carolyn Shread, James Patterson, and Geoffrey Bennington. Susan Bernofsky, Peter Connor, and Marguerite Feitlowitz comprised the final round-table, “Teaching Translation”.
Meg Matich, an MFA student at Columbia University and poet and translator based in New York City, presented “Iceland: Rewriting Notions of Ice and Fire through Poetry Translation” as part of “Figures and Fables of the Translator.” Matich examined and addressed certain stereotypes that understanding of Iceland. Additionally, she discussed the limited availability of Icelandic literature in translation and the difficulties associated with translating Icelandic contemporary poetry into English. According to Matich, there are particular implications for translators who address themselves to the literature of small nation states and to lesser-spoken languages, and it's necessary to very careful and empathetic in order to create a poem in English from another language. Matich discussed how the natural world is an invariable characteristic of the Icelandic language itself, and how it is almost impossible to read Icelandic poetry without recognizing the many ways in which nature has a profound effect on the average Icelander. The ever-present profundity of nature in Icelandic poetry is something beautiful yet relatively difficult to transform into English verse. The weight of the natural is, in turn, something that is inevitably left behind in translation.
Marko Miletech, Assistant Professor in the Modern Languages Department at the University of Texas at Arlington, presented under “Figures and Fables of the Translator,” as well. In his presentation entitled “Dragomans Gaining Footing: Translators as Usurpers in Two Stories by Rodolfo Walsh and Moacyr Scliar” he demonstrated how translators invade spaces that are conventionally assigned only to writers or authors of texts through their footnotes. In the two Latin American works he discussed, “Notas al pie” by Rodolfo Walsh and “Notas ao pé da página” by Moacyr Scliar, the translators’ footnotes utilize whole pages, and effectively take over each story. This approach highlights the translator’s anxiety while operating within second-rate spaces. According to Miletech, these two texts offer a showcase of the ever-pertinent struggle for power that exists between the two figures of author and translator as the translators “usurp” their way to the forefront of the story.
Brian James Baer, part of the panel “Topoi: The ‘Otherwheres’ of Translation,” presented his “Translation and the Un-making of Literary Studies.” Baer is a Professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University and was awarded an ALA Choice Award in 2011 for his monograph Other Russias. Baer sought to examine how “integrating translated texts into the study of a nation’s literature can lay bare and thereby challenge the continued investment of literary studies in Romantic nationalism and the imperative to monologize culture.” Baer specifically sites late nineteenth_century Russian gay literature as a node for challenging the monologization of Russian culture. Baer continued that Aleksey Apukhtin’s poetry and translations irreverently challenged the linear mode of Russian literary and cultural traditions. Apukhtin’s poetics, additionally, provide the contemporary reader with a landscape of Russian gay culture in the late nineteenth century. Apukhtin’s translations of poetry also omitted gender-specific pronouns as a blatant “act of queering” in which the translator queers poetic works by non-gay poets.
Amid so many stellar presentations, the day's greatest success was to provide a deeper look into the framework of contemporary translation studies and to spark new questions to be asked by a field in perpetual transition.