Writing on the “Task of the Translator” in 1923 (one of the foundational texts of translation theory, and one of the basic texts we’ll be referring to throughout the term), Walter Benjamin poses the deceptively simple question: "Is translation meant for readers who do not understand the original?" And later he argues, among other things, that translation is meant to liberate the language imprisoned in a text through the recreation of that text, and by doing so it “serves the purpose of expressing the central reciprocal relationship between languages.” “When two languages meet,” the Moroccan critic Abdelfattah Kilito counter-argues at the other end of the 20th century, “one of them is necessarily linked to animality: Speak like me or you are an animal.”
- What is the task of the translator, then?
- Why translate?
- Who translates?
- Is translation at all possible between languages that are positioned, for various reasons, at both ends of an asymmetrical power relation?
Drawing on a variety of theoretical and literary texts, this course is an interactive introduction to different histories and theories of translation, and it’s designed and meant to give students an opportunity to build on their skills in a foreign language by exploring the process of translating literary texts into English. Students will compare various translations of “world literatures” and integrate broad theoretical concepts about translation into a series of creative translation exercises and short critical essays that emphasize the process of reading and re-writing texts.
The critical and creative writing assignments are designed to build on each other, enabling students to become more attentive readers, and to produce increasingly articulate responses to the translated texts, which in turn inform their own translation strategies. The course leads up to a final translation project, for which students will produce 8-12 pages of a translation, into English, of a literary text from another language, prefaced by a 5-8 page introduction that reflects critically on their practice as translators.