Monday, December 31, 2012

Translation and Resolutions

Last year around this time, I wrote that I wanted to spend more time promoting some of “my” authors in translation in 2012. So how did I do?

Well, that certainly was not an easy task I set myself. As we know, the English-speaking world is generally pretty resistant to translation, and that is indeed what I found when trying to promote some of my favourite authors. I did get some translations accepted in literary magazines, and I wrote some articles about translation in order to help make translation more visible. So while I would have loved to do more, I feel pretty pleased with what I have accomplished.

As for 2013, I’d like to continue what I was doing in 2012. And I also want to continue with the campaign I wrote about a few posts back, to make editors and writers more aware of translation and translators. And finally, I want to do my best for the next generation of translators, which means I try to improve my teaching methods and style.

What goals will you set for the next year of translation?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Creative Translation Blog

Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella, who both have connections to the university where I work (the University of East Anglia), have started a new blog on translation.

This is how they describe it:

This is a “blog on creative translation and the art of text making in general, which we hope will become a useful and exciting resource for everyone interested and passionate about writing and translation.

The blog is envisaged as a 'studio' where issues about text making are discussed, theorized and put into practice. In fact, creations are possible and encouraged. We actually ask our readers to contribute by sending us their experimental and creative translations which will be published on the blog.

The studio will also build a list of resources and links to relevant events, conferences and experiments.”

Check out this new blog.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Campaign to Acknowledge Translators

I’m something of a known curmudgeon, but I do feel I get annoyed about things for sensible reasons for the most part. One of the issues I find most annoying is how book reviews so often ignore the fact that they are reviewing translations or articles talk about translated texts as though they were just written in the target language. Frequently, they don’t acknowledge that the word choices or the style they so admire actually comes from the translator, not the author. Sometimes they don’t even bother to mention the translator.

I previously wrote here about my annoyance with a food magazine that quoted from my translations and didn’t see the need to mention that the Swedish dishes they so admired had been written in, um, Swedish, and that the chef they thought had a fun way with words was, um, actually translated by yours truly. The magazine didn’t care when I wrote to them to tell them.

A picture book I use in one of my classes at the university was translated from the Dutch, but no translator’s name is given in the book. When I wrote to the publisher, I received the very helpful response that “it wasn’t [their] problem” and they couldn’t even tell me who the translator was.

A few weeks ago, on the train back from London where I’d been giving a lecture, I read the Evening Standard. Reviewer William Leith reviewed two translated books and failed to mention the translator in both cases. He commented on the lovely language, but clearly without a thought as to how that language made its way into English. I sent him an email and also “Tweeted” the newspaper on Twitter, but without getting a response.

You might think that I ought to give up. You might tell me that people won’t change so I’m wasting my time.

But I don’t believe that. There have been quite a few times when I have gotten a response that said, “I never thought about it. Thanks for opening my eyes.” Or, “That hadn’t occurred to me.” Or, “You’re right. I’ll improve.” So people can learn and they can change their treatment of translators. And helping to make translators visible is important work.

So here’s my suggestion. Let’s all write to editors, authors, and publishers every time we see translators ignored. We might not change all minds, but we can certainly change a few.

Let’s make translation more visible, one person at a time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When to Give Up the PhD

I was really delighted to have a post accepted on the Thesis Whisperer website, because it’s a site that offers a lot of thoughtful, helpful analysis of the process of doing research and writing a PhD dissertation/thesis.

So this post on giving up the PhD was originally published there in early November. Do check that fantastic website out.

When to give up the PhD

You’ve been plugging away at your PhD for a while now, maybe a year, perhaps a couple of years. But you don’t seem to be making that much progress. The prospect of getting up in the morning to go to the university or to continue work on a chapter doesn’t thrill you the way it did during the first few months of your studies. But you force yourself to do it, because you have to, right? Or maybe you can’t force yourself and instead you spend the day surfing the internet, chatting with friends, occasionally looking at an academic article, and when evening comes, you feel depressed and guilty.

Time to give up the PhD?

No, you think. You can’t give up on your doctoral studies. What would people say? How would you feel about yourself? Would your supervisors be disappointed? What kind of job would you be able to get if you can’t finish your PhD?

Those are all natural concerns, but there are some situations where you’re actually better off letting go of the PhD and moving on with your life.

If you are doing the PhD for the “wrong” reasons and you aren’t enjoying it or getting much out of it, then it’s time to let go. There are many possible wrong reasons. I’ve talked to students who decided they wanted a PhD because they didn’t have anything else going on in their lives. Some have actually said, “I don’t have a spouse or children, and all my friends are married with kids. I needed something, too.” If you want to have a partner and/or children, concentrate your efforts on that, and don’t use your thesis as a substitute. If you don’t want those things but you are lonely and/or you feel you need something equally important in your life, carefully consider whether a PhD is actually that meaningful to you. It might be that you’d be happier if you made some new friends or found a new hobby or changed jobs.

Other students have said that they couldn’t get a job, so they decided to continue with higher education instead. Think about whether a PhD will in fact help you get a job you want. If it isn’t leading you in the direction you want to go in and/or if it is just piling you with debt, then you might be wasting time. Similarly, if you are doing it because you think having “Dr” in front of your name will get you a job and/or other benefits, that isn’t a strong reason to continue.

If you are no longer interested in your topic and you’ve lost your passion, it might be time to give up, but you need to ask yourself a few questions first. Most researchers go through phases where they are more or less excited about their work. Indeed, all workers have tasks to do that are less enjoyable than others. Have you temporarily lost your academic mojo? If so, what can you do about it? For some people, taking a short break (whether an actual holiday or a “staycation”) can be enough to reignite their love for their subject. Sometimes reading books on another topic altogether can help. Also, other activities – teaching, volunteering, going for a walk, spending time with friends – generally can help with research-related stress, and this in turn can help re-focus you. It may even be that moving on to a different chapter or working on a different part of your research is enough to help. Maybe approaching your topic from a new angle is all you need. Talk to your supervisors about this.

But if you’ve been feeling disengaged from your work for a long period of time and nothing you try makes you care about it again, it is probably time to consider leaving it behind. If the thought of continuing with your research strikes you as drudgery that you just can’t face, that is telling you something, and you should listen to your feelings.

An issue that can come up, however, as I mentioned above, is that some doctoral students worry that they would be ashamed if they scrap their thesis and their studies, and that others will be disappointed in them. While it is true that  people generally feel better if they accomplish what they set out to and while it is also often the case that we are very aware of others’ expectations and desires for us, none of this constitutes a reason to make yourself continue on a path that is bringing you little joy or satisfaction. Also, your supervisors won’t want to waste time chasing you up to do work you promised but never delivered, and they, your friends, and your relatives would much rather you be happy than not.

It is a hard, but brave, decision to make, and yes, it may involve disappointing yourself and/or others. There may be other implications as well (having to pay back student loans, needing to move, looking for a new job, a loss of prestige, and so on). But these all pale in comparison when you consider the fact that this is your only life, and you don’t want to waste it by pressuring yourself to do things that aren’t right for you.

People claim that “quitters never win”, but actually, for some, quitting a PhD is the best choice they can make.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Meaning of Place Names

My friend Annie sent me this interesting link. You can learn the meanings of place names from the graphic. It’s fun to click on different parts of the world.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Translation and Graphic Novels

In the past few years, I’ve gotten really interested in comics, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs, and I’ve read tons of them. My favorite series is Fables, which I was introduced to by one of my MA students, but there are many others that I enjoy, and I teach Alison Bechdel’s work.

One of my PhD students loaned me Craig Thompson’s fantastic graphic memoir, Blankets. It is one of the best graphic works I’ve read, and I can’t wait to look for Thompson’s other work.

There are many interesting points about comics/graphic texts and translation to make (and the aforementioned MA and PhD students have made some of them in their work), but here I just want to point how pervasive translation as a topic is. In Blankets, one of the issues is Thompson’s religious faith. In part, it is down to translation that he loses the Christian fundamentalism that he was raised with. He writes, “I had been taught the words of the Bible came straight from the mouth of God. If indeed they were subtly modified by generations of scribes and watered down by translations, then for me their TRUTH was cancelled out. It suddenly struck me as absurd that something as divine as God’s speech could be pinned down in physical (mass-produced) form.” (p. 549)

While Thompson’s wonderful, moving book is not about translation per se, it is about words and finding/defining self and what we say or don’t say or can’t say, and of course, as in that quote, translation thus is part of it.

I refer to this book both because I want to recommend it but also because it makes a larger point. For those who think that graphic novels are “childish” or “low-brow”, the range of topics that feature in those books – as in Thompson’s Blankets – is anything but. It’s well worth getting to know the field, not just in relation to translation, although obviously that’s important too.