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Grand Hotel Europa, a tribute to literary translators

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A lot of people were at the Flagey arts centre in Brussels this past Friday for Grand Hotel Europa, a tribute to literary translators organized by the European Platform for Literary Translation PETRA. And although I’m not a literary translator, I was one of those attending the event.

The evening started with a panel discussion featuring the Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic, the Japanese-to-Dutch translator Luk van Haute, and the Arabic-to-English translator and researcher Alice Guthrie. They discussed various aspects of translation, from the changes made by translators to the original and the differences between “big” and “small” languages with regards to the book market. It was an interesting warm-up to the main event, which was held in the main hall.

The main event began with a brief talk entitled “Found in Translation” by the American writer Michael Cunningham, who talked of the writer, translator and reader each as translators in their own right: the writer translating his ideas into words, the translator turning one language into another, and readers each translating the words into their own mental images. Cunningham’s talk was followed by a live translation into three languages (French, Dutch, and a third one I couldn’t recognize) of a short text from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet: their translations were shown live on a big screen in real time, and it was interesting and amusing seeing the differences in their approaches, even on such a short text. Alberto Manguel then gave a talk entitled “Translation: A Miracle” in which he gave an overview of translation in South America from La Malinche (who acted as Cortes’s translator in the early 16th century) until today. Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian writer living in the Netherlands, finished off the evening with a talk entitled “Out of Nation Zone”, a witty and perceptive view of translation from the perspective of a woman writing in a “small” language. I left Flagey with some food for thought.

Written by Patrick Lennon

December 4, 2011 at 11:58 pm