Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Theoretically speaking, of course.

This week in college has had us plowing through the theory, both literary and translation.  Needless to say, we're much more interested in the latter, but as much of the theory is broad-strokes cultural stuff or 20th-century, I really feel like we ought to be able to make it work for us. The grande dame of the TCD Italian Department came up with a simple yet brilliant solution to the problem of how to make literary theory pull its weight for the literary translator. (Needless to say, this is more of an academic issue than a practical one, but bear with me, it is a degree course.)
The best application of literary theory is to the source text and its literary, historical and social milieu; in better understanding the source text, the translator will produce a target-language text more in keeping with the original. Too much attention is often given to the end product, and a sound method (note: 'a' sound method) is to use whatever literary tools in your arsenal to learn the most you can about your text before you do anything with it. 

This is something of a relief to an extremely international group wading through more than their fair share of theory with little direct return on their investment.

To this end, I'm thinking of focusing one of my essays on divergent translations of Joyce's Dubliners – taking Italian and French examples of a short story and seeing what the different languages allowed. This way, I can have a suitably theory-heavy approach to the Joyce, and let my languages do the walking, if you will. I might choose a different text, but to be quite honest, we're rather limited by ready availability of texts in the required languages.

I was thinking about hitting up my fine friends at the Ireland Literature Exchange for some copies of translations of Irish works hot off foreign presses, but we shall see.

If anyone has any suggestions of more contemporary texts which might suit – particularly things that defy genre or standard language – do please speak up!