Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pen World Voices: Women Translating Women

I'm a totally stereotypical monolingual American. I have no natural talent whatsoever for languages and instead of struggling through it I took Latin in high school and college because I figured then I wouldn't have to try and speak in another language. Which was, as it turned out, and accurate assumption. But also not a great decision, all in all. 

Anyway, this is all to say that I think one of the reasons translation fascinates me is because I can't do it myself. Good translations seem like alchemy. So I was hoping PEN's panel on women translating women would be particularly interesting. But for the most part it wasn't particularly. Some of what the translators had to say about translating from gendered languages to English was neat but it didn't necessarily seem particular to translating the work of women and for the most part I didn't feel like having a panel of female translators brought all that much to the table that a more general panel wouldn't also have brought. And I think maybe that's at the root of the fascination for me since it's something I could never do.

Still though, once I revised my expectations I did enjoy the panel. Esther Allen talked about the way in which translation lets you, "leap beyond what you are in everyday life," and, "posits that we are not limited by our present context," which is something I had never thought about before. Because who you are physically becomes irrelevant a translator can transform him or herself into someone he or she could never otherwise be or pretend to be. 

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