At the Bread Loaf Translators Workshop

So here I sit in the Davison Library, at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College, near a crackling fire and a whole lot of books, where I have had my translation workshop everyday this week with the extremely intelligent and fabulous Susan Bernofsky (a.k.a. Translationista) and eight or nine other aspiring or actively working writers and translators. Since I haven’t actually published a translation yet I’ll put myself in the aspiring category. Today is the last day–tomorrow I leave at 6 a.m. for the Burlington airport–so I sat down to think of some grand summation, some deep and fundamental thing I have learned and could impart to the world. 

Of course, grand summations are often simplifications and deep and fundamental things are not that easily communicated; I feel like I’ve learned many small things, currently a jumble of parts that may someday meld together into something larger (a philosophy, a practice, who knows), but haven’t yet. Right now, as I think about translation and everything I’ve read and heard, I find myself thinking about the Jorge Luis Borges text, “On Exactitude in Science,” in which “the Art of Cartography attained such perfection” that eventually cartographers made a “Map of the Empire that was the size of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it”. As a map, of course, it’s useless; but as a metaphor for translation maybe not, as long as we don’t interpret “point for point” as “word for word”, that being often infelicitous, other times impossible. Maybe it’s an impressionistic map, a Situationist or surrealist map. But the idea, nonetheless, is to create a representation of the original textual world, as the translator reads and refracts it, in all its richness and detail.

Ideally, anyway. I think. For the moment, the one thing I feel fairly sure about is the need to move myself into, if not actively working (that’s not totally up to me), then the actively aspiring category of translator. 

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