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As It Happened: PEN America Translation Committee at the Brooklyn Book Festival

By Eric M. B. Becker

A Round-Up from the
2015 Brooklyn Book Festival

The crowd leaked out onto the streets from the offices of A Public Space last Friday, September 18, for “Expressive Expedients,” a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event that aimed  to “explore the linguistic, visual, temporal, and other kinds of transformational passages” common to literary translation and visual art. Translator and artist Alta L. Price moderated the panel that included translators Robert Bononno, Cobina Gillitt, and Alyson Waters, and artist and archivist Hans Witschi.

Price led off the panel noting that translators “are given the work and need to recreate it in another form,” a process she likened to other artistic processes. Witschi discussed his project The Handbook, which was born out of his collection of images of hands.

“Everybody collects images,” Witschi said. But when it came to creating his book, the process required a certain amount of reflection given his work’s dialogue with material that wasn’t his. “I had to think about categories.”

This process of categorization and creating sense out of existing material was also something the translators on the panel could relate to.

“[Translation] appeals to my passion for research to take a piece of work and to refashion it to create something that’s not identical to the original, but very similar, to accommodate it in another language that is fundamentally different,” Bononno said, citing his translation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s (A Roll of the Dice).

Easier said than done, all acknowledged. In translating for the stage, Gillitt—who is also a dramaturg—says her work is “a way of thinking not just about the meaning, but of the sound of words and the type of images or connections a word can make.” She likened translating for the stage to playing all the characters and pointed to the necessity of conveying certain acting cues to those who will later perform the plays she translates.

That collaborative process extends to working with living authors as well. Waters emphasized the importance of being able to discuss certain aspects of her translations with the authors.

After a short discussion about their use of archives, the evening ended with a reading by each of the presenters: in a nod to the intersection between visual and literary art, Waters read passages from her translation of Emmanuel Bove’s Henri Ducheim and His Shadows.

Published Sep 25, 2015   Copyright 2015 Eric M. B. Becker

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