48 Transform, Not Transfer: Lisa Dillman on Translation (PW, EF)

The eternal challenge (obsession) of translation: “how not to get lost in translation”.

Lisa Dillman

However, the award-winning translator and literary scholar at Emory University Lisa Dillman suggests that we may be missing the truly challenging and exhilarating part of translation in this endless and “elitist” obsession.

In fact, not “losing” original meaning may not be what translation is about at all.

“I find it more useful a view of translation, not as a transfer of meaning, but a transformation.”

Lisa Dillman

Lisa ought to know: she won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction for her translation of Yuri Herrera‘s Signs Preceding the End of the World (2015), a multilingual patchwork of a book that follows its (tri-lingual) heroine Makina  across boundaries both geographic and linguistic. In fact, Lisa proposes it is Makina’s fluency in crossing those borders that makes her “so kickass”.

Elizabeth is joined by Brandeis comparative literature scholar Pu Wang. Loyal RTB listeners may remember Pu artfully translating for the acclaimed science fiction novelist Cixin Liu in episode 14. You can expect to hear Pu’s border-crossings in this one as well. Together, Lisa, Elizabeth, and Pu slip in and out of the indeterminate space of English, Spanish, indigenous language in a rural part of Mexico, Arabic, some of them, and all of them.

Mentioned in The Episode

Lawrence Venuti’s critique of the rhetoric of “loss” in The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (1995)

Jacques Derrida’s notion of textual indeterminacy (and post-structuralist reading of literature)

Karen Emmerich, Literary Translation and the Making of Originals (2017)

Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World

Diez Planetas (Lisa’s translation is on the way as Ten Planets)

Recallable Books

Lisa’s: Michael Cooperson’s translation of Al-Ḥarīrī’s “untranslatable” Arabic poetry collection Impostures (2020)

Pu’s: Dictionary of Untranslatables (2014), an encyclopedia of “untranslatable” philosophical words — “to be” is not to be translated.

Elizabeth’s: George Kalogeris’s Guide to Greece: Poems (2018), an exquisite exploration of writing Greek poetry in English, and in Massachusetts!

Listen and Read Here

48 Transform, Not Transfer: Lisa Dillman on Translation

Upcoming Episodes

We offer two rapid responses to the Capitol attack of January 6th.

Episode 49 features a discussion on the history of “asymmetrical policing” of black and white protestors or activists. Elizabeth and John talk with FBI and KKK expert David Cunningham–who first joined us to discuss white-supremacist policing back in Episode 36.

Episode 50 is a discussion of the racially-inflected genealogy of the words that are used to describe uprisings, rebellions and riots. Joining us is Brandeis historian Greg Childs, expert on political mobilizations and revolutions in the Americas.

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