2009 MLA Features Translation

“The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context” was the presidential theme this year at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Dec. 27-30, 2009. Catherine Porter, MLA President, Professor in Humanities at Cornell, and translator of contemporary French philosophy, including the works of Bruno Latour, Michel  Foucault, Luce Irigaray, and Jean-Didier Urbain, presented the keynote address, which is available online at presidential_address.

UMass was well represented at the conference: Edwin Gentzler participated in two panels at the MLA: the first was titled “Developing a New Generation of Translator,” organized by  Martin Riker of the Dalkey Archive Press, with participants including Emmanuell Ertel (NYU), Bill Johnson (Indiana), Suzanne Jill Levine (UC Santa Barbara), Benjamin Paloff (Michigan), and Lawrence Venuti (Temple). It was interesting to note that many of the schools represented are starting new translation programs, which shows that the future bodes well for the field.

Edwin’s paper was on developing new strategies for better introducing linguistic and cultural differences into the translated text; while students feel comfortable experimenting with such strategies in the classroom, they seem slow to implement them when submitting work to publishers. The constraints of the marketplace remain quite strong. Perhaps more collaboration is needed between presses publishing translation and university programs teaching translation, which was one of the goals of the panel. Martin Riker has published an article for Inside Higher Ed summarizing the panel, which can be found at Guest Post: Martin Riker.

Edwin’s second paper was on the panel “(Re)Interpreting Translation,” with Moira Inghilleri (UC London), Cristiano Mazzei (UMass Amherst), and Carolyn Shread (Mt. Holyoke). Cristiano is currently in the UMass PhD Program, and Carolyn graduated with a PhD in French and MA in Translation from UMass  in 2008. Edwin’s paper was on the social and psychic costs of the lack of public support given to interpreting, especially when individuals’ rights are violated in civil liberty cases.

Carolyn’s paper was on plasticity in translation, where plasticity is understood in an artistic fashion (as in the plastic arts) and an incendiary fashion (as in explosives). The goal of the panel was to help articulate a new vision of the ethics, praxes, and theories of interpreting.

Julie Hayes, Professor of French and Translation Studies at UMass Amherst, chaired the session “Retranslation: When and Why” at the MLA, with panelists Philip Steward (Duke), Babriel Louis Moyal (McMaster), and Barbara Godard (York), and focused on the aesthetic, linguistic, ideological, and commercial factors that motivate the production of new translations of the same text, an often understudied aspect of translation. Altogether, there were over 50 panels on translation, which well marks the arrival of the subject in higher education in the United States.  In many ways, the University of Massachusetts, with its strong translation program, anticipated the translation turn in modern languages.  For more on the conference, see the article Translation has its Moment in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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