Translation, Misunderstanding and Nonsense

When:15 Oct 2013, 3pm - 4pm
Venue:Quadrangle 1001
Who:Dr Christopher Andrews, UWS
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Interpreting & Translation Seminar

Readers are often bemused by the fortunes of literary works translated from their mother tongue. Foreigners, it is often felt, get it wrong, their misunderstandings ranging in scale from the details of individual works up to the organisation of literary canons. The risk of misunderstanding has been used as an argument for linguistic insularity. But are misunderstandings always unfortunate? Following Borges, the Argentine novelist César Aira has argued that they can also be productive and stimulating. For Aira, misunderstanding, of which translation is a vector, is one of the ways in which literature nourishes itself. Misunderstanding in translation often leads to losses of coherence, but when the original belongs to the literary genre of nonsense or the linguistic category of non-text, the opposite shift may occur. Making sense of nonsense is a natural, almost irresistible operation, harnessed intermittently in most literary writing and systematically by certain experimenters (Aira, the surrealists, Raymond Roussel). Roussel's procedure for generating nonsensical givens and then making sense of them has been “translated” by the contemporary English poet Matthew Welton in a way that supports Aira's cheerful submission to the necessity of getting it wrong.

Chris Andrews is a senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney. He has translated books of fiction by Latin American writers, including Roberto Bolaño's Distant Star (New Directions, 2004), César Aira's Ghosts (New Directions, 2008) and Rodrigo Rey Rosa's Severina (Yale University Press, forthcoming in 2014). He is also the author of Poetry and Cosmogony: Science in the Writing of Queneau and Ponge (Rodopi, 1999) and Lime Green Chair (Waywiser, 2012).

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