LitTransformer – the international translation workshop

01.10.2019 | 17:17

LitTransformer, the international translation workshop held in Lviv ( July 8-18, 2019), aimed to encourage collaboration among translators representing various UNESCO Cities of Literature, as well as to presence the shaping power of translation in these city spaces.

Each participant brought along a short literary text in their native language and a draft translation of it in English. During the workshop, the translators collaborated in pairs, and across three languages: their two native languages, and English, the bridge language between them. The groups also included emerging Ukrainian translators, several outstanding graduates of the Department of Translation Studies and Contrastive Linguistics, at the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv.

Each participant enacted two roles at once – the capable guide (in their native language) and the novice traveler (in their partner’s language) – to get the literary texts translated into each native language.

Moving between familiarity and estrangement, interrogating confident answers with fresh, often unexpected questions, the participants experienced languages vividly (viscerally), and reflectively. Because they depended on each other to access the sense and literary scope of the original text, they dialogued intensively on every facet of literariness, from the lexical, phonetic/acoustic, to formal, empathetic and pragmatic/rhetorical.

The synergy of participants’ introspections and creative translation practices, experienced in synchrony, had also an external unfolding dimension, since they were emplaced into the multicultural  diachrony of Lviv as a city of translation, and invited to reflect on the after-images of once cosmopolitan city. Staging the world of translation through the lens of one translational city – through its shifting  identities, language frictions and failed encounters – provoked among the participants lively, even transformative discussions on the national narratives about the mother-tongue; on the idealism of language  policies versus the real politics of language inside and across our borders. We imagined and experienced together the creative, regenerative potential of multilingual diversity.

Positioning Lviv as a translation laboratory also brought into the sharper focus the question about how the languages and cultures are bridged, or, to put it figuratively, what happens on the bridges constructed: on what terms the connections are played out, what itineraries and means are chosen.

LitTransformer helped us interrogate our assumptions about what our respective languages can and cannot do, foregrounding translation as thinking beyond one’s own experience. We explored how to engage with our subjectivities, and how our languages might gain new capacity to experience and express the encounter with the foreign. Rather than translating the foreign into domestic consumables, we sought to render it intelligible.

Just as importantly, we agreed to promote translation in our respective Cities of Literature, to make it more visible, better understood, as this most vital artery of international literary circulation and cross-cultural understanding.