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Susan Bassnett speech marks watershed moment for translation

6 July 2022

One of the world’s leading scholars of translation, Professor Susan Bassnett, introduced the concept of “translational imagination” in a wide-ranging keynote speech for Bristol Translates.

Known as a staunch advocate of creative approaches to translation, Professor Bassnett sought to draw a line under centuries of debates around “faithfulness, accuracy, exact equivalence” which, in her view, have only led to translators being seen, in the popular imagination, as traitors undeserving of the reader’s trust. Instead, Bassnett encourages us to think of translations as impermanent interpretations of a source text that, ultimately, matters much less than the new creation. She cites, with admiration, operas and theatrical adaptations based on classical stories which are produced “without an interest in understanding how the source text originally created its meaning.” These creative acts, in their turn, can even shed light on aspects of the text that early readers as well as scholars of those source texts have overlooked.

The lecture culminated in a new vision of creative translation as a “quest.” Bassnett evokes a number of contemporary poet-translators, notably Ann Carson and Cieran Carson, who are engaged in “a process of creating new works for their own time, bringing the dead back to life and, through translating, taking us, their readers on a quest with them.”

In the discussion, questions were raised about the dangers of cultural imperialism in any radical contemporary rewriting of an older text and, conversely, the joys of thinking about the translator as ‘singing for their supper’ in much the same way as Homer himself.

Further information

Well over 350 people attended the lecture, entitled “A Life in Translation,” which will be made available on the Translation Studies at Bristol YouTube playlist. Follow Bristol Translates on Twitter to be the first to hear when it’s out.

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