Translation Lab

Experimental workshop, Cambridge, April 2023

Seven first- and second-year undergraduate students in Italian volunteered to participate in an exploratory translation workshop on ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ in April 2023, moderated by Dr Ruth Chester, Teaching Associate in Italian at the University of Cambridge.

The aim of the workshop was to encourage students to reflect on the role of the personal in the translation process and to explore how to acknowledge and engage with this as translators. The workshop consisted of three parts. Firstly, students discussed the features and dynamics of the translation process articulated in the chapter and how it diverged from their own usual practice. Secondly, they undertook a short creative writing exercise, choosing either to recount a memory of a multilingual conversation or a memorable instance of being taught something, or responding to any element in the chapter. Finally, reflecting on their newly sharpened perspective, they were encouraged to translate a short portion of the chapter that particularly appealed to them.

Early feedback from the creative exercise suggests that such work can deepen an awareness in student translators of the unconscious, spotlighting the potential to bring to consciousness an awareness of individual and personal frames of reference, biases, and positionalities in constructing a translation. It also helped the students appreciate the creative resources at their disposal when they translate: we draw on our own memories, feelings, and experiences even when seeking to express others’ words.

There are some interesting findings from comparing the student translations with Woolf’s, which merit further analysis and exploration in planned future Translation Lab events. Here are just two examples to offer a taster. A deepening of the sense of urgency towards the end of the chapter was offered by one translator through the use of contractions (‘it’s not that…we’ve arrived’) to increase the pace in the English. Several elected not to translate the verse from Inferno 26, with one articulation of the rationale for this being a reader-participation strategy: by leaving parts of the text at least partly or even fully inaccessible to the non-Italian reader, the reader can arguably more closely enact for herself the experience of the keenly listening Jean, invited to piece together an understanding of the verses through Primo’s mediation of the text.