Podcast for Social Research, Episode 76: Translation is Art — A Conversation on Autonomy, Power, Responsibility, and Making Meaning

What does it mean to claim translation as an artform unto itself? In episode 76 of the Podcast for Social Research, recorded live at BISR Central while a wicked Nor’easter raged outside, BISR welcomed Ugly Duckling Presse, Barricade journal, and the Leipzig/Vienna-based collective TRANSLETTING for an evening of presentations and panel discussion addressed to the ethics, politics, and embodied practice of literary translation in the 21st century.

With Walter Benjamin’s “Task of the Translator” (1923) and Sawako Nakayasu’s Say Translation Is Art (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020) as historical and theoretical bookends, the cast—including BISR’s Lauren K. Wolfe, Ugly Duckling Presse Manager Marine Cornuet, and the TRANSLETTING collective (check out their bios below)—talked its way through Nakayasu’s playful politico-poetical wager (say translation is unfaithful, is performance, repetition, failure, process, collaboration, feminism, polyphony, conversation, deviance, decolonial, punk, and improvisation) and, from there, explored the word as a contingent unit of meaning and value by way of Ilse Aichinger’s Bad Words, in a translation by poets Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey.

The ensuing conversation touched upon all manner of things—from good words to wrong ones; the pleasures of infidelity; how power is borne in the space between an original and its translations; the meaning-bearing unit of language (a word, a comma, a syllable, syntax, a poem, a book, alternative structures of literature?); markets and reading publics; a translator’s responsibility—to whom? to what?; identity and its vicissitudes; and much else besides.

The TRANSLETTING collective includes: Konstantin Schmidtbauer, writer and translator; Mücahit Türk, writer; Jonë Zhitia, writer, translator, and editor; Nadja Etinski, writer, historian, and editor; Leonie Pürmayr, writer and editor; and Anile Tmava, writer, editor, and anthropologist.

You can download the episode by right-clicking here and selecting “save as.” Or, look us up on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was edited by Ryan Lentini. If you like what you’ve heard, consider subscribing to Brooklyn Institute’s Patreon page, where you can enjoy access to all past and future episodes of this podcast, as well as (Pop) Cultural Marxism, Practical Criticism, Faculty Spotlight, and other BISR podcast productions.

Podcast for Social Research, Episode 76: Translation is Art — A Conversation on Autonomy, Power, Responsibility, and Making Meaning
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