What Do We Gain in Translation?

“Isn’t it ironic that this module is essentially translated novels, when we’re studying English Literature” was something I overheard whilst leaving a lecture in my first year. Whilst obviously meant in jest, I was surprised someone had stated this so openly. Wasn’t all literature worthy of study, regardless of where it came from? 

This is a comment however, which brings up questions. What is the purpose of translation in our reading patterns? The obvious answer is that it brings a seemingly limitless array of fiction for us. My home bookshelf has copies of The Iliad nestled next to Don Quixote and Anna Karenina (please don’t ask me if I have actually read them), allowing me to jump between time and place as easily as clicking my fingers. Being able to open a book and drop into a world unreflective of my own gives me the opportunity to see the world in ways which would be impossible if I stayed within the constraints of British authors. Translated works present an aspect of ‘sonder’-the realisation that every person has a life as complex and unfathomable as your own.

The translated novel allows the reader to broaden their knowledge and see the many aspects of the literary world around them. Reading The Song of Achilles becomes more entertaining if I can place the experience alongside my understanding of The Iliad and the wider translated field it came from. With this in mind, I am more eager than ever to see where else translated works will take me. 

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Danny Hayes

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May 2022
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