Temple U. prof bringing translation to forefront in literary circles

February 9, 2010

Temple University English Professor Lawrence Venuti, a Temple alum and South Philadelphia native, finds himself at the center of a movement to rethink literary translation and its role in the academy.

Venuti, an internationally renowned translator and translation theorist, wants both translators and readers of translations to be more mindful and appreciative of the cultural differences they encounter in a foreign text. His latest project, a translation of Ernest Farrés’s Edward Hopper (Graywolf Press, November 2009), won the second annual Robert Fagles Translation Prize, sponsored by the National Poetry Series.

A leading theorist in his field, Venuti is at the forefront of what might be called a translation renaissance. Once invisible in their behind-the-scenes roles, translators are increasingly recognized in academic and publishing arenas for their contributions to the literary process.

The most prevalent translation strategy has been to adhere to the current standard dialect of the translating language, which is the most familiar and least noticeable to the reader. This kind of translation, according to Venuti, effaces the translator’s presence and erases cultural distinctions.

“Translation rewrites a foreign text in terms that are intelligible and interesting to readers in the receiving culture. Doing so is akin to committing an act of ethnocentric violence by uprooting the text from the language and culture that gave it life. Translating into current, standard English at once conceals that violence and homogenizes foreign cultures,” he said.

Venuti has translated everything from 19th-century prose by a neglected author of Gothic tales to canonical modern novelists to controversial contemporary best-sellers. Some of his translations are credited with improving the literary reputations of the original authors, in one case raising the author’s status to literary stardom.

Because of his national and international reputation, he has been invited to teach translation workshops at Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia.

For more and to hear Venuti read from a translation, check out CLA professor at center of translation renaissance.

–Kim Fischer

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