"the fate of the translator is to live and dwell in uncertainty”
This past July, Meg Matich and Gunnhildur Jónatansdóttir took part in the translation workshop LitTransformer in Lviv, Ukraine. Lviv is a UNESCO City of Literature, as is Reykjavík, and invited translators from other UNESCO Cities of Literature to apply for the workshop. Meg and Gunnhildur were selected from Reykjavík and thus travelled to Lviv for this ten day workshop, now held for the first time.
In addition to Meg and Gunnhildur, who both translated into Icelandic, translators from Barcelona, Bucarest, Norwich, Utrecht and Vigo took part as well as students of translations studies from Ukraine. Some of the participants were professional translators with long experience and others were taking their first steps.
Aron Aji, head of literary translations at the University of Iowa, and Iryna Odrekhivska, associate professor of translation studies at Ivan Franko University in Lviv, led the workshop. A number of other lecturers gave insight into Ukranian literature and literary life. Iowa City is also a UNESCO City of Literature and these sister cities in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network organized the workshop together.
Each participant brought along a short story from his or her home country (or in the language of choice), roughly translated into English. The translators were paired and each then translated the other one's story into her or his language although the translators did not have any language in common except the English. Thus, the Icelandic short story "Inferno" by Gyrðir Elíasson was translated into Spanish and the short story "Mengele var misskilinn húmoristi" by Gerður Kristný was translated into Rumanian. A Korean story was translated into Katalonian, a Katalonian story into Dutch, a Duthc story into Ukranian and stories in Spanish and Rumanian into Icelandic.
Photo: Myroslaw Trofymuk.
Uncertainty as a tool
"Translations do not take place in a cultural vacuum. They include much more than translating words from one language to another," says Meg. "It is the translator's responsibility to portray the cultural and historical flora that dwells behind the words and snuggles between the lines."
The aim of the workshop was in fact to snatch the translators out of their comfort zones, force them to slow down and to examine every word in order to check out if they were missing something important. Assuming you have it all under control makes way for mistakes and is therefore quite dangerous for translators.
"In short", says Gunnhildur "it is the fate of the translator to live and dwell in uncertainty. And this was perhaps the main goal of the workshop: to make the translators accept uncertainty, not as an enemy but as a tool."
Lviv City of Literature plans to put forward a publication with excerpts from the workshop and their aim is for LitTransformer to become an annual event in Lviv.