Society for Italian Studies – Translation centre stage with Susan Bassnett and Jhumpa Lahiri

The Italian department at University of Edinburgh have just hosted the Society for Italian Studies conference, also as a way of marking the 100th anniversary of Italian Studies at Edinburgh. It is a real tribute to the department that they’ve organised this major conference just as the academic year draws to an end: thanks to Federica Pedriali, Davide Messina, Nicolò Maldina, Carlo Pirozzi, and all the others on the organising team!

As a first-timer at a SIS conference, it was an excellent (and intense) few days and a great way to meet up with old friends and new. Highlights for me were definitely the keynote speakers on the first day, and in particular Professor Susan Bassnett and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Both Bassnett and Lahiri spoke about translation. Bassnett from a personal point of view, with particularly telling details regarding the fact that as a young academic she was told not to include translations on her CV since they were regarded as incidental to an academic career, akin to “hack work”. She mentioned that Tim Parks – also a prolific translator and author – had been repeatedly “bocciato” (turned down, failed) when he presented himself for academic posts in Italy because it was deemed that he wasn’t doing any “serious” work! Translation was – and, possibly in some circles, still is – seen as a “fringe” activity.

Bassnett has dedicated her career to working on the cross-cultural movement of texts and authors, and of course here translation is key. However, she pointed out that cultures translate according to need, and this helps to explain why the number of translated texts has varied so strikingly at different moments in history.

“All my life I have had more than one language in my head. I translate to build bridges between languages and cultures, and I write to understand the processes of bridge construction, today and in previous ages.”

Susan Bassnett
profile on Literature, British Council

The evening reception “Speaking in Cultures” at the Scottish Parliament was hosted by Linda Fabiani MSP, who was wonderfully welcoming to all the academics and special guests, including the broader Italian community, the Italian Consul-General and other key figures like Tony Crolla of the Vittoria Group, Edinburgh, sponsor of the Gadda Prizes.

Before the prize-giving event, Jumpha Lahiri gave a masterly lecture on translation and writing, a subject on which she’s eminently well placed to talk. She took Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo as her guiding thread – an ingenious choice – and I very much hope the lecture will be published in due course because it was brilliantly executed with some truly unique insights into both creative processes. Writers, she argued, are enriched by translation since it forces them to break the bounds of self-reflection.

J. W. Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Earlier in the day Jhumpa Lahiri also presented her most recent publication, The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories (March 2019). A third of these are new translations, including a number by Lahiri herself.

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Leonardo: A Restless Genius

It’s always exciting to receive a parcel but the box that arrived a couple of days ago was particularly welcome.

It contained these beautiful books:

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I love the cover and the translator’s name is there (#namethetranslator) … rather faint, but it’s there!

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