METM17 keynote talk

The translator as writer. Or maybe not...

Tim Parks
Any piece of writing, technical or commercial, legal or literary, is characterized by both manifest and hidden elements; a semantic content that is relatively easy to extrapolate, and a form, style, or manner of delivery that may not be evident at all. Comprehension, as it is taught at schools, usually amounts to no more than establishing content, the interactive meaning of verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives. Style tends to be noticed only when it is so marked that it cannot be ignored. Yet style is always present and entirely conditions the reader’s response to content. As translators, a very large part of our task is to grasp and respond to the form in which a text presents itself, then to find a style in our own language and culture that will allow the content to come across more or less as it does for readers in the source language. This involves an awareness of the writing process as a critic, and an ability to write as a practitioner. With reference to a wide range of texts, technical, commercial and literary, this talk will attempt to answer the question, how far is the translator a writer? And the further question, how does this role change if the text's original writer, in an ever more globalized world, was already preparing his or her text for an international audience?

Tim Parks has translated an impressive list of books, including Machiavelli’s The Prince and works by more modern Italian authors such as Moravia, Calvino and Calasso. He is better known, however, as a novelist in his own right. He has also written non-fiction about living in Italy, the art of writing, and his experience of chronic pain and meditation. Born in Manchester, he grew up in London and was educated at Cambridge and Harvard Universities. In 1981, he moved to live in Verona, Italy, and now runs a postgraduate degree course in translation at the Independent University of Modern Languages in Milan. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and the New York Review of

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