Oberlin College and Conservatory

Beautifully Unfaithful: What Makes a Good Literary Translation? Keynote by Mark Polizzotti

Thursday, April 4 at 5:30pm to 7:30pm

Allen Memorial Art Museum
87 North Main Street, Oberlin, OH 44074

Why do certain translations sing, while others merely sink? Is a “faithful” translation always best, and what do we even mean by “fidelity”? Can we, and should we, judge translations—or any creative act—in the first place?

Such questions have helped inform translation theory and practice for centuries. But at a time when the longstanding debate over “literal vs. liberal” has grown more prominent in mainstream literary discourse, and when the criteria for evaluating a work of art are increasingly called to account, it becomes all the more essential to ponder the aesthetic and ethical ramifications of these judgments. And to reconsider why, and whether,  some translations work better than others.

Keynote speaker Mark Polizzotti is the translator of over 30 books from French, including works by Gustave Flaubert, Marguerite Duras, André Breton, Eric Vuillard, and Patrick Modiano. He directs the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This talk is part of the annual Oberlin College Translation Symposium. The symposium is sponsored by comparative literature, classics, English, French and Italian, the Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures, and the Allen Memorial Art Museum.

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