“Translators are the beating heart that makes it possible for stories to flow beyond borders and across oceans.” So writes Frank Wynne in the introduction to his 2018 short story anthology, Found in Translation. The Trinity Journal of Literary Translation (JoLT) takes a similar approach in its mission to showcase literature from as various a number of languages as is possible to cram into its covers. In doing so, the journal provides its readers with easy access to stories, and, by extension, cultures which they otherwise would not be afforded the opportunity of experiencing.
Martina Giambanco is the current editor of the journal founded in 2013 by Claudio Sansone. The first issue of the year, focused on the theme of “Prophecy,” featured literary works in Ancient Greek, Italian, Irish, Mandarin, French, Czech, Old Norse, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Polish. In her editorial introduction, Giambanco writes that “since it is the peculiarity of language that every language is a carrier of culture and identity in its own way, it follows that the translator’s job is not merely that of capturing the essential literary meaning of the source text, but most importantly that of making intelligible a whole culture.” This sounds like no easy task, and this is indeed the challenge faced by, and the privilege afforded to, the translator. As well as providing a platform for those with an interest in translation studies, the journal offers an opportunity for people to share their favourite works written in their native language and to open them up to fellow literature lovers.
Aside from the inclusion of such a wide array of languages, the journal benefits from the heterogeneity of its contributors with regard to the diverse literature it can exhibit. The choice of theme is an important editorial decision so as to facilitate this variety. It is important to choose one that is broadly accessible and that will accommodate the greatest number of submissions as possible. Yet, it also must not be too restrictive, so as to cater to a wide range of interpretations, ideally ensuring that each page presents the reader with a piece of literature that they may not have come across in such an accessible manner elsewhere. The journal also contains a strong visual element. Artists and photographers are encouraged to submit work relevant to the theme to complement the written text. In this respect, the journal’s appreciation of the creative process of translation is accompanied by its enabling of creative personal responses to the set theme in other mediums too.
“The translator has the great privilege and responsibility of extending the reach of the original work and making it accessible to a wider audience.”
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” This oft-quoted line from Jojen in George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons is generally viewed as an inversion of St. Augustine’s antecedent statement that “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” These viewpoints takes on a further meaning within the current climate, where travel is restricted and literature is for many both an escape from the morbid and monotonous reality of our days and an imaginary ticket to the places which seem further away than ever before, without the option of hopping on a plane to bridge the distances. The metaphor of the world as a book is one that refers implicitly to the vast number of languages and cultures which inherently divide us but which form a crucial part of our shared humanity. With an established recognition of the transportive power of literature, as well as its ability to bring people together, the role of the translator takes on an undeniable, heightened degree of importance. The translator has the great privilege and responsibility of extending the reach of the original work and making it accessible to a wider audience.
Without the work of the translator, the works themselves are not afforded the opportunity to communicate their stories, their ideas, their cultures, to those who cannot be exposed to them in a physical sense. Japanese essayist Kaori Fujimito writes of her childhood: “I was born and grew up in the Tokyo area, speaking only Japanese. My upbringing was anything but international, and foreign language learning was beyond everyone’s horizons, but from an early age, I gravitated toward translated stories from other cultures. I loved reading about characters who lived in a small German town, a big French city, or on a deserted island; they spoke, acted, and gestured in ways that were totally strange to me.” The beauty of literature in translation is that it can communicate that which is completely foreign in a language that is completely familiar. The writer’s original vision is not diluted, but rather transferred artfully into the target language, compromising as little as possible with regard to original intention and ultimate outcome. The possibility of learning about foreign concepts and practices through literature is a privilege in itself. At its best, a translation executed to perfection is one which allows us to almost touch, smell, hear, feel that alien something which is being described on the page. In the words of the eminent translator Larissa Volokhonsky, the process of translation can “be compared to restoring a painting… You can’t overdo it, but you have to be true to the thing.”
Like many aspects of college life, the journal has been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions. In an attempt to maintain engagement, Giambanco writes a monthly newsletter each month, curating articles and theory related to translation as well as featuring at least one fresh translation. This has been an effective means of maintaining communication with contributors and cultivating a shared space for those with a passion for translation, languages, or literature in general. In addition, the journal’s increased social media presence contributed to an overwhelming number of submissions which led to a difficult editorial process. Ordinarily, the publication of each issue would be celebrated at an official launch party. This year, the launch was conducted through Zoom, with contributors explaining their submissions, readings from a variety of different languages, and editors reflecting on the challenges and rewards associated with the editing process.
“Literary translation is just one method of creating new bonds across cultures through language, and in strengthening those already in existence.”
Susan Sontag sees translation as “the circulatory system of the world’s literatures.” JoLT, to use the journal’s acronymous form, literally jolts the reader into an awareness of, and an inevitable appreciation for the wonders of language, bound inseparably to the literature it creates and the cultures it communicates in ways as beautifully and infinitely complex as the words which constitute its make-up. In the present times, when it can seem as though we are more detached from each other than ever before, literary translation is just one method of creating new bonds across cultures through language, and in strengthening those already in existence.
JoLT is currently seeking submissions for the second issue of the year, based on the theme of ‘Enchantment.’ For submission guidelines, visit https://www.trinityjolt.org/