“Russian Gangsters, Ersatz Diamonds, and Translation as Commentary: Thoughts on Translating José Manuel Prieto’s REX

A talk by ESTHER ALLEN of Baruch College, City University of New York

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Monash University Caulfield Campus

The translation of a work of contemporary literature, particularly one launched within the commercial publishing marketplace, is expected to convey “the work itself” in another language. It is not expected to tell us anything about the work or function as a commentary upon it; both the academic world and the publishing industry make a sharp distinction between the role of the translator of a contemporary work and that of the critic or theorist who may comment upon it. However, the translation of a novel such as REX by José Manuel Prieto, who began his literary career as a translator from Russian to Spanish, and whose work is situated at the borders between cultures rather than within any one of them, upends those expectations in ways that compel a rethinking of the relationship between translation and commentary.

Esther Allen is an award-winning translator and academic. She has directed the work of the PEN Translation Fund since it was founded in 2003, and in 2006 she was named a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres in recognition of her work to promote a culture of translation in the United States. With Salman Rushdie and Michael Roberts, she co-founded PEN World Voices: the New York Festival of International Literature.

Her translations include Alma Guillermoprieto’s Dancing with Cuba, Rosario Castellanos’s novel The Book of Lamentations, José Marti: Selected Writings, and The Selected Non-fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (with Eliot Weinberger and Suzanne Jill Levine). Her academic areas of expertise include the history and theory of literary translation, 19th- and 20th-century Latin American literature, and 19th- and 20th-century French literature.