Katrina Dodson on the Art of Translation

Katrina Dodson Portrait

Katrina Dodson on the Art of Translation

Writing and Thinking in Two Languages
Art of Writing
Tuesday, Mar 9, 2021 4:00 pm

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"To think and write beyond our own experience is a necessary transgression if we are to expand our understanding of the world," Katrina Dodson writes of her approach to translating the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. "To translate the stories, I had to perform a double incarnation, to inhabit Clarice inhabiting her various characters."

For her translation from the Portuguese of Lispector’s Complete Stories, Dodson won the 2016 PEN Translation Prize, the American Translators Association Lewis Galantière Prize, and a Northern California Book Award.

Translating Lispector became a quasi-religious endeavor for Dodson, who pinned a photograph of the author above her desk to help her channel her subject. "I did my best to divine where Clarice’s significant distortions of language lay and how I might convey them faithfully, to use a fraught term for translators," Dodson writes in an essay in The Believer. "Yet we know there is no such thing as a perfect translation—the pieces that make up different languages never correspond exactly. In the end, it’s someone’s grubby fingerprints all over the Word of another, no matter how much the translator wants to let the spirit take over and speak through her. Translation is interpretation."

Dodson holds a PhD in comparative literature from UC Berkeley and teaches translation at Columbia University. She is currently adapting her Lispector translation journal into a book, and translating the 1928 Brazilian modernist classic Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character by Mário de Andrade.

She talks with Kathryn Crim, who recently completed her PhD in comparative literature at UC Berkeley with a dissertation on “Fit and Counterfeit: The Emergence of a Documentary Aesthetic.”

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