Like I mentioned in my last module review, I’m an English Literature student at the University of East Anglia, and I’ve decided to review all of my modules on my blog. This review is not gonna include a reading list, for reasons I’ll explain below. Enjoy!
The title of the module pretty much sums up what it’s about: we read texts that had been translated from their original language into English. The interesting part of doing that is comparing different translations, analysing the translators’ language choices and commenting on them. This module taught me how amazing language is and how to do close reading properly; I was terrible at it at first because I had never even heard of close reading before coming to uni, but this module (through detailed analyses of different translations) gave me a valuable insight.
When I applied for this module I kept wondering how it would work; the requirement for it was to be fluent in a language beside English, but it didn’t specify the language, so I was very curious to see how they would make that work. Basically, we never had to read the original texts, but just compared translations. The people who knew the original language could read the source text as well, but it wasn’t necessary. What we needed the other language for was our second formative and the final summative essays – but I will discuss our assessments in more detail further down.
We were taught in only one weekly seminar, which was an hour long. I personally would have loved to spend more time on the module because it was my favourite of the semester, but one hour a week was definitely enough to get through everything we had to learn. We would get a few translations to compare at home at the end of the seminar and then discuss the differences we found the week after; the homework was never overwhelming, it was the perfect amount and difficulty, challenging but not too hard, and the seminar was always a lot of fun. We were a very small group, only seven people, so the classes were very personal. Everyone would get to speak each time, and because we were so few people we were never rushed to make our point but had enough time to elaborate on and discuss our thoughts. Also, all my classmates in that particular seminar were absolutely wonderful, so of course that’s a plus!
Our assessments were structured the same way as those for Literature in History I, the first module I reviewed. We had two formative and a summative essay. The first formative just consisted of comparing translations, and it was a lot of fun because we got to look at translations of Beowulf, my favourite text of the module. If you’re not aware, Beowulf is (I think) the oldest known text from the UK, dating back to the Anglo-Saxons. It’s written in Old English, which is not at all like English today, but sounds like a different language entirely (I also learned through this module that Old English and Middle English are very different things). We looked at translations into contemporary English (obviously), and comparing them was mainly a lot of fun because I hated Edwin Morgan’s translation and loved Seamus Heaney’s, so I had quite a lot to complain about. The second formative was the first assignment that had us use our second language; we had to choose a text in its original language and produce our own translation into English, and then write a commentary on our choices, with the option to compare our translation to another existing translation of the same text. I chose to translate Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, which is a German novel about a guy who is obsessed with scents and wants to make perfume out of humans. Of course, we didn’t have to translate the entire book, but just an extract of 250 words. I had a lot of fun with this assignment as well. Finally, the summative one consisted of producing a 500-word translation of a text and, again, a commentary explaining our choices. For this I chose the poem Venedig (‘Venice’) by Rainer Maria Rilke, which I first picked because it talked about death and darkness and my emo ass loves that, but the poem turned out to be really interesting in many ways, including the fact that the narrator is Jesus. It took me about a million reads of the poem to get that (Rainer Maria Rilke has a confusing style), but when I did I was very excited. I think you can see why I love this module!
This type of module structure is the reason why I’m not including a reading list. All the texts we read were poems or short stories, and we read a lot, so I don’t remember most of them. However, we also had a look at some companion texts about translation theory, and I really enjoyed that. We learned about different styles of translating, the types of choices translators have to make, and what they can base those choices on. For example, if you’re translating for children, you’re going to go for simpler language and make your text more accessible and fun, while if you’re translating for PhD students you might choose more technical, formal language.
And that’s my module review! I have another one coming soon, which won’t be quite as related to literature as the first two, but might still interest some people. I hope you guys found this helpful, or just fun to read!
‘Till next time and happy reading!