Summit of translators without traitors

Berna González, Marta Rebón, Jorge Ferrer and Yulia Dobrovilskaya, attendees at the first European Colloquium of translators. / Cati Cladera

A trade as noble and necessary as it is dangerous and affected by political ups and downs, was vindicated in the Conversations of Formentor

Miguel Lorenzo

MIGUEL LORENCI The Gran Canarian palms

The Conversations of Formentor have hosted a kind of summit of translators, that figure so relevant and essential for literature and often mistreated. 'Traduttore, traditore', says the ill-fated Italian maxim, but the First European Conference on Translators showed that good professionals are just the opposite. Of course, there was controversy over the withdrawal of a Ukrainian translator who was dissatisfied with the presence of Russian colleagues and with the awarding of the Formentor Prize to Liudmila Ulítskaya, a Russian of Ukrainian origin who opposed Putin and was exiled in Berlin. It was highlighted in the forum that no Spanish publisher has suspended the publication of Russian authors when the sanctions against the Putin regime intensify.

It became clear that translation is also a dangerous job. "It was already said in the fourteenth century that the translation of the Bible into English was the work of the antichrist," said Aurelio Major. Translators of Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' have been stabbed and killed and the British-Indian author has recently been savagely attacked. Major recalled the mistranslation of the title, since the expression 'satanic verses' was invented by the British orientalists of the 19th century to designate one or more verses suppressed from the Koran, "but it is not used in the Muslim world, where they refer to these discarded as 'gjaraniq' ('the cranes').

war fervors

Basilio Baltasar, director of the Formentor Foundation, lamented at the table on Russia and Ukraine that the meeting was not removed "from the warlike fervours". He was referring to the absence of Iuri Lech, a Ukrainian who wanted to protest the presence of Russian translators and for granting the prestigious award to an author of this nationality.

Yulia Dobrovolskaya, Ulitskaya's literary agent and translator, expressed respect for Lech's decision, but hoped "our children and grandchildren will find a way to understand each other." She also stressed that "no Spanish publisher has suspended the publication of Russian writers." On the contrary, as the translator Jorge Ferrer also pointed out, voices are being made known such as that of the Tartar Guzel Yájina, who has had four editions of her first novel, or that of Mariya Stepanova, both translated by him for Cliff.

No Spanish publisher has suppressed the publication of Russian authors when sanctions against the Putin regime intensify

Christian Hansen called for a European initiative that pools the work of translators and builds bridges between the different literatures and cultures of the continent. It was specified by the Dutch Brigitte Coopmans, who called for "an international and institutionalized forum to discuss translation issues." “Something like a digital system with an open dictionary, a literary field under construction, where translators of the same author around the world could discuss terminology and specific concepts. Such a nucleus of discussion would take translation to a much higher level throughout the world », she summed up.

The subject of artificial intelligence and mechanical translators was addressed. A tool that, according to most attendees, "cannot be used for literature." Aurore Touya contrasted the way a computer works with art and Gustavo Guerrero launched a challenge: «Put a paragraph by Javier Marías on the machine and see what comes out», given that the robots «do not capture the nuances or the emotional reverberation».

Is the tower of Babel a curse? Would a world without translators be desirable? It does not seem, according to the debate on the lingua franca of Europe. The general director of the Book, María José Gálvez, claimed, however, linguistic diversity as what defines Europe and she asked to resist, as much as possible, the hegemony of English.

Some thirty speakers participated in this 'synod' of translators, which also included publishers, to draw up a cartography of literature in Spanish in Europe, the United States and Canada. Objective "accomplished and surpassed" according to the moderator, the journalist Xavi Ayén, given that, beyond that, "several of the hot topics related to the profession and literature in general have also appeared."