An Interview with Susan Bassnett

6 September 2011

This year we published Reflections on Translation by Susan Bassnett which brings together her key essays on translation. We asked her a few questions about her work.

Reflections on Translation

Reflections on Translation

What inspired you to study translation?
I never thought about translation as something to be studied, but from earliest childhood there was always more than one language in my head, so you could say that I was never not translating. That personal dimension then fed into my thinking about translation, hence this book is a personal account of one woman’s engagement with translation  that also tackles sociopolitical and linguistic issues from a professional perspective.

What makes your book different from others that have been published before?
This book is different from other books on translation because it consists of short essays written for everyone who has an interest, however small, in what translation involves.

Which researchers in your field do you particularly admire?
I have always admired people who can communicate outside the confines of their special field. I respect the scholarship of many theorists and critics who write in a style and languages that are only intelligible to a small elite group of followers, but I admire those people who can reach out to the many. My good friend the late Andre Lefevere was just such a writer, as are Edwin Gentzler, Sherry Simon, Michael Cronin and other key figures in the field of translation.


Susan Bassnett

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?
I read anything and everything. For years now, I have had a personal reading strategy, whereby every year I read some classic work that I managed to miss, I reread something, I select a poet and read his or her complete works and then I read whatever comes my way. This year I was a judge for the Dublin IMPAC prize, so I had over 160 novels to read before the judging meeting in June. I loved the winner, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Right now I am rereading all the Patrick O’Brien seafaring novels about Jack Aubrey and Dr Maturin, having taken Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet on holiday, along with a book on Celtic spirituality and Edmond de Waal’s marvellous The Hare with Amber Eyes.

What do you think you might have done if you hadn’t pursued a career in academia?
I never wanted to be an academic, I wanted to be a full time writer. I tried twice to earn my living outside academia, but never managed it. However, the compensation of academic life is the constant engagement with the brightest people of the next generation. It keeps one young and on one’s toes.

What are your plans for future research?
I am finishing a book on translation for the Routledge New Critical Idiom series, and will then revise Translation Studies for its 4th edition. This book came out in 1980 and seems to be more popular now than ever, which amazes and delights me. Then I would like to spend more time on my poetry, though I am also committed to finishing a translation of one of Luigi Pirandello’s later plays that is not well known at all in the English-speaking world. I like to have several projects on the go at the same time.


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