@ ALTA 2010

Russell Valentino

My first day of the annual ALTA (American Literary Translators Association) conference, this year in Philadelphia, started off a little rocky, as I mistakenly attempted to to register for the Victoria Secret conference being held in the same convention center. The pink did seem a little strong for ALTA, but how did I know, the theme is different every year. Maybe a Victoria Secret theme might be just the ticket. I mean, isn’t translation kind of a guilty pleasure for its most adamant practitioners? I asked a few ALTAns to help me flesh out this thought. Oh yes, it doesn’t pay, and it’s something we REALLY like to do, said Alyson Waters. You might scandalize your parents, suggested Marian Schwartz: you want to do WHAT!? You want to go WHERE?! And Jason Grunebaum pointed out that a translator might have the pleasure of creating a new idiom in English, doing for English-language poetry what the push-up bra did for breasts. Why would you feel guilty about that, I asked? Well, if you thought, maybe in the back of your mind, that you were really just using someone else’s words, you know, making them the instrument of your own designs... There’s still more potential here: A guilty-pleasures translation conference could tie into the translation of romance, for instance, or maybe noir detective fiction, which Alyson, in my morning panel, corrected my thinking on (I had suggested that some kinds of genre fiction might be less complex for translators and therefore amenable to “writing up,” as in “writing up one’s research”: she was right, of course.) And there really might be something excessive, after all, in the passion with which some translators devote themselves to it, lingering, luxuriating in every word, every phrase, every chrysalic metamorphosis. Twice in fact: first in one culture, then in another. A lot like Victoria’s Secret. It’s true that attending the VS conference would make me miss out on meeting George Economou, whose work we’ll be publishing in an upcoming issue, and Sara Gilmore, whose work we published in the issue just out, and I would miss the keynote by Phyllis Zatlin on the mostly sorry state of drama translations into English, and meeting Katherine Silver from the Banff International Literary Translation Center (www.banffcenter.ca/writing/programs) – thanks to Steve Bradbury for the contact--, and I would miss listening to Sibelan Forrester on Propp, Michael Ritterson on Merian, and Susan Spitzer on Wagner and Badiou; nor would I have the pleasure of talking with Lisa Rose Bradford or Martha Collins or sitting down with Jim Kates, Bobbi Harshav, Gary Racz, Mani Rao, Chad Post, Becka McKay, Andrea Rosenberg, Rainer Schulte, Rachel Ertel, Virginia Jewiss, and about a half-dozen others (sorry, friends—the day is long). Anyway, it could have been the cold medicine, but at the time I had to admit that registering for the Victoria Secret conference seemed at least an intriguing prospect. Things moved in a rapid swirl after that, meeting people, listening to talks, attending sessions on code switching, gender and identity, transference of various kinds, and the ever-pressing questions of relevance and respect. By the end of the day, in the hotel lounge, talking poetry and Rome and how best to mentor young apprentices abroad, I felt again the familiar guilty tinge, even as stimulated as I was, by the brilliant people swirling, and maybe really because of them, with all their lingering and luxuriating, and I decided that, yes indeed, maybe I should have gone to the ALTA conference after all.