Dan Rudmann

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Translation, Scholarship, and Emily Wilson's work with The Odyssey

Of the many important statements by Emily Wilson in this interview, one in particular jumps out at me. On why scholars do not often produce translations:

“One set of issues has to do with the devaluing of translation in the academy, such that it doesn’t get you tenure or promotion and might count against you (it shows you’re a dilettante or someone who does ‘outreach,’ not serious scholarship; a total misrepresentation but one that is commonly believed).”

Emily Wilson is accurate in her assessment and hints at why this is an absolute shame for academia and literature. So, to add:

Translation is the act of rendering a text more accessible while also inviting new readings. Education is the act of rendering a text more accessible while also inviting new readings.

A text is not always literature and a reading can include any form of participation.

Studying translation provides insight into the ways ideas speak across millieux. It is the transmission of knowledge.

Translation is pedagogy. And it is also pedagogy with a particularly wide reach.

Outreach should be one of our most celebrated accomplishments as academics. What is more important than sharing ideas? I should note that the tide is changing. In many parts of the world, universities are citing their outreach, often officially refered to as “knowledge exchange,” as a marker of the institution’s success.

We are hopefully well beyond the days of envisioning academic work as cloistered in a snuzzy corner of a forgotten library with no real-world implications. We participate in our field, whether in research, writing, or the classroom. Our fingerprints are all over our material.

Translation is a critical form of participation. It is close reading, analysis, hermeneutics, linguistics, narratology, reader-response theory, comparative work, and much, much more bound together. It is theory and practice as they strive to act in concert.

Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey reverberated around the world. It inspired people to read and think and suss out their own ideas on writing, language, identity, and on and on.

I can not think of anything more in line with the goals of a university.