Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Fictional Translations
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Belén Bistue
11 AM - 12:30 PM
136 Social Sciences

Imagine that you are reading a book and, at some point in the story, you learn that what you are reading is actually the translation of a work written in an ancient language by an author from a faraway land. How would this affect your relation to the text? Would you now consider the story more interesting and valuable? Or would you start suspecting that the translator may have made changes and additions to the story? Would you be worried—or perhaps excited—about the possibility that there may be different versions of the text?

This is a game that well-known Renaissance authors, such as François Rabelais and Miguel de Cervantes, liked to play with their readers. They presented their books as if they were translations, and they used specific translation strategies to write their stories—giving several versions of a word, or even of a whole episode, and inviting readers to laugh at the confusion and interruptions that fictional translations create. It is interesting to note, however, that even as these writers laugh at translation, they are also inviting us to imagine a text in which multiple interpretations and cultural points of view can coexist.

In this class we will accept their invitation in order to ask ourselves about some of the assumptions we make when we read a story. We will also look at the ways in which later authors have played this game, too.  Our analyses will focus on how, by writing their stories as if they were translations, these authors are asking us to become more critical readers of literary texts.

This course satisfies the second half of UC Berkeley’s Reading and Composition requirement. It is a reading- and writing-intensive course, in which students will use their comparative interpretations of the texts as the basis for their writing and research assignments. They will develop their critical thinking and composition skills as they gain practice in the different stages of the academic writing process. Starting with in-class writing exercises, drafts, and revisions, they will gradually work towards the completion of a final research paper.