Basic information
Published on:
23. September 2015

From 8–10 September 2015, the University of Bristol hosted the international conference Translating the Literatures of Small European Nations. Oganised by Rajendra Chitnis (University of Bristol), Rhian Atkin (University of Cardiff), Zoran Milutinović and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen (University College London), the conference marked the international launch of the eponymous project, which is funded by the British Arts and Humanities research Council. The purpose of the conference and the project is to investigate how the literatures of (semi)peripheral literary systems using the languages of limited diffusion win recognition within European/global cultural mainstream through the medium of translation.

The problem-centred program juxtaposing case studies of several European minor literatures (Irish, Galician, Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, etc.) made it possible to discern parallels between these literatures both in the process of adapting the translation to the target audience and with regard to the political economy of translation into large (global) languages. As Ondřej Vimr (Charles University Prague) suggested, translating small languages/literatures in the attempt to assert their presence in the global literary system is determined by the contradiction between the ‘supply-driven’ and ‘demand-driven’ motivation. This opposition implies a difference between the internal evaluation of an individual artwork as established by a peripheral literary system (its criticism, literary history, or readers), and evaluation through the external (metropolitan) perspective shaped by larger/international book markets. These markets in turn tend to domesticate the original’s otherness, which cannot be marketed as ‘exotic’, adapting the original to the conventions of the dominant linguistic and literary system. This brings translation close to adaptation. Publishing industry may also weaken or redefine the author function of a peripheral writer and blur other contextual information if the goal of the translation is to profit from thematic-genre trends on the global book market. The success of translations of small literatures, however, can only exceptionally be measured according to the market logic, since their publications in core literary systems appear to be similar to the core’s own ‘boutique’ production rather than international bestsellers.

In spite of the invisible hand of the global publishing, other means of cross-European dissemination of small literatures play a significant role, such as cosmopolitan networking of writers (through literary festivals or book fairs), the activity of intermediaries (literary historians and translators associated with small literatures), un-provincial lifestyle and self-translating (especially longer stays of peripheral writers in metropolitan cities), and state subsidies for the translation and international promotion of domestic literature. Apparently, success is more easily achieved by literatures that employ the knowledge of domestic experts in order to convince foreign publishers, instead of insisting on printing foreign translation at home. Among the 25 conference papers, two presentations discussed Slovenian literature. Marko Juvan outlined the practices and evaluations of literary translation as a medium of ‘worlding’ a minor literature, and offered a case study of the imaginary and actual ‘globalisation’ of the Slovenian national poet; while Olivia Hellewell (University of Nottingham) analysed how Slovenian institutions promote contemporary Slovenian writers abroad, confronting this apparatus with writer Miha Mazzini’s personal attempts to get published on the Anglo-American book market.