Recently, I’ve been reading about reading and writing, and especially about how reading and writing practices and technologies have changed translation and have changed through translation.
After reading Michael Cronin’s Translation in the digital age (2013), which like all of Cronin’s works is sparkling with ideas, with suggestions and insights hovering in the mind well after closing the book, and a few articles on translation and media history by Karin Littau (whose book I am eagerly awaiting), I decided to look for a publication referred to by both authors: Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The printing press as an agent of change, first published in 1979.
Eventually, I found a different book, Eisenstein’s The printing revolution in Early Modern Europe (2005, second edition), which is an abridged version of her previous work in two volumes. This is a book about the past, discussing the transition from script to print, but which also illuminates the present – that is, the transition from print to contemporary media culture. I couldn’t help but spot the similarities between the description of the explosion of knowledge brought about by print technology and the digital revolution which had yet to become apparent at the time Eisenstein wrote her book, both concerning the role of translation as a factor of change and the way translation is affected by technological change.
Captivated by reading about this historical period, which saw a transformation and a sharp increase of translation practices, I took up a different volume: News networks in Early Modern Europe, edited by Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham, which focuses on the rise and development of information networks in Europe during this time. While this collection of essays is equally fascinating, it’s turning into a long-term project, as I’m afraid it will take some time to go through its 37 essays, adding up to a total of almost 900 pages.
In the meantime I have also been reading graphic novels, which together with written fiction, films and TV series quench my thirst for stories. Two stories I’ve recently read and have particularly enjoyed are Stupor Mundi, by Néjib, and L’Arab du future, by Riad Sattouf (in four volumes). The first story is set in Southern Italy at the time of Frederick II (mid 13th century), and could be described as a mix between a science mystery and a dark thriller about the anachronistic invention of photography. The second is an autobiographic tale of the author’s life as a child in Gaddafi’s Lybia and Assan’s Syria between the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both Néjib’s main character, the eminent scholar from Baghdad Hannibal Qassim El Battouti, and Riad, the blond, long-haired son of a mixed French-Syrian couple, are outsiders. Both stories involve displacements and cultural encounters, narrated in flat colors and stark contrasts, essential drawings and attention to details.
What these two graphic novels also have in common, at least for me, is that I read them in French rather than in Italian translation. Apart from a few academic articles, I rarely read French, and some fictional texts can be very hard for me to understand (as was the case with Le cri du peuple, by Jacques Tardi and Jean Vautrin, for instance, which I kept leafing through and looking at, but which I had to wait until I got hold of the Italian translation to read – for which I am very grateful). Being able to read these two graphic novels in French (with a little help from a dictionary app) gave me the special pleasure that comes with learning a language.
Cronin, Michael. 2013.Translation in the digital age. London & New York: Routledge.
Eisenstein, Elisabeth L. 2005. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Raymond, Joad and Noah Moxham, eds. 2016. News Networks in Early Modern Europe. Leiden and Boston: Brill.
Néjib. 2016. Stupor Mundi. Paris: Gallimard.
Tardi, Jacques and Jean Vautrin. 2001-2004. Le cri du peuple. Bruxelles: Casterman.
Sattouf, Riad. 2014-2018. L’Arab du future. Paris: Allary.
About the author
Federico Zanettin is Associate Professor of English Language and Translation at the University of Perugia, Italy. His research interests range from comics in translation, to corpus-based translation studies and intercultural communication. His publications include the volumes Comics in Translations (2008, editor) and Corpora in Translator Education (2003, co-editor), and articles in various journals and edited volumes. He is co-editor of Translation Studies Abstracts and the Bibliography of Translation Studies and inTRAlinea, an online translation journal, and is in the advisory board of the journals The Translator and New Voices in Translation Studies.
About the blog
In our 'What are you reading?' series we're asking leading translation scholars to share what they're currently reading, whether for business or pleasure.