Following a rapid introduction to the world of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and in particular to the characters of its two protagonists, Mme de Merteuil and Viscomte Valmont, we homed in on a key early scene, recounted through letters 4 and 5 in the novel. Having critiqued a contemporary translation of letter 5, students were encouraged first to conceive and then to conduct their own updated translation of the letter. Concept was key: the updates ranged around the world, and settings and characters took in all ages, nationalities, professions and backgrounds. Students started to see translation as a capacious art, able to encompass centuries of change and still make sense of classic texts today.
This workshop involved a two-part leap of faith: students who had never worked with Portuguese found themselves not only translating from it but translating poetry to boot – all in two hours, or less. We discussed what makes poetry poetry, and we established a ‘poetry translation toolkit’ to apply in all circumstances. Then we experimented with whole-group translation of a poem, ‘Rito de passagem’ from Brazilian poet Angelica Freitas’ collection Rilke Shake. Discussions included how we could translate Freitas’s queer politics and how Brazilian nosey parkers can be recreated in English. Finally, having gained confidence, students or pairs of students ventured their own translations of another of Freitas’ poems, ‘Fim’. The results are dazzling: already students are finding their voices as poets in translation.
Students looked at the first six tweets from Olivier and Livingston's translation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses into a novel composed solely of tweets and discussed how each letter had been distilled and compressed into a single tweet. They followed up ideas of personal interpretation and appropriate, idiomatic language to compose their own tweets, translations of the key 'bet' scene in the films Dangerous Liaisons or Cruel Intentions, aka letter V from the original novel. The results were diverse, smart and often hilarious.