December 2, 2021

Translation as Discovery

Jhumpa Lahiri began her successful writing career with stories and novels. Her parents were Bengali, and Jhumpa wrote in English. After a trip to Italy when she was in college, she found herself increasingly drawn to the Italian language, and she studied it for many years. Finally, she and her husband moved to Italy, and since then she has written in Italian and translated many pieces of Italian literature, and lately Jhumpa has begun to write poetry in Italian.  In "The Joy of Translation as Discovery," she said:  

Translation shows me how to work with new words, how to experiment with new styles and forms, how to take greater risks, how to structure and layer my sentences in different ways. Reading exposes me to all this, but translating goes under the skin and shocks the system, such that these new solutions emerge in unexpected and revelatory ways. The particular ecosystem containing Latin, Italian, and English renders Italian more familiar, and English more marvelously strange. The attention to language that translation demands is moving my work not only in new directions but into an increasingly linguistically focused dimension: I would never have begun writing poetry without the intimate exposure to the Italian language that only translation can provide; this shift was particularly surprising given that I have never written poetry in English....It establishes new rhythms and approaches that cross-pollinate the process of contemplating and crafting my own work.

 Finding ways to dislodge herself from the familiar, she has entered a new phase where surprise and new ways of thinking have changed her writing life and enhanced her career.  To read more of her thoughts about this, see the full article here:

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