Literary Translation Workshop: Creative (Mis)translation


WRIT S4411
3 points
Instructor: Matvei Yankelevich

For course schedule and location, please visit the School of Professional Studies summer site here.
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Translation is at once a process, a procedure, and a metaphor. The practice of translation brings out our hidden prejudices, our ingrained biases; notions of the literary text that we take for granted come to the foreground and call on us to make crucial choices, aesthetic and political. In this short course, we'll see how the problems of translation "translate" over to the writing of fction and poetry. By recuperating volition and agency in the encounter with the authority(ies) present in any given text, the writer fnds openings in and through translation. We'll explore the generative aspects of translation and "mistranslation": how translating might open up new reserves of language for us to mine; how it might loosen our grip on our own "voice" and let in others; and conversely, how our own language might afect our encounter with a foreign or faraway voice.
The reading for the course will include creative uses of translation (David Cameron's "bad" translations of Baudelaire; Brandon Brown’s politically charged paraphrase-astranslation; erasure as translation in Jen Bervin's encounter with Shakespeare; Christian Hawkey's conversations with Trakl; Ivan Blatny's multi-lingual poems; Raymond Queneau's experiments in paraphrase; Paul Legault's English-to-English translation of Emily Dickinson), a handful of writers' meditations on translation (including McSweeney & Göransson's Deformation Zone), and a few essays on the theory of translation (Schleiermacher, Benjamin, de Campos). We'll acquaint ourselves with several procedural strategies (homophonic, Oulipian, computer-generated, etc.), perform some translation exercises along similar lines, and invent our own. Assignments will be focused on short prose or poetic texts or excerpts, no more than a page long.
Knowledge of a foreign language is not required.
"All rewritings, whatever their intention, refect a certain ideology and a poetics ... the study of the manipulation processes of literature as exemplifed by translation can help us towards a greater awareness of the world in which we live."
— Susan Bassnett & André Lefevere

Tuition & Fees
Students can review tuition and fees here.
Materials Fee: $20

For questions about School of the Arts summer courses, including those concerning admissions, registration, and billing, please contact the School of Professional Studies summer team at, or 212-854-9666. With questions about specific course content, please contact Writing Departmental Representative Dorothea Lasky at
About the Instructor
Matvei Yankelevich
Matvei Yankelevich is the author of the poetry collection Alpha Donut (United Artists Books), the novella-in-fragments Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books), and several chapbooks. He is the translator of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook/Ardis), and has contributed translations to several books and anthologies, including Alexander Vvedensky's An Invitation for Me to Think (NYRB Poets), Night Wraps the Sky: Writings By and About Mayakovsky (FSG), and Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive). He is one of the founding editors of Ugly Duckling Presse, where he curates the Eastern European Poets Series. more
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