Surprise! I bet you didn’t expect another post this early, did you? Sadly, it’s rather more out of necessity than zeal – it’s the start of Trinity Term, meaning my exams start on Monday and continue throughout the week, so I won’t be able to put together a post during the early part of the week like I normally do. Monday at 4 is German speaking, Tuesday at 10.15 is Spanish speaking, Wednesday at 9.30 is Spanish listening and Thursday at 9.30 is German listening. In between, I still need to revise literature, so it’s going to be a tiring week.
I must have mentioned my issues with the Spanish oral exam last week, and that’s something I’ve been trying to work through over the last few days. The structure of the exam is thus: you arrive, are presented with a choice of three topics, have fifteen minutes to make notes, then go into the room with the examiners and deliver a five-minute speech on that topic, before they ask you questions for another ten minutes or so. Sounds pretty simple, right? And in fact, it has all been fairly straightforward for German this year – I’ve just had good luck with the topics offered and my practices have been really relaxed and enjoyable. Spanish has been more difficult, and I’ve been trying to counteract my block by learning heaps of vocab on various topics, from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the value of humanities. I did attempt another practice yesterday and went way too fast, meaning my speech was too short, so that’s something I need to work on, but otherwise things have been improving slowly. Where I would once scroll through the topics list and start trembling because I didn’t know how to answer the questions, I can now identify at least which one I would choose, and plan my response, which is a huge improvement from last week. Let’s hope that I manage to stay calm and composed during the exam – one of my main issues is tripping over the pronunciation of Spanish words, because it’s been so long since my immersion in the language on my year abroad (I left Spain a year ago next week), and hearing myself stumble really wrecks my confidence and puts me off. Nerves are the worst!
The German isn’t guaranteed to run smoothly – it depends on how calm I manage to remain, and how lucky/unlucky I am with the topics. There are some combinations from past years that make me shudder, so I’m just browsing news articles at the moment for bits and pieces of information and vocabulary – I haven’t actually done anything for German because I’ve been directing all my energy to Spanish, so I’ll spend Monday listening to German things and getting back into the zone. I had a mock last Monday, where I spoke about whether art ought to be in a gallery or in a private buyer’s home, and it went really well despite not having prepared or revised, which was encouraging.
Monday was not only the day of my mock, but also of my counselling appointment at the University Counselling Services. I don’t have these appointments very often now, because I’ve been doing a lot better in the last few months than in the autumn, but I still appreciate and make the most of them. Talking to my counsellor is always really helpful, especially at such a stressful time as this! And it is a stressful time: sometimes I forget that I’m entitled – even expected – to be a ball of nerves at the moment, and end up berating myself for being a little tense. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is how glad I am to be living far removed from the college environment – I know a lot of people really thrive off the sense of cameraderie you feel from going through exams as a group, but I personally really dislike the atmosphere of silence and tension that pervades, as well as competitive panicking. I actually try not to talk too much about how underprepared I feel or how stressed I am (obviously I talk to my boyfriend about it, otherwise I’d go mad!), because it actually makes me feel more negative than I did to start with! Obviously, everyone has their own way of coping with stress and pressure, and I’m definitely not criticising anyone, just saying that I prefer to be away from college/libraries and in my own little flat, where I’m the only finalist to be found! (Also a side-effect of not having Facebook, I think.) This week I’ve definitely felt the effect of other people’s stress in a myriad of ways, and I’ve been motivated to make even more of a concerted effort to get out my own tension in positive, productive, or at least harmless ways, such as exercise or even having a bit of a cry if needed, rather than letting it get too much! That is often easier said than done, and sometimes just a reminder that it’s normal and okay to be stressed right now, and that there’s nothing wrong with not being totally serene and good-humoured, is the most helpful thing.
I had a distraction of a totally different kind on Wednesday, as I had been invited to a Translation Masterclass which formed part of the programme of the Ulrike Draesner Symposium, a week-long series of events in honour of the writer, who has been a Visiting Fellow at New College in Oxford this year. I was invited by Lyn Marven, an incredibly friendly academic at Liverpool whom I’d had the excellent fortune to meet at the “Women and the Canon” conference at Christ Church back in January. The previous evening I had dragged my unsuspecting boyfriend to a reception/exhibition opening in the Voltaire Room at the Taylor Institution, themed around translations of Shakespeare and specifically Draesner’s interpretation/translation/reworking of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I realised there that all my social skills had completely flown out of the window – my tutor was like “Yay you won the scholarship! Amazing!” and my response was a rather dazed “Yeah, I guess haha” – so I was glad of the opportunity to actually talk to other human beings at the workshop. It was great having a few familiar faces there in the form of Lyn, my tutor and my tutorial partner – the weather was lovely and the atmosphere relaxed and social. We spent the morning on poetry and the afternoon on prose, with a delicious lunch in between, and time to relax at the end, and I was delighted to have the chance to see New College. I’d never been before and I’m of the opinion it’s one of the most beautiful, impressive colleges in Oxford, so I’m definitely going to try and sneak back in when my exams are done!
The workshop itself was a really interesting and valuable experience, primarily because of the presence of the author, Ulrike Draesner herself. It gave me a tiny bit of an insight into what it must have been like to be one of Grass’s translators at his infamous translation sessions, and the impact authorial presence and input can have on the translation process. A translator may decide on certain priorities and/or a certain approach, but if the author steps in halfway through and voices a concern or a disagreement, this can all change. It raises pertinent questions about texts and to whom they belong – do texts always belong to the author, or do they become the translator’s texts in translation? At what point do they become the reader’s texts? Who gets to decide how a text is refracted and interpreted? Over the course of the day I also realised the value of having studied formal translation theory – it provides you with a range of approaches to consider, and encourages me to think about the function of a translation before any other concerns. Many of the points raised by the translators present were actually established concepts in translation theory, such as loss/gain/compensation, domestication/foreignisation, Nida’s three-stage translation process (where you identify the “sense” behind the words and translate that, rather than just the words), just expressed in a different way. Translation theory is not an answer to all problems, but it’s certainly a valuable structural framework to approach the vast and elusive issue of translation. Moving away from the literal/free dichotomy of classwork translation can encourage creativity and bravery (rather than the old chestnut of “that wasn’t in the original”), and the results are often surprising!
The help we received from those leading the workshop was invaluable in accessing this creative impulse, and it was obviously pretty amazing to meet Ulrike Draesner herself. I’m fascinated by the process of literary canonisation, particularly for living writers, and it was an actual dream listening to a Real Live Author explain her motivation and thought processes behind word/structural choices, totally blowing away that cynical argument of “I bet the writer wasn’t thinking about any of those things when they wrote the book, studying literature is a load of BS where you make stuff up to fit your argument” that you so often hear. I was probably embarrassingly starstruck, but it was really refreshing to meet someone so well-known and respected who really took an interest in what you had to say, and the ideas and experiences you put forward. I’m planning to tackle some of her writing in the summer, as it’s pretty sophisticated stuff (I’m going to start with Vorliebe and then maybe continue translating some of the poetry), but I’d love to look at her writing in both a casual and an academic context in the future. Because it the texts were so complex, it was a really tiring, though enjoyable, day – below you can see the before and after pictures! I was so grateful to be invited to the event, as I met some really fascinating people, and I always find it hugely inspiring to be part of the German academic community for a day, especially as people are so interested to hear about you and your thoughts – I hope I can do the same thing for undergraduates many years into the future, if I’m ever that lucky!
The rest of the week was spent learning vocab, doing secondary reading on Cervantes’ Exemplary Novels, which I’m taking the slightly risky step of writing about for the very first time in my exam in June, and procrastinating a little too much. I’ve been back on Twitter this week to give my profile a bit of a revamp (I’m thinking less student activist, more hopeful academic), but the downside has been discovering the Guardian Higher Education section, and binge-reading articles on how dreadful modern academia is, and how it drives everyone to emigrate/use heroin/leave academia/all of the above. It’s been a tiny bit depressing, so maybe it’s a good idea to delete the app from my phone again! The building stress over the course of the week – I was a little lazy at the start of the week and am now behind on my work for the first time since starting revision – meant I really needed a break this weekend, and so my boyfriend and I went to Le Kesh for dinner on Saturday evening, a Moroccan/Middle Eastern restaurant about two minutes away from us. We’d been there before so knew how great it is, and it was really enjoyable to get out of the house and do something a little different. At first I felt a bit overwhelmed and anxious because it was so loud, but I managed to settle in and we had a great evening. I’d really recommend it if you’re in Oxford as it’s very good value for money considering the quality of the food – my boyfriend ordered something delicious called bastilla, a kind of sweet chicken pie, and the portion size was huge!
I apologise for the unimaginative picture formatting, and that I’ve used a lot of dashes and “really”s over the course of this post, but I’m sure you all understand! Please wish me luck, and I’ll be back next week to report how my exams go, whether good or otherwise…