Introducing the Margellos World Republic of Letters Website

Marcel Proust said: “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees.” The Margellos World Republic of Letters series and its companion website aim to create the ground for such multiplicity by opening up a vital channel for engagement with literature in translation. Among the main goals of the website is to foster creative exchange, exchange that will allow us to see both ourselves and others through distinct, multicultural lens.

In today’s globalized world, whose boundaries are at once permeable and dividing, learning about the cultures, traditions, and literatures of another is not only important but integral. Literature in translation is vital for providing such insights. Our literary canon and intellectual landscape would be very different, and greatly impoverished, without access to the works of such authors as Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac, Sand, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gide, Camus…  The list can go on and on. No longer are these works the cultural heritage of a single country, but rather—thanks to translation—they constitute a shared international language, even while rendered in a specific tongue.

Translation is a bridge between the past and the present, between the local and the global. Boundary-crossing, it is idiosyncratic and localized while at the same time enabling to transcend geographical and linguistic barriers. The original text and the translated version are akin to identical twins who look alike but who are inherently different in their emotions and thoughts. Like the “Mona Lisa,” which appears to gaze back at the beholder from every direction, the translated version enables to view the image of the original from different angles, and from the distinct vantage point of the translator. An artwork in its own right, translation is part replica, part reflection, part innovation.

In spite of the undeniable significance of this art, the number of books translated into English is disproportionally scarce. The central goal of the Margellos World Republic of Letters series is to help close this gap, and to bring to the English-speaking audiences the works of leading poets, novelists, essayists, philosophers, and playwrights from around the globe. To date, the series has published nineteen titles previously unavailable in English and it continues to grow. Upcoming publications include, The Lair, the most recent novel by the critically-acclaimed Romanian-born author Norman Manea, The Brazen Plagiarist, selected poems by Kiki Dimoula, the most highly regarded Greek poet of her generation, and a new translation of Withold Gombrowicz’s Diary, long out of print in English.

We openly invite readers to comment on these and other works, and to share their thoughts on the art of translation in general. Readers will find coverage of our new website, announcements of forthcoming and past publications, original essays, and expanded excerpts from the all published series’ titles. Already on Facebook, in the coming months the website will also include news updates, events calendar, and additional conversations on translation— all designed to invite readers’ participation and to encourage dialogue. In the meantime, we invite you to comment on this post below, beginning with the questions:

What do you think is the importance of translation? Why are you interested in this art?

We believe that this focus and conversation are of central significance not solely to the art of translation but to literature as a whole. To quote Proust again: “Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees.” We hope that the Margellos World Republic of Letters website will provide a venue for contributing to such knowledge, and for enriching the polyphony of voices on the vital and ever-relevant subject of translation.

2 Discussions on
“Introducing the Margellos World Republic of Letters Website”
  • I’m interested in the art of translation because I studied French for many years and read several French novels that aren’t available in English. I wish others could read them, so I’ve begun to translate one of my favourites. What’s the importance of translation? Without it, I would never have read Anna Karenina, many Holocaust stories, and the Bible – just a few examples of non-English literature that have positively affected and influenced English literature.

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