Translation and the development of a cultural identity

Translation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a continuum; it is not an isolated act, it is part of an ongoing process of intercultural transfer. Moreover, translation is a highly manipulative activity that involves all kinds of stages in that process of transfer across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Translation is not an innocent, transparent activity but is highly charged with significance at every stage; it rarely, if ever, involves a relationship of equality between texts, authors or systems. (Bassnett, 1990)

In the 1990s, studies in Translation experienced a major breakthrough with the development of Post-Colonial Translation Studies, in which, according to Susan Bassnet and André Lefevere, “neither the word, nor the text, but the culture becomes the operational ‘unit’ of translation” (Lefevere and Bassnett 1990: 8). Translations, like literary works themselves, do not exist without a context and a culture that defines and shapes them, and to which development and shaping they can also contribute.

Taking the Post-Colonial Translation Studies as a theoretical frame, and understanding its critical importance for peripheral languages such as Galician in Spain, I am focusing my research on translation and the development of cultural identity in the figure of Plácido Castro, prominent Galician intellectual and translator who carried out translations of many works by Irish, Scottish and English writers and expressed his desire to develop Galician identity within the frame of Celtic cultures.

In my research I explore a number of questions concerning translation and the development of identity, focusing on Castro’s translations and the context in which they were carried out. Firstly, I would like to ascertain the reasons that encouraged Plácido Castro to translate into Galician. I expect to find a desire to influence in Galician identity and political life, as well as a drive to enrich the Galician literary scene at the time. Plácido was very active in the Galician political life before the Spanish Civil War, and at that time he translated, along with Antón Villar Ponte, Yeats’ dramas Cathleen ni Houlihan and The Land of Heart’s Desire. Both pieces are clearly identified with Ireland and its nationalist cause, which, for the Galician intellectuals of the time, was the perfect frame in which to formulate Galicia’s Celtic identity. However, after the Spanish Civil War, Castro withdraws from political life and focuses on essays and articles about literature, as well as on the translation of poetry. Many of his translations of Irish, Scottish and English poets, such as Yeats, Christina Rossetti and many others originated around this time. He publishes Poesía inglesa e francesa verquida ao galego, along with Lois Tobío and Delgado Gurriarán, and the translation of the Rubáiyat, by Omar Khayyám, from its English translation by Edward Fitzgerald. What arouses the change from drama to poetry in Plácido? Is it only because, as he himself affirms, “There is no language that could defeat Galician in poetic qualities and possibilities” (Ríos, 2013, the translation is mine)? Or is he still trying to contribute to the creation of a Celtic identity through a different channel? Why does he focus mostly on Irish poets, as well as on the Rubáiyat, which was not written in English originally?

Lastly, I would like to explore the impact of these translations in Galician society at the time, as well as their extended impact in the development of Galician identity both past and present. Have Castro’s translations contributed to the self-assertion of the Galician culture and the development of the Celtic identity that he refers to in many of his essays and journalistic writings?


Bassnett, Susan and Harish Trivedi (editors). (1999) Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.
Castro, P. (1928) La saudade y el arte en los pueblos célticos. El Pueblo Gallego.
Fundación Plácido Castro (2014) Plácido Castro Ramón del Río. [Website, last consult on 20/11/2014].
Lefevere, A. and Bassnett, S. (1990). “Introduction: Proust’s Grandmother and the Thousand and One Nights: The Cultural Turn in Translation Studies”, in Translation, History & Culture. London: Cassell.
Millán, C. (1997) “Nationalism vs. universalism in the 1926 Galician fragments of Ulysses”, in Galician Review 1, 1997.
Ríos, X. (editor) (2013). 101 Máximas e Reflexións de Plácido Castro. IGADI.
Tymoczko, M. (2002) “Translation and Political Engagement: Activism, Social Change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shifts”, in The Translator: Volume 6, Number 1.


Reading in the Digital Age

As a digital native coming from a background in English literature and Computer science, I’m interested in exploring how the digital age has impacted the way we as a society read and engage with literature.

I will pursue research that aims to examine the ways in which society’s reading has transformed since the digital age. In the article How We Read Now: Close, Hyper, Machine N. Katherine Hayles notes how, in the past twenty years, reading of print has significantly declined. I wish to expand on Hayles’ theories by conducting thorough research into the ways in which the hypertext and the mass availability of digital sources have facilitated a swift decline in the reading of traditional print sources. Owing to this, my research will explore how the vast amount of information available to us through hypertext encourages skim-reading as opposed to the traditional method of close-reading when engaging with a printed text.

Moreover, I will analyse how the vast popularity of smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices such as laptops have changed the ways in which we engage with literature and film; it is not uncommon for an individual immersed in the digital age to watch television while playing computer games, participating in social media, reading online articles, and/or texting and I wish to study the impact this has on the way we read. As opposed to using digital tools to research literature, I wish to examine the ways in which digital tools have impacted how we engage with literature as a whole.


Electronic Literature

Hello everyone! My name is Aisling Burke, I am a recent graduate of University College Cork with a BA Single Honours in English with Computer Science. As a student whose background is predominantly based on English literature, I am keen to explore how digital technologies are now being exploited in order to explore new forms and genres of literature. My current areas of interest include: digital literature, intertextuality, combinatorial literature, publishing, and E-ink technologies.

An interesting area that I have recently come across is electronic literature. Katherine Hayles provides a concise description of e-lit as literature that is “digital born”, a first-generation digital object that has been created on a computer and that is usually meant to be read on a computer, as opposed to print literature that has been digitized. (Electronic Literature: What is it?) The Electronic Literature Organization which was set up in 1999 to encourage the teaching, reading and writing of literature as it changes in the digital world, adds further clarity by defining e-lit as “works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

In contrast to print literature that appears on a page, electronic literature is designed to engage the reader’s senses. The reader experiences the literature in a range of ways which incorporate sight, sound, touch and interactivity. The reader/user also plays a part in the narrative, which transforms the narrative from a static linear text to a dynamic and sometimes fragmented one, thus allowing a new form of engagement with the text. Therefore in electronic literature the reading process becomes active and exploratory rather than passive and predetermined (Swiss, Electronic Literature: Discourses, Communities, Traditions, 288).

Electronic literature incorporates a diverse range of forms in its construction of narratives which include: hypertext fiction and poetry, kinetic poetry, computer art installation, chat bots, computer generated stories and poetry, collaborative writing and interactive fiction.  For a comprehensive description of the above mentioned forms it is highly recommendable to visit the Electronic Literature Organization’s website. Electronic literature is an embodiment of the ever growing influence of the web and internet on society and culture. The many genres and forms which electronic literature incorporates illustrate the current fascination with films, computer games, narratives, graphics, animations, social media and the digital in general.

E-lit, in my opinion, should not be viewed as separate from print literature but as a new innovative extension that has arisen from the influence of print literature. Like all new experiences the past will influence the present, and I believe this is particularly true of electronic literature, a novice of e-lit will view and judge the literature based on their past influences and knowledge of traditional print literature or as Katherine Hayles (Electronic Literature: What is it?) more eloquently puts it “readers come to digital literature with expectations formed by print, of necessity e-lit must build on these expectations even as it modifies and transforms them.”

Traditionally, in print literature there are two fundamental components, the author and the reader, however, e-lit is designed to be read on a computer thus introducing another paramount component, the computer. A paramount aspect to understanding e-lit is the incorporation and use of code. Print books have an organised structure, for example, a table of contents, page numbers, end-notes, chapter titles and so forth, similarly, e-lit that is run through computing code has a structure and set of rules which it must follow. Unlike traditional print narratives, electronic literature cannot be read/played until it is run through properly executed code. Thus, e-lit is both a literary and technical creation. As the complexity of code has evolved over the years so too has the complexity of e-lit progressed. In comparison to recent aesthetically pleasing and complex works, the first examples of e-lit tended to be far more basic, with large blocks of text, few animations, graphics and colours (Hayles). Hayles further argues that while hypertext is considered the distinguishing feature of the earlier works, later works utilise complex navigation schemes and interface metaphors which has led her to categorise the earlier works as “first generation” and the later works as “second generation”. The categorisation system not only exemplifies the evolution of the use of technology in literature, it also serves as a useful tool to the literary scholar when taking a critical approach to electronic literature. An understanding of both print literature and of code is important in digital humanities research.

As with traditional print literature preservation and archiving of e-lit are vital. There is a strong possibility that certain forms of e-lit may become unplayable after a time due to new platforms being introduced. As a result a number of preservation and archiving databases and websites have been established in an effort to counteract the threat. The Electronic Literature Collection which is a publication of the Electronic Literature Organisation is one such website. Other organizations include:

Undoubtedly, computers are playing an increasing role in our lives, a clear understanding of the roles which digital culture plays in society, individual lives and in the scholarly community as a whole are paramount, as Espen Aarseth notes: “the emerging new media technologies are not important in themselves, nor as alternatives to older media, but should be studied for what they can tell us about the principles and evolution of human communication” (17). It is paramount to draw on traditional literature and its associated scholarly studies and criticisms in the digital humanities. It is also vital that the traditional is merged with recent and evolving modes of networked and programmable media, in order words it is essential to “think digital” (Hayles). E-lit is enthralling as it shows the evolution that writing and publishing has undergone. Not only can you now access literature in print, you can access and experience literature in new and exciting ways online, whether good or bad, new experiences are always a learning tool and electronic literature is important in the digital humanities as it is writing in a new form that may be attributed to digital culture.



Works Cited:

“What Is E-Lit?” The Electronic Literature Organization. The Electronic Literature Organization, 1999. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” The Electronic Literature Organization. The Electronic Literature Organization, 02 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

Swiss, Thomas. “Electronic Literature Discourses, Communities, Traditions.”Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture. Ed. Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil. Durham: Duke UP, 2004. 283-304. Print.