BCLT Research Seminars


BCLT Research Seminar with Henri Bloemen

Translating ‘Sensitive’ Texts and the Question of the Authenticity of Translations

Registrations are now closed. A recording of this event will be uploaded to the BCLT YouTube Channel. 


Ethical issues have been at the centre of interest since the ‘ethical turn’ in translation studies, and they even became virulent recently in the discussions generated by the translations of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb. This discussion was and is emblematic for the translation of so called ‘sensitive texts’, a term introduced in translation studies by Karl Simms (Translating Sensitive Texts: Linguistic Aspects, 1997). In my presentation I will go deeper into the concept of ‘sensitive text’ and the conditions of sensitivity. It appears that ‘sensitivity’ is above all a factor of the reception of texts: texts are called sensitive when they are able to produce sensitive reactions in a certain community. Against this subjectivistic, and thus problematic concept of sensitivity I would like to discuss sensitivity as a feature of the text itself and combine it with the question of the authenticity of a translation. The authenticity of a translation can be understood in a twofold way: (1) Can a translation be as authentic as an original? In traditional translation theory translations are always considered as secondary products, deducted from an (authentic) original. (2) What then, in spite of and against this disrespectful tradition, can make a translation an authentic text? I will try to answer that question by referring to Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproduci-bility’. Benjamin introduces a concept of authenticity (‘Echtheit’) that may be very interesting for translations as well, especially in an era of ever more sophisticated machine translation.

Until last year, Henri Bloemen was Associate Professor at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven, Belgium) and a member of the research group Translation and Intercultural Transfer (VICT). After completing his PhD on the Swiss German writer Robert Walser in the German Department at Leuven, from 1991 he taught German at the Katholieke Vlaamse Hogeschool in Antwerp, which later on became the Lessius Hogeschool, which in turn became part of the KU Leuven in 2013. Henri has published two books and fourteen edited books in Dutch, numerous articles and book chapters in Dutch, German, French and English. His research has focussed on translation theory, more specifically the historical tradition in translation thought (Schleiermacher, Benjamin), translation didactics (including evaluation), and ethics of translation. He was a driving force behind the establishment of the Literary Translation Expertise Centre, a partnership between the Dutch Language Union, Utrecht University and KU Leuven; he was also an organizer of the first PETRA conference (2011), and one of the partners in the PETRA-E project (2014-16)

BCLT Research Seminar – Alexander Bubb

Victorian World Literature: Asian Classics Translated for the Popular Audience

Wednesday 6 December 2023
5pm – 7pm (GMT)
(Hybrid live-stream)

Register to attend here

"My recent book, Asian Classics on the Victorian Bookshelf: Flights of Translation, explores popular translations of classic literature from Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese and other major Asian languages, made for the general public in nineteenth-century Britain and America. It aims to invert our established understanding of orientalism, by showing how texts like the Qur’an, the Ramayana and the Shahnameh were not appropriated exclusively by a cadre of scholars, who subjected them to Western aesthetic norms and moral standards. In fact, their dissemination in the West was due largely to amateur translators pursuing an incongruous variety of political, religious and commercial goals. I argue that amateur translators or ‘popularizers’, in spite of their typically limited knowledge of the source-language, often produced versions more respectful of the complexity, cultural difference and fundamental untranslatability of Asian texts than the professional orientalists whose work they were typically adapting. The reception of these texts by contemporary readers, likewise, frequently deviated from interpretive norms, and I propose that this combination of eccentric translators and unorthodox readers triggered ‘flights of translation’ whereby historical individuals can be seen to escape the hegemony of orientalist forms of knowledge."

Alexander Bubb is Senior Lecturer in English at Roehampton University in London, and his research focusses on translation, migration and multilingualism in the Victorian world. His first book, Meeting Without Knowing It: Kipling and Yeats at the Fin de Siècle, was published by OUP in 2016. A study of the two poets during their formative years in 1890s London, it won the University English Book Prize and was shortlisted for the ESSE Book Awards. Alex’s second book, Asian Classics on the Victorian Bookshelf: Flights of Translation (OUP, 2023), investigates the English popular translations through which texts like the Ramayana, the Analects of Confucius, and the Qur’an were made accessible and disseminated to the nineteenth-century general reading public. In 2021 he was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to work on the project “Polyglot Century: The Culture of Informal Language Learning in Victorian Britain”.

The seminar is co-hosted by BCLT and the LDC 18th/19th Century Research Group at UEA.

Literary Translation Workshops

In-person at UEA

Follow the links below to register to attend our in-person Literary Translation Workshops.

Theatre Translation Workshop with Sophie Stevens, Wednesday 13 December, 5.30pm - 7pm


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