In this week’s blog post, our colleagues from The Queen’s College Translation Exchange share details of their next International Book Club meeting – a really wonderful opportunity for school students to engage with literature from around the world!
The International Book Club for Schools is a chance for pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13/S4-6 to explore foreign language books which have been translated into English with other like-minded, literature-loving students. We meet once a term over Zoom to discuss a foreign language book in English translation. No knowledge of the original language is required to take part and newcomers are always welcome!
For students thinking they may like to study languages at university, there will also be a chance to hear more about what this would entail and to ask current undergraduates and admissions staff your questions. These meetings are also a perfect opportunity to explore beyond the school syllabus and to engage with some exciting literature in translation.
Our next session will be held on Tuesday 28th March at 7pm, in partnership with specialists in translated Arabic-language fiction, ArabLit, and the Oxford Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. We will be reading Out of Time, by Palestinian writer Samira Azzam, translated from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman. These 31 short stories weave a rich and intricate tapestry of life in Palestine and Lebanon in the 1930s and 1940s, exploring how people from all walks of react to volatile circumstances and rapid historical change. Discussion in the session will focus on ‘Tears from a Glass Eye’, whilst also touching on ‘A Roc Flew Over Shahraban’ and ‘On the Road’. We also recommend that you read the introduction (along with as many of the other stories as you’d like to or have time for!).
To take part in the International Book Club, attendees will need to purchase and read a copy of the set book in advance of the session. Arablit have been kind enough to offer a discount for book club attendees: 20% off a paperback or an e-book for $1.79 (this is slightly under £1.50). The exclusive discount code will be shared with the students over email once they have registered for a place. If the financial situation of some students makes it impossible for them to purchase a copy of the book as discounted, please do drop us an email and we will do our best to work something out.
They may also like to make some notes as they go, although all discussion within the meeting will be informal. We will also share some materials in advance of the session, including some prompt questions to get them thinking and an interview with the book’s translator.
Students are able to register to attend our next book club meeting by completing this Google Form.
If you have any further questions about the Book Club, please let us know! You can drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or find us on Twitter (@TranslationExch).
Rather than racing to get their cards in the post in time for Christmas, the French more often send Cartes de vœux, literally ‘cards of wishes’. These can be written until January 31 and will typically express the writer’s hope that the recipient might enjoy health, prosperity and happiness in the year which has just started. This tradition goes back a long way as a note from tragic queen Marie Antoinette, who was guillotined in 1793 in Paris at the age of 38, demonstrates.
The brief letter is held in the library at Bergamo (Biblioteca Angelo Mai) and addressed to Giovanni Andrea Archetti (1731-1805), an Italian priest who was made a cardinal in 1784. 
Here is a transcription of the letter. Despite the calligraphic flourishes, it is relatively legible as the close-up shows.
Mon Cousin. Je suis si persuadée de votre attachement à ma personne, que je ne doute pas de la sincerité des vœux que vous formés pour ma satisfaction au Commencement de cette Année, les expressions dont vous les accompagnés sont pour moi un motif de plus de vous rassurer de toute l’Estime que je fais de vous. Sur ce je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait mon cousin en sa S[ain]te et digne garde. écrit à Versailles. Le 31. Janvier 1787. Marie Antoinette
There are few differences with the way we would write things. An accent is missing on ‘sincérité’, there is a capital on the name of the month (which is now considered incorrect in French) and, more importantly, the polite ‘vous’ forms of first group verbs, ‘former’ and ‘accompagner’ are here spelled with an ‘-és’ ending rather than the ‘ez’ we would expect. You may also have noticed the full stop after ‘31’ which was a way of transforming the cardinal number into an ordinal number (the equivalent of 31st). Whilst the practice has disappeared from modern French usage, you will find it in German. The signature makes it look as though the final ‘e’ of ‘Antoinette’ has been swallowed into the ‘tt’.
If you compare the transcription with the photograph of the whole page, you will observe different things even before you look at the meaning of the message: it is written on a very large sheet of paper of which the text only occupies about one third; there are slits down the side of the sheet; a strange seal hangs off an appended strip of paper; you can spot the handwriting of three different people. What explains these surprising aspects?
Paper was a luxury commodity in 18th-century Europe and there was a lot of re-using of scraps. Here, the choice of a sheet much larger than would be necessary for the length of the text is a clear sign of wealth. Unlike most of the inhabitants of France, the queen did not have to worry about waste or expense. In addition, a large sheet rather than a smaller one honoured the recipient: it meant he was being treated with the respect owed to an eminent person. The strange folds and the slits down the side (by the blue-gloved fingers on the first picture and along the opposite edge), as well as the paper-encrusted seal, show that this missive would have been sent with a removable lock. The sealing wax pressed between two sides of paper to ensure it would not get broken is on the strip which served as a lock. This was part of a ceremonial practice again intended to make the document seem important but without including a proper seal. Because of the lack of confidential information on the one hand, but also the important diplomatic value of a letter from the queen of France, a particular closing process was adopted. It allowed for the missive to be opened without breaking the seal—rather like when we tuck the flap in to an envelope rather than sticking it down. The French refer to a seal which does not have to be broken for the letter to be opened as a ‘cachet volant’ or ‘flying seal’. You can discover how it would have been prepared in an excellent video about a similar letter from Marie Antoinette to a different cardinal:
As you will notice if you watch the video, once the single sheet had been folded and sealed, it would have looked a bit like a modern envelope with the addressee’s name on it. No street or town address was included because it would have been entrusted to a courier and delivered by hand.
The letter was written by a secretary, almost certainly a man, who had clear bold and ornate handwriting. You can see a change of ink when you get to the signature. Marie Antoinette is the French version of the names Maria Antonia which the future queen of France had been given at her christening in Vienna in 1755. The third person to have intervened also simply signed. This was Jacques Mathieu Augeard, the ‘secrétaire des commandements de la reine’ who was an important court official and would have ensured the letters were duly sent off to the right people. Clearly, this is not a personal letter addressed by Marie Antoinette to cardinal Archetti, but a formal stock message prepared in her name. She may well not even have read the text before it was signed.
What do the contents of the letter tell us? The first thing to note is that the queen calls the cardinal ‘Mon Cousin’. They were not related. This was a conventional courtesy used between people of a certain rank. The missive is clearly an answer to a letter received from Archetti who had sent his own best wishes—it refers to ‘la sincérité des vœux que vous formez’ and ‘les expressions dont vous les accompagnez’ (modernised spelling). It ends with a pious formula hoping that God will watch over the cardinal. The date of 31 January, the last one on which such wishes could be sent, was usual for the royal family. It bears witness to the eminence of the signatory who has not initiated the correspondence but is providing a response.
We are documenting Marie Antoinette’s letters as part of a project with the Château de Versailles’ CRCV research centre. Oxford student Tess Eastgate is one of the participants thanks to her AHRC-funded Oxford-Open-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership. Tess is working on weighty political exchanges from the revolutionary period which are quite unlike the message presented here.
To the casual reader, it might seem disappointing to come across a letter like the one to Archetti, with so little personal content, it is in fact very useful for us to have it. It documents the formal relations between the French monarchs and the Catholic hierarchy. It suggests that there may be other similar missives addressed to different dignitaries across the world (examples of ones to cardinals Boncompagni Ludovisi and Borgia have been located)  so, if you are anywhere near archive holdings, take a look at what they have. Who knows, you may even come across seasonal greetings to a cardinal from the Queen of France!
Written by Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature All Souls College, Oxford
 Library reference: Autografi MMB 938-945 Faldone A 2) REGINA MARIA ANTONIETTA DI FRANCIA Lettera con firma autografa da Versailles in data 31 gennaio 1787 portante il sigillo reale diretta al Cardinale Archetti (in francese). My thanks to Dottoressa Maria Elisabetta Manca and the staff at the Bibliotheca Angelo Mai.
2021 marked the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. To honour this occasion, colleagues in the Sub-Faculty of Italian set up the University of Oxford’s Dante700 Competition. In its aim to introduce Dante and his work to students of all ages in a fun and engaging way, the competition invited primary and secondary school pupils to submit a visual response, a poem, or prose piece to a given canto or to Dante’s Commedia as a whole.
Our judges were extremely impressed with the hard work and creativity that went into every entry. On behalf of the judging panel, Professor Simon Gilson commented the following about all of the submissions to the competition:
We had a wonderfully rich array of entries but were particularly impressed by the winning students’ engagement with Dante. It was really remarkable to see the variety and quality of the students’ own creative responses across a range of media, in prose, verse, and various art forms. I learned a great deal from how their responses reframed Dante. The competition truly helped us to see how perennially fascinating Dante’s works, ideas and images remain for students of all ages today.
We received over 50 submissions to the competition across the different themes and age categories, from which the following pupils were selected as winners, receiving certificates as well as exclusive prizes kindly supported by Moleskine:
Ulysses – KS2/3 (age 7-14): Matilda White, Year 6, Birch Church of England Primary School
Lucifer – KS3/4 (age 11-16): Jack Cotton, Year 9, Bexley Grammar School Gabriella Akanbi, Year 8, Bexley Grammar School Selasi Amenyo, Year 8, Bexley Grammar School Holly Filer, Year 8, Bexley Grammar School Tarin Houston, Year 9, Bexley Grammar School
Limbo – KS4/5 (age 15-18): Freddy Chelsom, Year 12, Abingdon School
Open response (all ages): Zara Jessa, Year 11, Nottingham High School Eden Murphy, Year 10, James Allen’s Girls’ School Cara Bossom, Year 12, Francis Holland School
To celebrate our competition winners, we were delighted to hold a small online prize giving ceremony on Tuesday 4October via Microsoft Teams. Led by Professor Gilson and joined by teachers and parents, the event provided a wonderful opportunity to showcase the diverse winning entries and talk to the students about what attracted them to the competition and to Dante’s writings more generally.
In addition to the online event, Dr Caroline Dormor has put together a fantastic virtual anthology of the winning submissions along with the judges’ comments which can be viewed here. Hopefully you will agree that the range of responses to and interpretations of Dante’s writings is truly remarkable!
Huge congratulations to all our winners!
Please note that all educational resources from the competition can still be accessed here.
In this week’s blog post, our colleagues from The Queen’s College Translation Exchange share details of their next International Book Club meeting – a really wonderful opportunity for school students to engage with literature from around the world!
The International Book Club for Schools is a chance for sixth-form students to explore foreign language books which have been translated into English with other like-minded, literature-loving peers. We meet once a term to discuss a foreign language book in English translation. No knowledge of the original language is required to take part. The meetings take place over Microsoft Teams, and places are open to school pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13/S4-6. Newcomers are always very welcome!
Our next session will be held on Wednesday 30th November at 7pm, and we will be reading Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos, translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey. Set in the 1980s in Lagos de Moreno, Quesadillas offers a lively, cynical, and satirical take on Mexican politics and family life, in a world where the possible and the impossible seem to have switched places.
For anyone thinking of studying languages at university, there will also be a chance to hear more about what this would entail during a half-hour Q&A session with current Oxford University students, chaired by the Schools Liaison and Outreach Officer at the Queen’s College. These meetings are a perfect opportunity for students to explore books that aren’t on their school syllabus and to engage with some exciting literature in translation.
Students can sign up to attend the Book Club by completing this Google Form.
To take part in the International Book Club, students will need to purchase and read a copy of the set book in advance of the session. If a student’s financial situation makes it impossible to purchase a copy of the book, drop us an email (email@example.com) and we will do our best to work something out.
If you have any questions about the Book Club, please do also get in touch at the email address above!
The Oxford German Network (OGN) are delighted to make two exciting announcements: firstly, the 2022 German Classic Prize is now open for entries! Secondly, the OGN will also be running a new Classic Conference for Year 12 students this year – see below for further details!
‘A German Classic’ Prize 2022
1st Prize: £500 2nd Prize: £300 3rd Prize: £100
Deadline: Wednesday 14 September 2022, 12 noon
2022 marks the sixth round of ‘A German Classic’ – our essay competition for sixth-form students! This year we would like to invite you to read with us Annette von Droste-Hülshoff’s captivating story Die Judenbuche published in 1842.
Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, often called Droste by friends and family, was one of the most influential German-speaking female authors of the 19th century. Her work Die Judenbuche is sometimes considered to be the first murder mystery, containing elements of a crime thriller and gothic novel. Filled with plot twists, Doppelgänger, grisly murders, and red herrings, Die Judenbuche explores how human nature is shaped and (de)formed, confronting us with existential questions of good and evil and all the greyscales in between.
Over the coming weeks, we will release further resources and provide insights into the text and its author on our webpage (where you can find more information and resources) and via Twitter. Together we will explore the text, discussing topics ranging from uncanny Doppelgängers, deadly curses, and 18th-century slavery, showing you the enduring relevance of this 19th-century text.
For all details about eligibility, study packs, essay questions, submission, judging criteria, and more, see here.
We encourage all students interested in entering the competition to email their UK correspondence address to the Prize Coordinator (Natascha Domeisen: firstname.lastname@example.org) by 12 noon on 25 June to receive a free study pack.
German Classic Conference 2022
Tuesday 21 June 2022 | Jesus College, Oxford, Ship Street Centre
We are delighted to announce the launch of the first German Classic Conference for Year 12 students on the topic of Die Judenbuche by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff. This half-day conference will provide insights into the text, its key themes and translations in brief lectures and undergraduate-led discussions. There will also be a tour of Jesus College and the Fellows’ Library with the opportunity to enjoy some German treasures of the Jesus College collection. We are looking forward to exploring this German Classic with you!
Programme 11.45 – 12.25 Registration and Lunch 12.30 – 13.10 Introduction to Die Judenbuche (short lectures and Q&A) 13.15 – 14.00 Lost in Translation? Die Judenbuche in German and English 14.05 – 14.40 Tour of Jesus College and Fellows’ Library 14.45 – 15.15 Group Discussion of key themes with undergraduates 15.15 – 15.45 ‘More than a Whodunnit?’ Undergraduate Panel Discussion with Q&A 15.45 – 16.15 Tea and Departure
To download the programme as a PDF, please click here.
Please note: Attendance at the conference is not a condition of entering the German Classic Prize competition 2022. More details about the Conference (including specifics about entry requirements, travel costs and accommodation) can be found here.
Did you know that 2021 marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet, Dante Alighieri? In celebration of this anniversary, the University of Oxford is delighted to launch the Dante700 Competition for primary and secondary school pupils.
Who was Dante Alighieri?
Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence and died in 1321 in Ravenna. He is most famous for his poetry but he also wrote about the Italian language, politics, and philosophy.
The Commedia (Comedy) is Dante’s most famous poem. It is a long, epic poem in medieval Italian in which Dante describes his three-part journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise accompanied by three guides. The poem is made up of 100 canti (songs) in total across the three sections.
Dante’s poetry (especially the Commedia) was extremely influential for European literature and art. Many famous writers and poets were inspired by his writing, from medieval writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio, to modernist writers like T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett.
Many students in the UK may never have heard of Dante or The Comedy. The aim of this competition is to introduce Dante and his work to students of all ages in a fun and engaging way.
To enter, students can submit a written piece or an artistic response to any of the categories included in the resource packs. They can also submit an ‘open response’, but this must be clearly linked to Dante’s work. Winning entries will be included in an online anthology and will win book tokens.
Students and parents can browse the resources for themselves, and teachers can use the lesson resources available to introduce the Italian poet to their classes.
The closing date for entries is 29th April 2022. Visit the competition website to access further information and resources. Entrants can submit their work here.
Something we get asked about a lot at open days is the amount of literature on the Oxford Modern Languages course. Prospective students usually want to know how far the course focuses on literature and what the benefits of literary study are. Literature is certainly an important part of a Modern Languages degree at Oxford, and if you study with us you will do at least some literature as part of your course. But you’ll also have the chance to explore other areas, such as film, linguistics, theory, or translation, depending on the language you are studying.
Check out this video from Dr Alice Brooke, tutor in Spanish, for a deeper insight into the role of literature in an Oxford Modern Languages degree…
Readers familiar with the blog may be aware that the Oxford German Network normally runs a German Classic Prize for sixth formers. While the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the prize can’t run this year, they have come up with a great alternative way to engage with another Classic piece of German literature. If you study German and are currently in Year 12/ Lower Sixth, this is an awesome opportunity to immerse yourself in a German text and get some feedback from an Oxford academic. Read on to find out more…
A German Classic: Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig
Participation Guidelines for Sixth-Formers
We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2020 edition of ‘A German Classic’. Although we are unfortunately unable to run it as a competition this year, we would still like to invite you to read with us Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig (1912) – one of the most famous novellas in German literature and a masterpiece of European modernism. In his inimitably elegant and sumptuous style, Mann tells a transgressive story of Gustav von Aschenbach, an aging German writer, who falls in love with Tadzio, a teenage boy from Poland, during a holiday in Venice in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Often hailed as a break-through work for the queer community, Der Tod in Venedig might resonate differently now, in the era of the #metoo movement and the coronavirus pandemic.
You can sign up for free to receive a physical copy of the German original and an English translation of Mann’s novella, watch a specially recorded lecture that will guide you through the text, and have the opportunity to get feedback on your written commentary on a passage from Der Tod in Venedig from an Oxford academic. While logistic challenges this year mean that we are unable to compile extensive study materials and conduct our usual essay competition, we hope that you will want to join us for an exploration of ‘A German Classic’ in this adapted format.
‘A German Classic’ was launched in 2017 thanks to a generous donation by Jonathan Gaisman, QC. It is designed to celebrate a different literary classic each year and encourage in-depth study by creating a wide range of resources that open up different perspectives on the concerns at the heart of the work. The links to interviews and discussions, articles and performances remain available on our website to inspire ongoing interest in these works beyond the year of the competition. So far, we have featured Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (in 2017), Freidrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart (in 2018), and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (in 2019).
Participants must fulfil the following requirements as of September 2020:
be beginning their final year of full-time study at a secondary school in the UK (upper-sixth form, Year 13 or S6 in Scotland);
be between the ages of 16 and 18;
hold a GCSE, IGCSE or equivalent qualification in German offered in the UK;
be resident in the United Kingdom.
Participants are not, however, expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.
All interested students should email the German Classic Coordinator, Dr Karolina Watroba (email@example.com), as soon as possible. We will be accepting new participants until the end of July. Students will receive free of charge:
Physical copies of the German text of Der Tod in Venedig and an English translation. Shipping will be administered by the Blackwell’s online bookshop. Students will need to provide an address in the UK to which they would like the books shipped, by which they consent to having their address passed on to Blackwell’s. Shipping may take up to a few weeks. Editions received may vary as they will depend on the availability of stock. Since we depend on the availability of stock, which is currently subject to potential disruption, we cannot unfortunately guarantee shipping: orders will be placed on a first come, first served basis.
Access to a specially recorded, hour-long, university-style online lecture. The lecture will introduce Thomas Mann’s life and work, guide students through Der Tod in Venedig, and discuss additional resources on the text that are freely available online.
A choice of three short commentary passages from Der Tod in Venedig alongside a guide on how to write a good commentary. Students will be encouraged to write and submit their commentaries (c. 1500 words) by email by 1 September 2020. All students who submit a commentary by this date will receive individual written feedback on their work by 1 October 2020. The feedback will not include any ranking or mark. It will be designed purely as informal academic comment on the piece of work submitted.
We would like to ask all students who
request access to these materials to let us know the name and type of
their school (non-selective state-maintained; selective
state-maintained; non-selective independent; selective independent;
other) so we can monitor whether we are reaching a diverse range of
schools around the country.
Oxford is one of the few British universities where Polish can be studied to degree level. For more information, see here. Application is open to beginners as well as existing speakers of Polish, including those with Polish A-levels. Polish language and literature are also available as optional subjects to students of Modern Languages other than Polish, notably Russian and Czech, as well as to undergraduates in Linguistics.
If Polish piques your curiosity, you might like to begin exploring literature written in Polish. This post originally appeared on the Taylor Institution Library’s blog, as part of a lecture series on ‘Literatures of Multilingual Europe.’ Here, Dr Kasia Szymańska gives us an insight into Polish literature in a piece written to accompany the webinar of her lecture.We are grateful to the Taylor Library and Joanne Ferrari for allowing us to reblog this post here.
You can view the webinar of Kasia’s lecture by clicking the image below or following this link.
The lecture series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, most of which took place in the course of Michaelmas (autumn term) 2018 came at a very significant time. As we were giving our talks at the Taylorian, we could hear the almost imperceptible sound of the Brexit time-bomb ticking towards its final countdown like the calm before the storm. How ironic to introduce ‘lesser-known’ European literatures such as Scandinavian, Irish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Modern Greek, and Yiddish to -our English-speaking audience at a time when we could not even take an interest in the more mainstream ones for granted? This thought kept nagging away at the back of my mind as we discussed the rather flimsy position of translated literature in the UK and the US during our introductory panel.
2018 was a particularly successful year for Polish literature and film in the UK. The Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Polish contemporary writer (and later the 2018 Nobel Laureate in Literature) Olga Tokarczuk and her American translator Jennifer Croft for Flights (Fitzcarraldo). This happened only the year after yet another Polish author, Wioletta Greg (based in the UK), made it onto the longlist alongside her translator Eliza Marciniak for Swallowing Mercury (Portobello Books). In 2019, Tokarczuk was shortlisted again with her other translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo). Some might call it a literary hat-trick, others might see it as a positive trend for the British reception of Polish works. In other news relating to the visual arts in 2018, the UK-based and Oxford-educated Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, known for his previously Academy-awarded Ida (2014), created another black-and-white masterpiece entitled Cold War. The film earned him the Best Director prize in Cannes and three nominations for the Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film.
However, it is very difficult to bring the two divergent worlds together, when there is so little academic interest in Polish literature and culture. Whilst the study of the history, economy, and politics of the country is also crucial, elevating and re-evaluating the status of Poland’s vibrant literary and cultural activity across the centuries might be a more promising way of changing the way it is perceived ‘under Western eyes’. This was partly the intention of the introductory talk which I gave for the series. In addition to serving as a taster of a lesser-known literature and highlighting the Bodleian and Taylorian’s collection, the talk was meant to condense the long rich history of a literature which represents Britain’s ‘invisible minority’. This literature perhaps remains overshadowed by the stereotyped view of a community which is thought of as just another Eastern European country supplying the UK with skilled manual labour.
2018 was also symbolic for another reason: it marked the centenary of Poland regaining its independence after more than a century of being partitioned between three empires (those of Prussia, Austria, and Russia). These partitions took place at the end of the eighteenth century, after hundreds of years of a prosperous Kingdom of Poland and later a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and exerted a stranglehold over Polish life and culture throughout most of the nineteenth century up until 1918. It is towards the end of this tumultuous period interspersed with failed uprisings and frustration that anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and writer Joseph Conrad (or more accurately: Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) arrived in London at the heart of the British Empire. It is also half way through this period, in 1850, that the Bodleian Library purchased a large collection of early Polish books known as Libri polonici (see Stone 2005), which would become one of the major collections of the kind in the West. This repository includes less than two thousand items such as printings of sixteenth-century literature, a unique copy of the first Polish newspaper dating back to 1557 and material related to Polish Arianism in the age of Reformation.
years later, in 1865, the Earl of Ilchester, a friend of the Polish
prince and statesman Adam Czartoryski, endowed the University of Oxford
with a substantial sum to encourage ‘the study of the Polish and other
Slavonic languages, Literature, and History’. He made it explicit in his
will that priority should be given to Polish over any other Slavonic
language. However, most likely following the advice of an amateur
philologist, Lord Strangford, Convocation breached the agreement.
Instead, the University funded the study of Russian, the language of one
of Poland’s imperial occupiers at that time (see: Stone 2005).
Taking this backstory into account, there are few places where the
celebration of Poland’s regained independence from imperial forces could
have been felt more powerfully so many years later than here in
When preparing for the talk and asking
our Library Subject Specialist Nick Hearn for books to be displayed, I
came to realize that the collections of both the Bodleian and the
Taylorian were far more diverse and rich in Polish sources than I could
ever have foreseen. As part of Libri polonici, the Weston
Library holds quite a number of early seventeenth-century printings of
the work of Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski (1530–84), including
his cantos, epigrams (fraszki), threnodies (treny), and elegies, both in Polish or Latin. In my talk, I introduced his cycle of threnodies or lamentations entitled Treny
from 1580, movingly rendered into English by Seamus Heaney and
Stanisław Barańczak, among others. In particular, I briefly discussed
Kochanowski’s ‘Lament 7’:
The holdings of the Taylor Institution library were in particular a great surprise to me. As part of the series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, we hosted Professor Bill Johnston from Indiana University. Bill returned to Oxford after decades (he read Modern Languages at University College in the early 1980s) to read from his newly released Guggenheim-funded translation of Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Originally published in Paris in 1834, Pan Tadeusz [Master Thaddeus] comprises twelve books in verse and is sometimes considered the last great epic poem in European literature as well as the Polish national epic. How excited we were to see that the Taylorian was actually in possession of the first edition!
With their worn-out edges and dog-eared pages, library holdings like this one contain whole different universes and bygone worlds, which have sadly sunk into oblivion and remain unexplored. They could almost stand for the “empty frames” in the hall of mirrors from this passage in Bill’s translation of Pan Tadeusz (p. 52):
These memories had clearly left him pained,
He wished them gone. Upstairs they came at last
To a great room that had been in the past
A hall of mirrors; now all you could see
Were empty frames and windows. A gallery
Overlooked the gate. Gerwazy hid his eyes
In his cupped hands, head bowed in thought. His gaze,
When he looked up, showed grief and hopelessness.
Dusting off some of Bodleian and Taylorian’s impressive holdings and revisiting their stories seemed like giving them a new lease of life. To speak about them to the Oxford public was an act of filling these empty frames again with some colours and reflected images. Perhaps, some other generation of readers, students, and scholars will also come to look into all these mirrors, and hopefully, they will find and recognise themselves in their reflections, too.
Dr Kasia Szymańska
Former Junior Research Fellow in ML, Oxford; Thomas Brown Assistant Professor, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin.
Polish literature bibliography
Adam Mickiewicz, 1798-1855 : selected poems, editor: Clark Mills (et al.) New York: Noonday Press, 1956
Foer, Jonathan Tree of codes London: Visual editions, 2010
Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 2010
Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke Translated by E. Mosbacher, London, 1965
Greg, Wioletta Swallowing mercury Translated by Eliza Marciniak London: Portobello books, 2017
Kochanowski, Jan Laments Translated by Seamus Heaney and Stanisław Barańczak,
Kochanowski, Jan Treny Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, 1986
Krasicki, Ignacy Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki Warszawa: Książka, 1947
Krasicki, Ignacy The adventures of Mr Nicholas Wisdom Translated by Thomas Hoisington Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1992
Krasicki, Ignacy Monachomachia ; Antymonachomachia Warszawa : Książka i Wiedza, 1988
Krasicki, Ignacy Myszeidos pieśni X Wrocław : Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1986
Lem, Stanislaw Solaris Warsaw: Agora, 2008
Mickiewicz, Adam Ballady i romanse Lipsk, 1852
Mickiewicz, Adam Forefather’s Eve Translated by Count Potocki of Montalk London: Polish cultural foundation, 1968
Mickiewicz, Adam Dziady Wrocław, 1864
Mickiewicz, Adam Pan Tadeusz, or, The last foray in Lithuania: a story of the gentry from 1811 and 1812: comprising twelve books in verse Translated by Bill Johnston New York: First Archipelago Books edition, 2018
Mickiewicz, Adam Pan Tadeusz, czyli, Ostatni zajazd na Litwie : historja szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812, we dwunastu ksiegach, wierszem Paris, 1834
Miłosz, Czesław The History of Polish Literature Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983
Peterkiewicz, Jerzy, Five centuries of Polish poetry, 1450-1950; an anthology London: Secker & Warburg, 1960
Prus, Boleslaw The doll Translated by David Welsh New York: New York Review, 2011
Prus, Boleslaw Lalka: powieść w trzech tomach Warsaw: PIW, 1972
Schulz, Bruno The street of crocodiles London: Pan books, 1980
Schulz, Bruno Sklepy cynamonowe ; Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą Translated by Celina WieniewskaKraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 1994
Tokarczuk, Olga Flights Translated by Jennifer Croft London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018
Last week, we brought you part 1 of an interview with Dr Analía Gerbaudo, who was Global South Visiting Fellow at Oxford last term. Today, our undergraduates Stephanie and Sarah bring you the concluding part of this interview, which covers Dr Gerbaudo’s experience founding a literary magazineand an insight into her own writing.
SL & SW: En 2014, usted fundó la revista literaria El Taco en la Brea, además de ser la directora de la editorial Vera cartonera. ¿Qué la inspiró a fundar una revista literaria? ¿Qué desafíos enfrentó al fundar la revista y qué desafíos sigue enfrentando al ser la directora de una editorial?
AG: Mis fantasías de intervención son pretenciosas. Porque sé que es imposible, me encantaría que nuestra revista tuviera el impacto que tuvo en el campo intelectual argentino Punto de vista. Sé que es absolutamente imposible que una revista universitaria tenga el alcance y la llegada que esa revista cultural tuvo en Argentina, en Latinoamérica y más allá, entre 1978 y 2008. Siendo un poco más realista, y en un orden más “nano”, me interesa que los resultados de investigación realizados con fondos públicos puedan ponerse a disposición en una revista on line, de calidad y con acceso abierto para todo aquel que necesite utilizarlo. La editorial cartonera también se mueve en una tensión entre lo pensable y lo posible, tanto en términos de producción como de circulación y consumo: se intenta contribuir a generar nuevos lectores porque se apuesta a la lectura como una de las vías privilegiadas en la construcción de agencia política. Se intenta, entonces, acercar un bien simbólico de calidad a bajo precio: el libro es un objeto suntuoso incluso para un amplio sector de la clase media baja argentina y de nuestro estudiantado universitario, aun cuando la carrera elegida haya sido letras (recordemos que las carreras de grado universitario en Argentina son gratuitas: a ellas acceden estudiantes de ingresos económicos diversos). Y como en el caso de la revista, nuestras fantasías de intervención también tienen un ángulo desmesurado y delirante: estamos trabajando en una página Web para colgar todos nuestros libros cartoneros en acceso abierto. Intentamos con esto generar una circulación que vaya más allá de Argentina. Intentamos generar una circulación que contribuya a incidir en la configuración de la Word literature. Nuestros desafíos son los que atraviesa cualquier espacio institucionalizado en un país inestable como Argentina, con políticas públicas variables. Es decir, nuestros desafíos son poder sostener la calidad a pesar de la falta de financiamiento. Parece una tontería pero tener dinero para invertir en un buen diseño o para algo básico como comprar el papel (en el caso de la cartonera) no son cosas aseguradas. Como Sapiro muestra en sus análisis de la producción literaria bajo la ocupación alemana, el acceso al papel era un problema. En Argentina, el acceso al papel fue un problema no sólo bajo los regímenes dictatoriales. Este es un ejemplo, entre otros. Podríamos analizar con detalle qué relación hay entre, otra vez, activismo y trabajo intelectual en países periféricos como Argentina, Chile, Brasil, Bolivia, constantemente jaqueados por diferentes formas de violencia estatal dados los vaivenes entre ciclos expansionistas de derechos y posdictaduras.
SL & SW: In 2014, you founded the literary magazine El Taco en la Brea, in addition to being the director of the publishing house Vera cartonera. What inspired you to found a literary magazine? What challenges did you face in founding the magazine, and what do you continue to face in being the director of a publishing house?
AG: My “fantasias de intervención” are ambitious.Although I know it is impossible, I would love for our magazine to have the same impact as the cultural magazine Punto de vista did on the Argentinian intellectual scene. But I know that it is absolutely impossible for a university magazine to have the same reach and reception that Punto de vista had in Argentina, in Latin America and beyond, between 1978 and 2008. When I’m being a bit more realistic, and on a smaller, more “nano” scale, I want the research results carried out with public funds to be made available in a quality, online magazine, with open access for anyone who needs to use it. The cartonera publishing house also shifts in a tension between what is conceived and what is possible, as much in terms of production as circulation and consumption. It aims to generate new readers because it is committed to the discipline of reading as one of the privileged methods involved in the construction of political agency. We therefore also have the intention of symbolically reconciling high quality with a low price. Books are a luxury even for a wide section of the lower-middle class in Argentina, as well as for our university students, even when the degree chosen is literature (getting a university degree in Argentina is free, accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds). And, as in the case of the magazine, our “fantasias de intervención”also have a boundless, delirious element: we are working on a web page to upload all of our cartonero editions with open access. With this, we aim to circulate our work beyond Argentina, and generate a circulation that contributes to underscoring the shape of “world literature”. Our challenges are those that cross into any institutionalized space in an unstable country like Argentina, with changing public politics. That is, our challenges are to be able to maintain quality despite the lack of funding. It seems silly but having money to invest in a good design or for something basic like buying paper (in the case of the cartonera books) is not assured. As Sapiro demonstrates in her analysis of literary production under Nazi occupation, access to paper was a problem. In Argentina, access to paper was not only a problem under dictatorial regimes. This is one example among others. We could, once again, analyse in detail what the relationship is between activism and intellectual labour in peripheral countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia – countries constantly rocked by different forms of state violence, given the see-sawing between the expansionist cycles of rights and the post-dictatorial regimes.
SL & SW: Habrá estudiantes que cuando lean esta entrevista tendrán interés en estudiar sus obras. ¿Qué consejos les daría a ellos y a las personas cuyo idioma nativo no es el español si le preguntasen: “por dónde empezar”?
AG: La línea de trabajo que desarrollo se abre con un libro que publiqué en 2016: en Políticas de exhumación. Las clases de los críticos en la universidad argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986) ensayo una articulación metodológica entre las teorías de Jacques Derrida y de Pierre Bourdieu para analizar cómo se enseñó la teoría literaria y la literatura argentina en mi país durante los primeros años de la restitución “democrática”. En ese libro se muestran modos de leer y de enseñar literatura y teoría literaria desarrolladas entre 1984 y 1986 por algunos de los mejores críticos de argentina: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni y Jorge Panesi. Enviar a leer ese libro es enviar a leerlos a ellos. Esa es otra de mis fantasías de nano-intervención más poderosas.
SL & SW: There are students reading this interview who will be interested in studying your works. What advice would you give them, and other people whose native language isn’t Spanish, if they ask where to begin?
AG: The line of work I have developed opens with a book that I published in 2016: in Políticas de exhumación. In Las clases de los críticos en la universidad de argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986)) I try out an interactive methodology with the theories of Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu to analyse how literary theory and Argentinian literature was taught in my country during the first years of the “democratic” restitution. This book shows the ways of reading and teaching literature and literary theory developed between 1984 and 1986 by some of Argentina’s best critics: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni and Jorge Panesi. In recommending this book to others, I’m urging them to read these critics too. This is another of my more powerful “fantasias de nano-intervención”.
Concluding thoughts from Stephanie and Sarah
Throughout the course of this interview, Gerbaudo gives us an insight into her time at Oxford, the instrumental role of Oxford academics in furthering discussions and a taste of her own approaches to literature and literary theory, especially under censorship and dictatorship. She highlights the influence of Jacques Derrida on her own work, focussing on exhumation policies in her study of historical literary practices. Words are undeniably powerful as she demonstrates with her current role as director of Vera Cartonera editorial. Through her ambitions for the future of the literary magazine, Gerbaudo provokes us into questioning the role of activism, translation and publication in the global dissemination of literature.
We would like to thank Professor Gerbaudo for taking time to talk to us and we hope this taster of her work will inspire others to explore her work further.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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