Essays

The public library of Serres through this section presents various present day issues that have en effect on society with the aim to warrantee a more reliable information of the citizens. The issues are of social, health, educational, cultural and economic interest as well as issues of daily lite that are published in magazines, and newspapers in Greece or abroad.
J. Sapountzis




PROMOTING INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE THROUGH TRANSLATION: THE CASE OF TURKISH LITERATURE IN THE GREEK MA

  GEORGE PANTSIOS


PROMOTING INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE THROUGH TRANSLATION: THE CASE OF TURKISH LITERATURE IN THE GREEK MARKET


Dear ladies & gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank the Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism, as well as the Department of Translation & Interpreting Studies of Bogazici University, for inviting me to join the Second International Symposium of Translators & Publishers of Turkish Literature. I would also like to thank the Steering Committee for organizing the Symposium and making all the arrangements necessary for its success.
When I was sent the Symposium?s program, I realized that I was the only greek participant. This initially terrified me as I felt that I was the only one faced with the enormous responsibility to talk about the intercultural dialogue between Turkey & Greece. How was I supposed to cover such a broad subject, in the first place? So, after thinking long and hard on this, I decided that my only resource would be my own experience both as a translator (I?ve been one for several years, unfortunately not from turkish), and as a publishing agent, since I?ve been working as a Foreign Rights Person for the biggest publishing house in Greece for quite some time. In all these years, I?ve had the opportunity to witness the mechanisms behind every decision concerning the publication of foreign literature into greek, and even participate in a lot of these decisions.
The first question that came to my mind while trying to approach the issue in question was ?Why do we feel the need to translate literary texts from a foreign language? Which is the main factor that urges us to do so?? The answer seemed quite obvious: literature is generally believed to serve as a mirror of the social and cultural relationships within a people, a society and a culture. Therefore, when works of literature are translated from a foreign language, the recipients in the new language are enabled to achieve insight into the social and cultural conditions of that people or nation. Thus, being a channel of communication, the translation is actually turned into a key factor as far as the intercultural dialogue is concerned.
But then it dawned on me: ?Is intercultural dialogue really a key factor when it comes to the hard game of decision making, when as a Foreign Rights agent you have to decide if a certain literary text should be published in greek, for example?? The answer is ?Not so much?. When you?re building a literary collection, the decisions depend, almost entirely, on the quality of the texts, as well as their commercial potential. Of course, the commercial potential has a lot to do with market trends, which are seldom defined by such noble causes as the publishers? will to contribute to the intercultural dialogue. The publishers? need is generally for good books that could sell well. The intercultural dialogue is the effect and not the cause in this case, it?s not so much a matter of publishing policy but rather a matter of taste.
Which brings us to the issue of Turkish literature published in Greece, which is one of the areas of interest of this Symposium. It is common knowledge that Greece & Turkey have had a rather problematic relationship over the years. Religious conflicts, territorial claims, wars haven?t contributed much to a peaceful co-existence of the two nations. However, what seems to be more interesting, although often overlooked, is the fact that, despite their differences, the two peoples haven?t ceased to share common bonds: geographical, historical, cultural, linguistic and even culinary. These two peoples are no strangers to each other: they have a mutual knowledge and even understanding of each other, an understanding that unfortunately has been blurred, distorted and burdened by ethnic stereotypes over the years. These stereotypes have been carefully and mutually developed by their national governments to the point that, at least culturally, they lost all interest in one another. Greece focused, for the better part of the 19th and 20th century, on Western culture and way of living, trying to put aside its eastern heritage.
However, over the last 15-20 years a change has been happening, gradually but steadily. The development of cultural studies in Greece, propelled by the increasing waves of immigrants that flooded the country in the last two decades, initiated a very fruitful dialogue regarding all forms of ?otherness?: ethnic, sexual, religious, cultural. The aim of this dialogue, among others, was to explore the existing images of other peoples in the cultural imaginary of the Greeks, to understand the function of stereotypes and, through this understanding, to diminish the power of stereotypical images as agents of ethnic or social prejudice and discrimination. It is true that when you realize how stereotypes work, they start to lose their power, so the real question becomes ?who gets to benefit from their use?. For example, the image of the Turks as the evil enemy determined to harm the greek people and vice versa may very well be a way through which national governments avoid focus on the real internal problems of their countries.
Of course, education is only one form of fighting racism and bigotry. The other, even more effective one is the human spirit. The devastating earthquakes that shook both Greece & Turkey around a decade ago only showed that the human spirit can overcome all stereotypes and obstacles when it comes to helping a fellow man in distress. The heroic rescue teams from both countries working side by side provided the perfect paragon of humanism and solidarity which defied the stereotypical rhetoric of all politicians, greek and turkish.
The development of such a favorable climate prompted, among other things, an increasing interest in Turkish literature. There were, of course, a few Turkish writers already known in Greece, like Yasar Kemal or Nedim Gursel, but the times called for a more active involvement in the Turkish literary scene. However, the language barrier remained persistent. Both greek and turkish are unfortunately ?minor? languages, spoken only by a certain people and their inherent difficulty doesn?t really help their diffusion. Luckily, there were a few greek translators, usually originating from Istanbul and Asia Minor (which is not an uncommon case in Greece ? even my own grandmothers were born there), who dedicated their time and energy into promoting the Turkish literature in Greece and the greek literature in Turkey. And they still do ? most of them actually live and work in Istanbul. They are the ones that submit proposals to the publishers, they are the ones that read and evaluate texts, when there are no translations in intermediary languages (english, french, german or italian). And the publishers base their decisions on their enthusiasm and on the fact that they don?t have any vested interests in promoting the Turkish literature, other than the love of the language and the culture. So it?s safe to say that translators are the key contributors to the intercultural dialogue between Greece and Turkey.
Of course, literary agencies have emerged over the years propagating the Turkish literature, but they represent a rather limited number of writers, while most of the times their work is helped by the translators that offer their services even for free as intermediaries who read and evaluate texts. As far as the writers are concerned, only a few could serve as contributors to the intercultural dialogue. Orhan Pamuk, for instance, or as in our case, since we are his greek publishers, Omer Zulfu Livaneli are people of such a caliber that they could promote the culture of their country. Apart from being a writer, Livaneli is a very well known composer in Greece, having worked with many famous greek composers (like Mikis Theodorakis) and singers (like Yiorgos Dalaras), so the influence that he can exert is pretty obvious. Still, this kind of influence is rather limited and can emanate only from distinguished people. I believe that it?s about time a dialogue between Greek and Turkish writers were initiated through annual meetings organized by official agents, meetings that could serve as a common ground for the exchange of ideas and cultures. Since our cultures are intricately interlinked, the literary similarities regarding themes and writing styles would prove themselves obvious, thus promoting the dialogue in the best of ways.
At this point, we should also mention that, in the course of the last few years, other forms of communication and art, such as television and film, have entered the intercultural dialogue breaking boundaries and stereotypes. The recent, utterly successful television series both in Turkey and Greece (Yabanci Damat [The foreign groom] ? the greek title being ?The borders of love?) portraying the love affair and subsequent marriage of a Turkish girl and a Greek boy, or the 2009 blockbuster Turkish film (Guz sancisi [Pains of autumn]) that?s just being shown in cinemas around Greece (the greek title being ?Autumn wounds?) are just two examples which go far beyond the ethnic stereotypes attributed to Turks and Greeks respectively.
Still, the quality of intercultural dialogue, creation and innovation depends significantly on the quality of literary translation. Especially nowadays, when Turkey is willing to form part of the EU, the need for translations as a means of getting to know and understand the history and culture of a potential member seems absolutely imperative. However, literary translators, although important transmitters of culture, have a particularly weak market position, if any at all, due to the invisibility inherent in the act of translation, which prevents translators from being considered as creators of original works, as well as their admittedly low fees. Fortunately, the Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism, acknowledging the fact that translation is the main vehicle of intercultural dialogue, initiated the TEDA project in 2005, a translation subvention program that enables publishers abroad to publish Turkish literature by sharing the translation costs with them. It is obvious that policy should be focused on raising the visibility of literary translators, strengthening their social and economic position, stimulating their mobility (which is essential to their work), and enabling them to improve their skills, increase their knowledge and stay in touch with the living culture of which they are the ambassadors. We are in need of a network of competent translators that the publishers could rely upon and this can be achieved only through a close cooperation between National Book Centres and Translation Centres, domestic and foreign. There should also be a close contact between foreign publishers and Turkish governmental agencies providing constant information on literary production in Turkey.
As a representative of a foreign publishing house, I have to acknowledge that our main goal should be to keep publishing good Turkish books, either of established writers (as we?ve done with Orhan Pamuk and Livaneli) or of new and fresh voices (this year we are introducing Fethiye Cetin, Mehmet Murat Somer & Kursat Basar to the greek audience), without even thinking about the intercultural dialogue. Good books have a way of touching hearts and breaking boundaries themselves without any help from publishing policies.


George Pantsios
He was born in Thessaloniki in 1972, where he studied Greek Literature at Aristotle University specializing in Mediaeval and Modern Greek Literature. His postgraduate studies were focused on cultural iconology (imagologie), a branch of art history that deals with the analysis, description and interpretation of iconic representations. He has been working as a translator for several years and is a member of the Panhellenic Association of Translators (FIT Member). He is currently working in Athens as a Foreign Rights & Marketing Assistant, as well as a translator and editor, for Patakis Publishers.




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