Tag Archives: Clifford Symposium

Midd and MIIS Experts Join Forces for Translation Symposium

Middlebury students tried their hand at simultaneous interpretation in a booth at the Mahaney Center for the Arts,
with coaching from Monterey faculty.

You’re translating right now. We do it all the time, unconsciously—from visual to oral, from one person’s sensibilities to another’s. Then there are those who do it professionally, across cultures and eras. Without them treaties couldn’t be negotiated, business would hit bottlenecks, and great literature would be fettered to an author’s language.

This year, Middlebury’s Clifford Symposium focused on that complex world of translation and translators. “Translation in A Global Community: Theory and Practice” put a new twist on the fall tradition of the Clifford Symposium by bringing together faculty both from Middlebury’s language programs and from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, which is known worldwide for its translation and interpretation programs. Keynote speaker Professor David Bellos, director of Princeton’s Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication, acknowledged the particular suitability of the topic by noting he was speaking from “the beating heart of language teaching in North America.”

Before Bellos began his talk, audience members were offered headphones to listen to his address interpreted in Chinese—two Monterey graduates were visible onstage in a professional interpretation booth, poised to do the job for both Middlebury and Monterey listeners. The booth and the varied interpreters within were a feature of the three-day symposium, and students conversant in other languages were invited to try their hand interpreting at a special Friday morning session (see video).

Bellos, an Englishman who also teaches French and comparative literature at Princeton, and who won the first Man Booker International Prize for translation in 2005, gave an often-humorous account of the judgment calls good translators must make for the sake of an author, a work, and readers. In the course of translating Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret detective novelettes from French to English, Bellos knew he wanted to keep the page-turning dynamics of the originals while helping current readers move smoothly through some of the extinct conventions of the author’s 1931 France. For example, Simenon’s view of Eastern Europe approximated the famous 1976 New Yorker cover “View of the World from Ninth Avenue,” in which the Pacific Ocean washes onto Kansas, about two blocks from New Jersey. This isolationism was common in Simenon’s France; with today’s travel and communication, conflating Latvia and Lithuania would be considered ignorant, and Detective Maigret was not. Likewise, the foods, fabrics, technologies, and police hierarchies have changed. Bellos explained, “A translation is an invention of something. There’s no one right solution. But you have to be consistent.” Using experience, an ear for tone, and sources such as old French dictionaries and trademark records to make his decisions, Bellos still expects e-mails from “persnickety readers,” and said, “If I get attacked for a clumsy translation, at least I’d have a learned answer.”

Translation involves art, Bellos suggested, and other sessions throughout the symposium looked at additional angles: whether everything is translatable, whether translation is a political act, and how interested students could find careers using their language skills. For those who choose to follow that path, Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies Stephen Snyder, one of the symposium’s organizers, shared his view: “Translation is one of the fundamental underpinnings of [global relations], to think about how languages are learned, to think about who provides communication between cultural spheres.”

The annual Clifford Symposium is named after College Professor of History Emeritus Nicholas R. Clifford, who taught history at the college from 1966 to 1993 and who in his many years as a member of the faculty and administration cultivated critical inquiry.

Wired for Creativity

Thursday September 27th marked the opening of this year’s Clifford Symposium, celebrating “Creativity and Collaboration.” With more than 30 events across multiple academic and artistic disciplines, the weekend offered everything from music and dance performances to panels on peacekeeping and entrepreneurship.

The annual occasion, which falls near the start of each academic year, is named for Nicholas R. Clifford, who taught history at the College from 1966 to 1993 and is a champion of critical inquiry. This year’s symposium was hosted by the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts in honor of its 20th anniversary.

Middmag caught the kick-off energy of the evening’s keynote speaker, Julie Burstein, and opening wire-walking event with the following video Dispatch:

More Clifford Symposium coverage:


The Planter Box in the Sky

How innovation, collaboration and civic engagement spawned the creation of the High Line – New York City’s 1.5-mile-long park built on an abandoned rail track above the West Side – was the subject an illustrated lecture on Sept. 28 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts.

Adrian Benepe ’78, former commissioner of NYC parks, and architect Peter Mullan, vice president for planning and design of the High Line, presented the talk in connection with 2012 Clifford Symposium at Middlebury College.

The High Line stretches from Gansevoort Street in the West Village to the rail yards at West 30th Street, and it affords grand views to the east and west as it juts through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea. Never wider than 60 feet and more often just 30 feet from side to side, the High Line opened in 2009 and has quickly become one of the leading tourist attractions in the city.

So how did the High Line come to fruition? “It’s a story of collaboration and creativity,” Benepe said, and over the course of an hour he and Mullan took the audience on an excursion through its evolution.

After the last freight train ran on the High Line in 1980, the property lay dormant for nearly two decades until 1999 when two residents of the West Side, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, began an intensive lobbying effort for its preservation and use as a public open space. They formed a non-profit organization called Friends of the High Line, which was instrumental in garnering the civic, commercial, governmental, and financial support necessary for the project.

Adrian Benepe ’78

Benepe and Mullan pointed to three key developments that propelled the project forward during the first decade of the 21st century.

First, whereas former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani opposed the project, his successor in City Hall, Michael Bloomberg, ran on a platform in 2001 that favored conversion of the High Line into a city park. “I thought it was an insane idea,” the former parks commissioner told the gathering. “How would we get water 30 feet above ground?” he asked. “How would we get things to grow?” But the new mayor believed in the High Line’s ability to connect neighborhoods and bring people together.

Second, the proponents of the High Line could point to another world capital, Paris, where its Promenade plantée is an elevated green beltway built on a former railway line. The popularity of the Prominade plantée “proved that the idea of an elevated park could work,” Mullan said, which turned out to be a crucial factor in proving to people that the High Line project had merit.

Third, the Friends of the High Line worked with land-use planners to build an economic rationale for the High Line. They showed that if the city invested $100 million to build a public space on the High Line, the city would gain $262 million in increased property taxes to adjacent lands over a defined period of time, and the estimate has proven to be low because the High Line has had a “ripple effect” on the value of properties in the entire area.

Peter Mullan

The economic argument proved to be a powerful factor, Mullan said, because “as cities and municipalities are increasingly strapped for cash, they need to make investments in their public infrastructure that are going to be cost effective, and parks in general will do that if they are well designed.”

The High Line allows no bicycles, dogs, jogging, or ball-playing of any kind, and yet it has become wildly popular for city residents and visitors. The High Line attracts nearly four million people a year, Benepe said, which places it between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty in terms of attendance.

Its lush greenery and never-before-seen views of the Hudson River, its preservation of the rails and variety of environments, and its chaises and benches that seem to pop up out of the rail bed – inspire “a contemplative mood of awe and gratefulness that such a delightful oddity could be dedicated to public space,” the Wall Street Journal wrote just days after the first section of the High Line opened. (Photos of the High Line abound on the Internet; for a sample, click here.)

Built with brick, steel, concrete, soil, and wood, the High Line “is essentially a shallow planter box in the sky,” said Benepe, who is currently senior vice president at the Trust for Public Land and a trustee of Middlebury College.

The guest speakers closed the presentation by stressing that “public-private partnerships like the High Line work when they represent the local community,” and that preservation and the use of public space can be drivers of economic development. Moreover, they said people are inspired by innovation even when their natural reaction is to resist change.

Close Encounters

It’s a dreary, drizzly Friday afternoon. The Mahaney Center for the Arts seems hunkered down as water drips from the roof into the muted gray shadows of the back courtyard. Inside, the hallways are long and quiet. It’s just the kind of day that demands hot tea and a nap. Then, dancers emerge. Dressed playfully in harvest hues—pumpkin, burgundy, avocado—they begin to move. They seem to be everywhere—in the corridors, in nooks, on the balcony above the ticket booth. Haunting, melancholy music played by a lone violinist washes through the building.

This is A Curious Invasion-Middlebury, a featured event of the Clifford Symposium on Creativity and Collaboration, September 27–29. It is a true collaboration, sponsored by the Middlebury Council on the Arts and featuring the renowned choreography and performance of the PearsonWidrig Dance Theater, the Dance Company of Middlebury, the Alumni Solo Project, and other Middlebury artists. Versions of A Curious Invasion have been performed around the world, using the surroundings to inspire the dance. Today the arts center is the source of inspiration.

The audience, if that is what you are when the dancing is all around you, flows about the building with the performers, who subtly direct the viewers to different spots. After a while, the dancers migrate outside and the audience follows. Dancers take over the courtyard tables, the courtyard wall, the grass beyond. As you watch, you begin to see the site with new eyes: how metal-like the museum exterior seems, how transparent the Zig-Zag Labyrinth sculpture is, how lush the lawn looks, and how soccer balls on the far-away field seem to float.

Gradually the dancers disappear inside, through a door most people never notice, reappearing in windows that most people hurry past without a thought. And for the next several minutes, those windows get complete attention as the dancers execute an exceedingly slow-motion evacuation through them.

When the performance is over, no one is thinking about hot tea and a nap. Seeing this everyday facet of Middlebury through new eyes has woken everyone up.