SPECIAL FEATURE: Alice Guthrie's blog from Istanbul

The LAF 10th anniversary conference kicks off in style in Istanbul

Literary exchange and translation in the Euro-Mediterranean region – challenges of the next decade; quite an awe-inspiring geographical, political, cultural, socio-economic and intellectual scope for the 75 or so international delegates to get stuck into. Well, we’ve been hard at it all day, with rich and complex debates spooling out in all directions and across all sorts of boundaries and borders, real or imagined. The plethora of perspectives and expertise on offer here this weekend is almost dazzling, and there is a feverish atmosphere, at times, as we grapple with a task that is in many ways impossible – namely imagining what might be in store over the next ten years.

So today has been largely taken up with expressing our key concerns, finding our common experiences and our key differences, within the huge diversity of the many nations, communities, languages and individuals represented here. Some aspects of our debates are familiar and well-trodden ground for anyone involved in literary exchange and translation – such as the abysmal working conditions of the literary translator, and the precarious position of arts funding in the current global economic climate. Some of what we find ourselves engaging with is hugely contested among the group – such as how the myriad funding shortfalls are to be addressed, or how translation quality can ever be meaningfully assessed. And some of the issues being raised are very new to most of us, and their future trajectory very hard to visualise – such as the impact and importance of e-publishing, and what the role of the internet will be in literary exchange over the next decade and beyond.

Despite the many challenges, though, and with the help of lots of Turkish coffee, we have been able to draw up a draft list of key concerns to be addressed tomorrow, as we move towards making our key recommendations. As I write an enthusiastic crowd of press are gathering for the press conference – surely nothing to do with the luxurious setting of the conference or the prospect of a free cocktail – and many pertinent questions are being asked and answered throughout the crowd. Of course, there are buzz words and favourite concepts, such as ‘bridging cultural divides’ and ‘fostering intercultural dialogue’ (did I hear someone say ‘intracultural monologue’? Surely not!)

Our continuing challenge, after our debates conclude tomorrow, will be to ground those highly-charged ideals in practical reality, and to convince the lofty upstream funders to value our humble endeavours in the service of Euro-Mediterranean understanding and cohesion. Oh yes, and to take home our newly refreshed notions of best practice and actually apply them. So we have an exciting day ahead of us tomorrow, laying the foundations for all that. Watch this space!

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