Bronagh Bowerman

Bronagh Photo

I’m Bronagh, a second-year PhD student in Translation Studies at QUB. I did a B.A. in Modern Languages (French and German) at Trinity College in Dublin (graduating in 2004) before spending several years earning a living as a freelance translator, working mainly on the translation of Holocaust-related texts from German to English. I also did a lot of online content writing during those years. After returning to Northern Ireland I completed an MA in translation studies at Queen’s in 2012-2013, and was fortunate to receive Northern Bridge funding (via the Arts & Humanities Research Council) for my PhD studies beginning in October 2014. My PhD research is focused on how conflict in Israel and Palestine is represented/translated by the city of Belfast and its residents. My supervisors are Prof. David Johnston and Dr Piotr Blumczyński.

I’ve had some of my translations published in To Be a Jew in Berlin: The Letters of Herman Samter, 1939-1943, edited by Daniel Fraenkel and published by Yad Vashem: International Institute for Holocaust Research, Jerusalem, in 2012. More recently I’ve been working with Dr Shirli Gilbert of the University of Southampton on the ‘Forgotten Letters Project’, for which I’ve been translating the recently rediscovered letters of Ralph Schwab, a Jewish refugee from Germany who fled to South Africa in the early 1930s.


Thesis Summary

Translating the Divided City: A Benjaminian Reading of Jerusalem in Belfast

This research project uses the concept of the city-as-text (Gilloch, 1996) developed by the German-Jewish translator, literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) to explore intertextual references between the cities of Belfast and Jerusalem; it asks, in the context of Belfast’s preoccupation with the Israel-Palestine conflict, whether one city-text can function as a translation of another. Belfast’s intense focus on the divisions of the Holy Land manifests in the flying of Israeli and Palestinian flags, the painting of political wall murals, and the activities of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine solidarity groups. This factional apportioning of Israel-Palestine is mapped along the city’s domestic sectarian fault lines, both culturally/politically and in the materiality of the city itself. One explanation for this is that Belfast’s Irish Republicans and Nationalists back Palestinians as fellow victims of colonialism and occupation, whereas Ulster Unionists and Loyalists identify with Israel as a beleaguered settler state surrounded by enemies. This project, however, uses a methodology for translating city-space derived from Benjamin’s work, particularly his theory of translation as outlined in his essay, The Task of the Translator (1923), to ask whether a much deeper and older preoccupation with the Holy Land and with Jerusalem as its mythologised Holy City is driving Belfast’s domesticating and reductive translation of Israel-Palestine. It explores his theory that all interpretation of cities and their symbolism rests on a series of concealed, recurring, but ever-metamorphosing myths (Gilloch, 1996) The thesis is that a Benjaminian translation of city-space will reveal mythologizing narratives of Jerusalem at points in the Belfast city-text where the Israel-Palestine conflict is referenced. It will ask whether the psychogeographic importance of Jerusalem allows Belfast’s residents to maintain the narrative of a successful peace process; that is to say, Jerusalem, the city of everyone’s imagination, provides Belfast with a distant, symbolic arena in which to pursue simplistic battles between good and evil while making complicated but necessary compromises at home.

Graeme Gilloch, Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996)

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