‘Ethics of Translation’ (?)

As a presumptive translator I’m nagged by a sense of straying where I don’t belong. Where is my writ to translate into a non-native language, for example? I didn’t suck Spanish from mother’s teat. How can I possibly match what a native could do? Likely I can’t, but catch me not trying if I choose.

A poorly written and superficial article by the BBC stirs the putrid pot of who is entitled, or not, to translate whom and what.

Poet Amanda Gorman, who is Black, recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration. (I saw it live.) Her performance was a resounding success and widely acclaimed.

Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, who is White, was commissioned by a Dutch publisher, with Gorman’s sign-off, to translate Gorman’s poem into Dutch.

Janice Deul, Dutch journalist and diversity campaigner who is Black, raised objection over the choice of a White woman to translate the poem. The decision, she said, “perpetuated the marginalisation of black voices in the Netherlands.”

Among the many examples of black Dutch poets are Zaire Krieger, whose work encapsulates the challenges of being a woman of colour in a white country, Rachel Rumai who recently featured in an Afro Lit anthology and spoken word artist Babs Gons, whose Polyglot was chosen as the poem for 2021 Dutch Book Week.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld withdrew from the project to make way for someone closer to Gorman’s ethnicity and culture.

(Anna Holligan, “Why a white poet did not translate Amanda Gorman,” bbc.com, 3-10-21)

Much opportunity for venturesome translators lies beneath this controversy. Craft, in my view, should lead. Who crosses lines sought to be drawn, and how, will be of keen interest.

(c) 2021 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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4 Responses to ‘Ethics of Translation’ (?)

  1. Daedalus Lex says:

    I understand there are different perspectives worth hearing on this interesting topic, but mine is this: When creatively identifying with each other across demographic lines becomes the #1 sin in the arts, we’ve pretty much lost everything the Civil Rights movement fought for. It is particularly disheartening that those who ludicrously call themselves “progressives” are leading the rollback. The whole point pre-woke was that we can and should share our hearts fully without getting trapped in such reified concepts as “race.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      Well said! It’s unsettling that notions of trespassing on “alien” cultural turf — opposition to it — seem to be ascendant even on university campuses. It IS a complex issue, as you state, and worth rich dialog and open minds. Where I stand, at present, is in favor of the option to try out other voices in one form or another, or to “imagine oneself” creatively into different skins. The result should stand or fall on esthetic grounds, but not be proscribed out of hand. Thank you for your visit and comment, Daedalus Lex.

      Liked by 1 person

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