One of the things that studies (listening!) in indigeneity teaches us is that we have to struggle—and it is a real struggle with our own unrecognized cauterizations—to avoid absorbing cultural ideas in a way that eviscerates and cannibalizes them for our own purposes (which is so easy to do… the North American academy did it, by and large, for example, to “deconstruction,” till Derrida was left to protest and to regret he’d ever used the word). Appropriation, always a part of art-making, has to be called into question when it involves eviscerating the cultural markings of another’s speaking or inscription, particularly when that “another” does not have the same societal privilege we do, or when our privilege rests upon the crushing of theirs.
Better that we eviscerate ourselves, realize our own agency (for appropriation is always done by an agent, a decider, an ego), open out and allow the collapse of our own instrumentalized reason and force.
One of the powers of translation is that it (as act and as actual work) causes us to examine identity formations, the formation first and foremost of our own identity as translators: what we are absorbing, how our cultural structuration as public beings effaces memory in the work that is translated, in fact, destroys the work in the act of translation. Or risks such destruction. It is that bad, my friends: it is that bad. Or that good.
Translation tears a strip off me, a bark, a coalesce of snot and varnish and spit. It takes months to grow my skin back.
In this regard, one of the crucial challenges to translation today in 2012 is the work done on indigeneity, poetics and translation, by the incredible writer and thinker from the austral regions of the Americas, from Chile, the south of Chile (which is like our North in its impact on human memory, inhabitation and bearing), Andrés Ajens.
The body that translates, that reads, is a sited body. Folded and creased, stapled, sewn and décousu: it is both disenfranchised and enabled by its temporal and cultural location. No body escapes this. We are culturally and ideologically marked, and we read and translate the texts of others through these markings, altering the very texts that we read and translate to reflect our own intentionality. There is no innocent translation.
Yet there is always an ethics of translation: How do I respect “what Chus Pato has written,” for example, when I am physiologically not capable of reading exactly that? This question of respect has to be answered every time a text is before me.
Each text tells us how it wishes to be translated, demands its “proper” translation. Points the translator to its own pulse and propulsions. And “I”—unha cousa sentida e sensíbel, a felt and feeling thing, already socially constructed and hard-wired, yet, a nervous being, with nervature—I have already sensed the text; I receive the text into myself.
I extend my hand to mark a letter, some letters. One language enters and another emerges. This möbius strip operation—for text remains text, letters remain letters—passes by way of a body. This body may be, at times, a machine (as in legal translation, often done by machine so as to stabilize the terminology before being corrected by a human being) or it may be human cells. It can’t be cells of trout. The difference between machine and body is that the body does unpredictable things, makes leaps… Though it chooses (or is blind to, but this body, as much as is possible, chooses) where to situate itself in relation to the socius of the book (as it perceives it) and the socius of the receiving language, this body can also absorb things that have never before been absorbed.
Eu son unha forasteira, sempre unha forasteira. I am a foreigner, always foreign. Loito nunha escuridade funxíbel con toda outra escuridade. I struggle in a fungible and obscure darkness alongside every other kind of obscurity. Son unha forasteira con historia, con historias multiples, historias que nunca vivín. I am a foreigner with a history, with multiple histories, histories I never lived. Historias xenéticas, de xenética. Genetic histories, of genetics. Sempre sei que idioma uso. I always know what language I speak in. Imaxino sen imaxes, senón con temperaturas e luz e vagaridades que me pican no pel. I imagine without images, but with temperatures and light and wanderings that prickle and disturb my skin. Indescriptíbeis. Indescriptible. Postures with furniture. And I age, I am aging. Limits of the body and mind.
And the text. It is here before me, in front of me, the text. É e está. It is in itself, and it is sited in time/space. And me, awake. With coffee. Without glasses. Light. The form of the letters in front of me.