Transnational literacies

Transnational literacies
Pont d'archive

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.

One of the useful signs for considering ethics is that of “transnational literacies,” a term first used by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in the 1990s, and now considerably elaborated by thinkers such as Diana Brydon, who leads a project looking at transnational literacies between Canada and Brazil. “…literacy, as a form of social practice, is much more complex” that we once knew, she asserts. Although Brydon focuses on teaching English and in English across national boundaries and cultures, her elaborations are useful for translation.

 I as translator have to recognize my own privilege as an English speaker, a white person from “West” and “North,” a person formed by certain national and post-national discourses (to which I myself contributed in O Cidadán), a person with old allegiances and a settler history, all of which that can blind me to other discourses, impulses. In translating from one hemisphere to another, from South to North (or partly “North”), from East to West, I have to take care that the frames—cultural, economic, historical—which sustain my own literacy do not force themselves on the texts of others, which were uttered from and in a different frame or order, not always easily apparent at the moment of translation.

Body, frame. The mobility of the imaginary (formed by discourses that take place around and beyond us) and mobility of the socius (that acts to absorb or disarm the Other), make me disavow any claim of translational mastery. We need to learn to be literate in the speech and inscriptions of others, not just translate them into our way, overwriting the laws of their texts—which may be hills or trees—with ours (to paraphrase Peter Kulchyski quoting an Inuit elder on colonization in the Canadian North). To eavesdrop on Elisa Sampedrín in The Unmemntioable:

My intention was just to write at the desk in București, but this notebook paper turns into a plant again damp with sap and fibre and breaks the nib. Perfumes anarchic tendency and a way with words, fallen down on crested birds.

The smell of hay and the look of god." / the pen writes.


Three useful books for thinking, by Peter Kulchyski, Smaro Kamboureli, Diana Brydon: