Editors Note: When published in print- the blue, indented text appear as footnotes. Design and reading considerations here make it so that they appear differently.
a quick report back from emily apter’s talk, which in itself felt to me strangely like stating the obvious—not pushing her thinking especially far at all—but her responses to the very wonderful q & a were absolutely brilliant. totally worth it, and villa aurora (where i’d never been) was amazing. i was glad to get to experience it, so thanks much for the tip/prod.
apter opened by talking about the mysteries of untranslatability (inherently a part of all translation), and translation as a mode of rethinking language technologies. she talked about what i’d call linguistic racism or alien-phobia (my terms not hers) in which foreign languages are panic-inducing confines. she talked about the weaponization of language & translation as crucial aspects of war-making (her term—“weaponization”—a great one, i think).
the rhetoric of “diplomatic breakdown”—i.e. misunderstanding or paranoid misreadings of statements or actions—and thus war as the continuation of mistranslations or as translation failure at its most violent peak.
she talked not so interestingly about the lynne stewart/mohammed yousry case but did mention an amazing quote from juror #39 in yousry’s case:
“people are so fearful that if you disagree with the government on one thing it makes you a terrorist.” (the implication that this was in reference to her fellow jurors.)
A quick online search puts this quote in fairly chilling context. According to the Leiter Reports blog, “Juror 39’ complained to trial judge John G. Koeltl of hysteria in the jury room. Some of her fellow jurors ‘had an agenda,’ Juror 39 told The Post. “People are so fearful that if you disagree with the government on one thing it makes you a terrorist.” The presiding judge denied motions for a new trial, despite Juror 39's disowning her guilty vote as ‘only as a result of the fear and intimidation I was made to feel for my life....Never in my life did I imagine that I could be intimidated or coerced into rendering a verdict against my will, but that is exactly what occurred.” http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2006/01/the_yousry_case.html
Similarly, Lynne Stewart’s webpage http://www.lynnestewart.org quotes a New York Times article by Julia Preston: “Juror 39 acknowledged that she was one of two holdouts for acquittal. Juror 39 said that during the deliberations another juror had told her that “it would be her fault if anyone died in a terrorist attack” if she did not vote with the others to convict the defendants. Frightened and intimidated, Juror 39 believed “maybe she wasn't thinking clearly” when she finally voted to convict.
she talked about the criminalization of language itself—the idea that arabic itself is somehow criminal. (which of course makes me want to learn arabic immediately!! it’s been on my list for quite some time anyway...) about translation as implying the existence of “suspicious affective ties” (i’ve definitely experienced this in court) —the ties inherent to linguistic connection. the translator, then, as a dangerously “bi” figure: bilingual, binational, bicultural.
I often find myself identifying with the people for whom I interpret, even beyond my general belief that most perpetrators of crimes are victims of larger systems of political, economic, and often racial oppression. This occurs even when the person has done something I believe to be truly atrocious — a pentecostal preacher, for example, who murdered his wife because he felt she was growing too independent and he suspected she had a lover, or a day laborer who beat his girlfriend to death with a hammer when he found her in bed with another man. Of course when I consider these cases even slightly objectively, from any perspective other than my place by the side of the defendant, I can find few redeeming qualities in people who choose to address their relationship difficulties through violence. But in the moment of doing my job, the intimacy of being the person’s only link to the other people in the courtroom, and their sole tool for communication, awakens an odd kind of affection that makes me feel—physically—as if I am not only by their side, but also “on their side.”
she talked about translators & reporters murdered in iraq.
And then—as I re-read this text to prepare for publication—just yesterday it was reported that on Sunday April 8 the Afghan translator Ajmal Naqshbandi was beheaded by the Taliban after Karzai refused to secure his release by freeing a few Taliban prisoners, as he had done just days earlier for the Italian journalist captured with Naqshbandi, for whom he was working as a translator.
she talked a bit (but not in as much depth as i would have liked) about the role of the interpreter in prison or torture situations. many of the torturers’ instructions at abu ghraib, for example, were spoken through interpreters. what would it take &/or what would be the effects if interpreters refuse to speak the words of torturers?
she talked about the fascinating case of signs in arabic on buses in richmond, va (do you know about this? totally amazing—an interfaith organization in the city put up signs in arabic saying completely innocuous simple phrases with translation provided in smaller type below but people went ape shit thinking they were terrorist messages—didn’t even see that it was sponsored by a local organization and that translation was provided). talked about arabophobia & the anthemization of english, the way english is used as a litmus test for u.s. citizenship & how the rhetoric of a “right to english” (i.e. “getting ahead”) is code for anti-immigrant & anti-latino xenophobic ideas.
she ended by talking a bit about josé padilla (renamed himself al-muhajir—literally “the immigrant”)—in that name is the coming together of twowars, the war on terror & the war on immigrants.
the q & a was really superb—great questions (& almost none of the usual going on forever as an excuse to give a mini-lecture of your own on the part of the questioners)— and she took the opportunity i wished she’d taken more in her talk, to speak more theoretically about translation as an action & a force in/about language. she talked about the question of translating away from the fixity of naming & how people are made of linguistic contact zones and language encounters (very similar to how lyn hejinian talks about personhood & writing, actually), about how translation can help us to question language as a discrete, normalized thing. translation as awakening strangeness (my phrase, but close to her idea).
My question for her had to do with the idea of literary translation and interpreting — in my case court interpreting — as two poles, pushing in opposite directions: the former as a force for making power strange (i.e. interrupting hegemonic or normative language use by bringing “foreign” elements into English and thus making English less familiar, more elastic, exposing the workings of language as something we cannot and should not take for granted) and the latter as ostensibly allowing people who aren’t part of the hegemony to speak to power (that is, allowing those who do not have a voice in English to participate in the judicial process via the presence of an interpreter) — though more often than not (or perhaps always?) such “participation” hardly affects the prejudicial workings of the judicial process itself. Her response was basically “yeah...”—though she did refer, fascinatingly, to a “dream of language as referring to a specific thing and being true.” That is, there is this idea of a direct one-to-one correlation between words in one language and words in another when you are in court or in a war zone, as opposed to the overtly interpretive gesture any translation of poetry necessarily enacts, so she was talking about court interpreting or wartime interpreting as providing no challenge to the sense of certainty we tend (erroneously) to ask language to provide. Those acts seem to represent challenges to existing political or administrative structures, by opening them up to “other” “voices,” but in fact they do nothing of the sort. Perhaps, in fact, they do exactly the opposite, allowing the sometimes violent confines of a confining system tighten around more and more people, in more and more languages.
questions of translation that functions to question or destabilize language versus translation that functions to re-enact or solidify essentialist meanings.
it is this last that most interests me, and about which i will write (at least in part) whenever i can finish my effing notes for the journal (which will be soon, i promise!). week from hell (or is that most weeks?).
See www.joaap.org/5/articles/hofer/webspecial.htm to read the text that came out of these “effing notes.”
From: marc [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
oh boy oh boy...
On Jan 6, 2007, at 11:51 AM, jen hofer wrote:
just home from juárez & thus had actually no plans for tonight. i’ll
i’ll report back tomorrow. and thanks for the head’s up.
From: marc [mailto:email@example.com]
I would go to this event, but I have previous dinner plans that shouldn’t be broken (meeting ava bromberg and other at ava’s house along with a journal writer, sarah kanouse). But i read an article in the MIT press contemporary critical theory mag Grey Room by this woman (Emily Apter, see below) and it was good... not great but solid. Conceptualizing social space as enacted through contemporary performance practice. It was clear she knew some stuff. Anyway, she is doing a lecture at the Villa Aurora on translation (see below). I would pay your $10 entry fee if you wanted to go so I could hear about it.
--Begin forwarded message:
Drawing on concerns explored in her recent book “The Translation Zone” (Princeton UP 2006), Emily Apter will consider the complex status of translators and translations in the political context of America post-9/11, the war in Iraq, and U.S. intelligence operations pertaining to international terrorism.
Issues to be addressed will include the special kind of suspicion trained on people who have allegiances to more than one language, the problem of mistranslation in the art of war, and the question of whether the Anglophone world is currently engaged in a war against Arabic as part of its so-called war on terror. Apter will focus on the case of Mohammed Yousry, a professional translator and avowed anti-Islamist, who was accused and prosecuted alongside Lynne Stewart, the lawyer representing Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.