Thursday, September 26, 2019, the Humanities program held a panel on translation, and it initially went very far over my head, but proved to be a constructive piece in my puzzle of recognition. The class heard from Professor Jankovic from the Philosophy department, Professor Denham from the German department and our very own Humanities program, and Professor Ewington from the Russian department. Professor Jankovic explained the concept of radical translation to the audience, and it seemed far too complicated to grasp, especially because there are so many variables that go into crafting an effective translation. It did not make sense to me how there is a genuine “indeterminacy of translation,” because without confidence in our shared words, how are we supposed to communicate with others with conviction? If accurate translation is not something in which the sameness of meaning is required, but instead fluent dialogue and successful negotiation as Professor Denham described, how do we know that our negotiation is working in tandem towards a productive resolution? Who gets the final say over whether something is correctly translated or not? These uncertainites illuminated to me the importance of my role in making the effort to further understand the complexities behind translation, among other things. Just because I personally had the privilege and ability to ignore the topic of the panel does not mean that I should. Challenging myself in this aspect is a small act of allyship, but an act of allyship nonetheless.
The panel lead me to consider its connection with a running theme throughout the first unit: who has the authority (self-proclaimed or granted) to dictate a narrative of someone’s experiences? In this sense, translation seems to have high risk to be (and has proven to be in many instances) permeated by systematic racism and misogyny when placed in the hands of one person. After thinking on this point for a while longer, I came to appreciate the context behind why it is so important to retranslate texts, as Professor Ewington spoke on during the lecture. If we are not constantly reworking and reevaluating what we take for granted, we are liable to submerge ourselves in the toxicity of the presumption that the original translator had entirely good-hearted intentions and a wide perspective of the harms they could cause through an unfaithful interpretation. Should we truly want to progress as a society, we must accept that the past is riddled with harmful autocracy over minorities before we can begin to tackle the issues left in history’s wake.