By Daisy Faragher
**Edit – (maybe read after):) After quickly writing this thing about translation-dreams (and what that may have to do with anything?) I have been scrutinizing all the words, crossing some out in my head, and re-arranging the text. At this point, any assertion feels impossible. Sentences falter. My spatial translation dreams (read: doubts/insecurity with language) affect this very word, meaning, I have the urge to qualify/expand each one of these words with a thousand alternatives, with interpretations, with spit. I feel like that’s not within the scope of this blog. In lieu of me actually trying to develop the ideas I mention below (with excavation tools), you are welcome to cross-out, underline, quote, print, record, or write about segments from this text (in some form that does not resemble plagiarism). **
When I dream, especially in that half-sleep “I am postponing my alarm” state, abstract material sounds and feels very real. The following paragraphs are based on my dreams about translation.
Before I begin, I will drop these current fragments here, things I will not translate, or maybe I am, maybe I will:
By sky and by water the words are given birth given discretion. From one mouth to another, from one reading to the next the words are realized in their full meaning. The wind. The dawn or dusk the clay earth and traveling birds south bound birds are mouth pieces wear the ghost veil for the seed of message. Correspondence. To scatter the words.
–Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
Este pueblo está lleno de ecos. Tal parece que estuvieran cerrados en el hueco de las paredes o debajo de las piedras. Cuando caminas, sientes que te van pisando los pasos. Oyes crujidos. Risas. Unas risas ya muy viejas, como cansadas de reír. Y voces ya desgastadas por el uso. Todo eso oyes. Pienso que llegará el día en que estos sonidos se apaguen.
–Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo
When I hear big words, all I wanna know is how did you learn it? When? How did you choose to pronounce it? How do you say the word “juxtapose” without feeling kinda full of yourself? I sat in Art History in the dark, and I heard the word “exacerbate,” and I remembered why I first learned it – because I thought it was “exasperate.” I wish my teacher would intercept words with anecdotes, about words.
When slashes appear in my writing they are marks of deep-set indecisiveness, the small inserted rupture(/link) between words and ideas. I love them, insofar as they are a visual reminder of language’s unknown, limitless depth, and a physical trace of the writer’s presence.
I am interested in layered, collaborative, endless translation. When I read text, I imagine the layers of meaning, of hands, voices pressed beneath (yet active all around, throughout) text’s surface. In any experience with language, peering into a word is seeing an unaccountably round depth, layers of web, sheet, stained cloth soaked in meaning. I am interested in translation as a visual representation of this depth.
Lawrence Venuti’s book The Translator’s Invisiblity lays out the sociopolitical implications of translation. Venuti rejects the mythical virtue of “transparency”/“fluency” in a translation, in which the translator is invisible. This methodology, he argues, is an authoritative method of “domesticating” a foreign text. By smoothing out the “foreign” aspects of a text, “transparency” aims to “bring back a cultural other as the same” (18). In this way, it “serves an appropriation of foreign cultures for domestic agendas, cultural, economic, political” (19). This is particularly the case for translation into English.
Venuti proposes a method of translation based on “foreignizing,” reframing translation as a mode of challenging target-language cultural codes and “ethnocentric violence” (24). As he explains, “meaning is a plural and contingent relation, not an unchanging unified essence” (18). The translator’s visibility unearths the (otherwise masked) partiality and subjectivity of meaning and interpretation, while (potentially) highlighting the cultural and sociopolitical forces that inform even the choice of one word over another. “Foreignizing” a translation marks the point where the translation is “discontinuous,” rupturing its perceived “neutrality.” The self-revealing translator carves a spatial, historical slice into the surface of text, indicating language’s geographic and temporal fragility.
Venuti’s insight on the ideological, sociopolitical, and cultural dimensions that underlie (in a rhizomatic web of cracks) the semblance of translation can give way to a working model of spatial translation. Rupturing a translation’s continuity entails first looking down into language’s bottomless entanglement of histories (a layered underground that informs our surface-level treading). We strike ground imbued with subterranean memories, memory that envelops letters and phonemes within chunks of earth and sediment. When, in spatial translation, we replace single words for stacked meaning, context, and interpretation, we unearth and excavate wet semantic layers.
A relevant fragment:
Penser la pensée revient le plus souvent à se retirer dans un lieu sans dimension où l’idée seule de la pensée s’obstine. Mais la pensée s’espace réellement au monde. Elle informe l’imaginaire des peuples, leurs poétiques diversifiées qu’à son tour elle transforme, c’est-à-dire, dans lesquels se réalise son risque.
Thinking thought usually amounts to withdrawing into a dimensionless place in which the idea of thought alone persists. But thought in reality spaces itself out into the world. It informs the imaginary of peoples, their varied poetics, which it then transforms, meaning, in them its risk becomes realized.
–Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (translated by Betsy Wing)
This excavation is a sort of foreignization to the extreme: spatial translation reveals the cross-sections of the original text’s semantic rock, making explicit (some of) its implicit layers of mental/sociopolitical/historical association (both in the original language and the target-language). This is a potentially infinite, exponential chain of interpretation, addition, translation. A first translation may excavate a lexicon entry for each of the 1,294 words in a sequence; this first translation, with its own connotative possibilities, may then inspire a 2.5 second video for each word in each of the 1,294 lexicon entries. Each layer of translation (“context”) provided in response to a given sequence of language thus adds its own layer of semantic sediment, this layer itself inspiring more interpretation and translation. No single moment of language can be isolated within its own sequence/layer, but rather is understood as enveloped within the totality of narratives.
Excavation tools include the slash, the footnote, the hovering pixeled pop-up, text messages, the glossary entry, the voicemail, the em-dash, the audio file, whispering, the post-it, the anecdote, tissue paper, the pencil, scotch tape, rhythm, diacritics, parentheses. Spatial translation would be/is an exaggerated attempt to build histories up from (within) an original text, visibly letting these layers reveal through and over each other. In this potential space/non-space, different languages, dialects, and registers — (histories, places, and people) — speak to each other in endless dialogue, each one’s differences puncturing through the other’s surfaces.
What is at stake by stretching open the category of “translation”? What isn’t a translation? As opposed to translation’s usual (and necessary) goal of providing some sort of accessibility to works across languages, spatial translation would not involve translating an original text into another language to replicate (or at least appear like) an original sequence of words. Instead, spatial translation would try to convey some of the verbal and non-verbal depth of world implicit in any reading (a form of translation) or any translation between languages. The results would branch off into an infinite number of visual, linguistic, auditory, and physical possibilities.
I would like to take up translation as a perpetual search and evolving mapping of ideas in Relation. (Spatial) translation can unearth (and infuse) a multitude of histories buried within language, breaking through the homogenous chronology of “neutral,” standardized tongue.
Check out these articles on translation by my Persian teacher and mentor, Aria Fani, who sparked my interest in translation studies:
 When did I begin?
 Did I leave out anything? I guess it’s life, something like that. But also what is a word?
 See Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation (translated by Betsy Wing)
 What type of translation? I still don’t understand what “spatial translation” is.