Livestreamed on this page on Tuesday 15 September 2020 at 9:00 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 11:00 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 12:00 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4) / 17:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 01:00 KST (Seoul, UTC +9).
A conversation with Anton Hur, Sevinç Türkkan, and Jen Hofer
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PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library presented Activist Translation livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Tuesday 15 September 2020 at 9:00 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 11:00 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 12:00 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4) / 17:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 01:00 KST (Seoul, UTC +9).
Join us for Week 19 of Translating the Future as we continue our series of conversations between translators with “Activist Translation,” with Anton Hur, Sevinç Türkkan, and Jen Hofer.
Moving between languages is, inevitably, a political process, one that involves many forms of advocacy. Whether that means translating writers whose work is censored in their own languages and countries, promoting language justice locally within multilingual urban communities, or making choices within the text of a translation that challenge preconceived notions and advocate for new perspectives, translators, even those who may not be quite conscious of this fact, are activists.
Anton Hur was born in Stockholm and currently divides his time between Seoul and Incheon. A graduate of the Korea University College of Law and a person of distinguished service to the nation, he has worked as a queer rights activist and currently manages the Korean literary translation collective Smoking Tigers. He has won a PEN Translates award and a PEN/Heim translation grant for his books for Honford Star, and has other translations forthcoming from Tilted Axis Press, Verso Books, Feminist Press, Moonji Books, and Pegasus Books.
Sevinç Türkkan is a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College where she teaches courses in comparative literature and translation studies. She specializes in cross-cultural studies (contemporary Turkish and German literatures and cultures), translation theory and practice, postcolonial studies, gender and women studies, and psychoanalytic thought. Her publications have appeared in Reading in Translation, Comparative Literature Studies, Public Seminar, Türkisch-deutsche Studien Jahrbuch, Translation and Literature, Teaching Translation, Critical Essays on Orhan Pamuk, Global Perspectives on Orhan Pamuk, Post-1960 Novelists in Turkey, International Journal of the Humanities, and elsewhere. She is the co-editor (with David Damrosch) of Approaches to Teaching the Works of Orhan Pamuk (MLA 2018). Her translation of The Stone Building and Other Places by Aslı Erdoğan was a finalist for the 2019 PEN Translation Prize. Currently, she is at work on a book manuscript titled Translation, Criticism, and the Construction of World Literature.
Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena Aire and the local language justice advocacy collective Antena Los Ángeles. Jen has received fellowships and awards from CantoMundo, the Academy of American Poets, the City of Los Angeles, the NEA, and PEN American Center, and is the 2021 visiting Holloway Professor in Poetry and Poetics at UC Berkeley. Jen publishes poems, translations, and visual-textual works with numerous small presses, including Action Books, Counterpath Press, Kenning Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, and in various DIY/DIT incarnations. Jen’s most recent books are translations by Mexican writers Dolores Dorantes, Myriam Moscona, and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez; translations of Uruguayan poet Virginia Lucas will be published in 2020 by Litmus Press. en el entre / in the between: Selected Writings from Antena Aire will be published in 2020 by The Operating System.
Esther Allen: And welcome. I'm Esther Allen, professor at City University of New York, and here with me today is writer, translator, and PEN Translation committee co-chair, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, another of the co-organizers of Translating the Future, the conference you are attending.
Lyn Miller-Lackmann: Thank you, Esther, and thanks to all of you for joining us for week 19 of Translating the Future Today's conversation on activist translation features Anton Hur, translator from the Korean and member of the translation collective, Smoking Tigers, poet, and translator Jen Hofer, co-founder of the language, justice and experimentation collaborative, Antena Aire, and Sevinç Turkkan, translator and scholar of cross-cultural studies. You can learn more about all of them by reading their full bios on the Center for the Humanities site.
Esther: In Jen Hofer's bio, you can also find links to activist organizations that she and Antena Aire have worked with, organizations which are now addressing critical issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these organizations, myclo.org, works with Indigenous women interpreters to end gender-based violence, and provide language access rights, cultural preservation, and reproductive justice. Since March, myclo.org has made COVID-19 informational videos in a number of Indigenous languages in order to transmit potentially lifesaving information across language barriers into marginalized communities that are greatly at risk from the pandemic.
Lyn: Another organization you'll find a link to in Jen's bio is California Rural Legal Assistance at crla.org. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, CRLA is defending the rights of the essential workers in 22 California rural counties. They are among the most unseen members of our society, those who harvest fruits and vegetables in the field, cook and deliver food, restock shelves, and clean homes and businesses. CRLA provides legal services and legal information to these high-risk, low-wage workers who belong to the most exploited communities, and are facing the loss of homes, wages, jobs, and access to healthcare. If you'd like to pay tribute to the work of the activist speaking today, a great way to do that would be to give whatever support you can to the crucial work of these two organizations.
Esther: Translating the Future will continue in its current form for just one more week, and then, beginning September 22, the conference finale, or week 20, will feature four gala evening events with speakers to include Damion Searls, Ava Chin, Emily Wilson, Maria Dahvana Headley, Natalie Diaz, Ken Liu, Jennifer Croft, and a number of others. You can find out more on the Center for the Humanities website. We'll be back again on September 22 with the last, but certainly not the least, of our hour-long Tuesday conversations. This final one between Kate Briggs and Tracy K. Smith, moderated by Magdalena Edwards. Please join us for that at our regular hour of 1:30 PM Eastern standard time, next Tuesday.
Lyn: Translating the Future is convened by PEN America's Translation Committee, which advocates on behalf of literary translators, working to foster a wider understanding of their art and offering professional resources for translators, publishers, critics, bloggers, and others with an interest in international literature. The committee is currently co-chaired by myself and Larissa Kaiser. For more information, look for translation resources at pen.org. If you have questions you'd like to ask today's speakers, please email your questions for Anton, Jen, and Sevinç to email@example.com. We'll keep questions anonymous unless you note in your email that you would like us to read your name.
Esther: If you know anyone who is unable to join us for today's livestream, a recording, as always, will be available afterward on the HowlRound and Center for the Humanities sites. Before we turn it over to Jen, Anton, and Sevinç, we'd like to offer our utmost gratitude to our partners at the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, the Coleman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, PEN America, and especially to the masters of dark Zoom magic at HowlRound, who made this livestream possible. And now, over to you three.
Sevinç Türkkan: Hello, Anton, Jen.
Jen Hofer: Hi. I'm so happy to be here with you, and thank you so much to Esther and to Lyn, and for everyone who made this possible.
Anton Hur: Hello, everyone. I'm super happy to be here.
Sevinç: I'm delighted to be here among yourselves, and give my gratitudes to Esther Allen, and Alison.
Anton: Okay. So I guess, yeah. So, it was really funny when they proposed this talk to me, and then I found out who else was on the panel, and I told my husband about it. I was like, oh Jen, you know, Antena Aire does all this, and Sevinç does all this, and then he looked at me and goes, are you sure that you're on the right panel, because you're not exactly like, out on the front.
Jen: That’s what our lives are for, right? To induce maximum skepticism.
Anton: Yes. And so, and then I went back to the organizers and I asked, are you sure that you have the right person for this panel? And they assured me that, well you can talk about these things, so these things are what I'm going to talk about. So for me, translation as activism is actually a very, very important subject that I think about a lot. I feel that translation may be the purest form of advocacy, and therefore activism, because if you think about it, what a translator does, even if it's advocating for just one person or lending their voice for just one person, it's still a form of advocacy and a form of giving, well giving a voice is so patronizing, lending your voice is also patronizing. Lending someone your platform, basically, of your language, that I feel is, there's something very fundamentally activist about it, and connected to this idea is the idea that for translators, like our existence itself, that is being an activist. For example, in so many cases, we have to sort of, how do I say this? Like, for example, I'm gay and Asian. And so for me, the fact that I have this identity sort of gives me ways into empathizing with certain groups and certain combinations and intersections, perhaps more than people who do not have these elements of the identity with me.
I kind of thought, okay, I really need to translate this person and promote this person, because no one else is going to do it except me.
There's also something that about translation where I feel that we don't just convert languages from one language to another. We also implicitly teach our listening and reading audience, how to see and feel the person or book we're interpreting or translating. There are sort of like cues, attitudes, respect that we give to our sources. And I feel that the audience and the reading public, I noticed that they pick up on that kind of thing a lot. And of course, there's the other kind of translator who are very racist or whatnot, whatnot, who create a translation where you go, oh, this is sort of problematic. So, in that sense, an activist translator would be someone who is more aware of this kind of thing and would be able to overcome that kind of problem. I think a really big thing that I feel like maybe is not super-duper activist in the classical sense that we understand the word, there's something very activist about, for me, what book that we choose to translate. of course we're commissioned for things all the time, but for example, for Sevinç, I think that really amazing book, "The Stone Building and Other Places" by Asli Erdogan. So when I read that book, and then I looked up the background behind it, and I realized that, oh, you know, we don't really hear a lot, we don't really read a lot of books by women from Asia for example, like it's not, nowadays there's a bit more, but more on the Northeast Asian, kind of like China, Korea, Japan kind of sphere, and not so much. So, and I also noticed that Sevinç teaches women writers around the world, and you would think that this is a class that is offered everywhere, and it's not offered everywhere. When I went to graduate school, I think we had one professor who taught women's writing, and she was hired two years before I was a student. So there's still a lot of like work in that sphere that needs to be done, and it has to be done with someone who has a kind of activist mindset. The other things, so when I choose a work, sometimes I'll be like, oh, this is queer. So I'm going to promote more queer literature in Korea, because I'm also a queer person. And Sang Young Park, who writes queer fiction, is a sort of example of a writer who was never published in English, and who had not published his first book yet, but I kind of thought, okay, I really need to translate this person and promote this person, because no one else is going to do it except me. And then he became a huge hit in Korea, and now everyone wants to do him, but oh no, too bad. I got to him first. The other example I have is, perhaps, there's a book called "The Underground Village". It is written by a communist woman writer in the 1920s and 30s, and a lot because Korea, South Korea where I live and where I'm from, is a very McCarthyist, to this day, a very McCarthyist society. Her work was heavily, heavily censored, and my translation of her work is really the, I think it's the first edition of her work that was not censored by anti-communists, by anticommunist censors, and kudos to the publisher, who's very brave in publishing this, because I kind of like pointed out to them that this might be a bit dangerous for you. And then they were like, wait, really? And I said oh, probably nothing's going to happen. I mean.
Jen: Hopefully it was after it was at the printers already. Too late.
Yeah. So yeah. And then they came back to me with like, oh maybe you should put this line in as well. So I was like, oh, okay. So, they're okay with it. So there's that kind of sensibility that is censored, that we can also bring out as translators. And these are the things that I thought of when I thought about translation as activism. The first story in that book that Sevinç translated, "The Stone Building and Other Places", I think it's called "The Morning Visitor". I really feel like that book, that story perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to be a literary translator who has that kind of activist mindset, because there are all these people that just come up to the narrator, and tell them their terrible stories about their past, and the narrator doesn't necessarily want to listen to these stories, but at the same time, the narrator is the only person who can narrate these stories. So I feel like, yeah, that's basically what it feels like for a literary translator sometimes. Sometimes you'll read a story and you think, oh, this is a really terrible story, like a terrifying story, and I'm not going to be the same after I listen to this story or translate this story, but who else is going to do it if I don't do it? And sometimes that's how I feel with some of my writers and some of the work that I translate. And so I feel like that story really is like a really, it really is, that's how it feels like to me. And yes. Take it away, someone else.
Sevinç: Thank you, Anton, for your kind words. I will re-read that story with the point that you made just now. I never thought about it this way. Very interesting, very interesting. But I can see how that can have that interpretation. So, sort of briefly to introduce myself, I translate across Turkish, Bulgarian, German, and English. You would probably ask how come. No, I did not have to devote the time and energy it takes to master four languages. I was born bilingual in Bulgaria to parents who identify themselves with Turkish ethnicity, so I grew up bilingual speaking Bulgarian and Turkish at home. In 1989, at the end of the Cold War, my parents lost their citizenship. They were forced to leave the country. So they immigrated to Turkey, and after age 11, I grew up in Istanbul where I attended college, where the language of education was English. And after that, I developed some intense interest in German. I went to Berlin and Munich to study. My first job was a conference interpreter in Strasbourg, and eventually I completed a graduate degree here in the United States in comparative literature. And now I'm in Oberlin, Ohio enjoying a visiting faculty position in the comparative literature department where I teach translation workshops and courses in comparative literature. Now what brings me to this panel, Anton, as you mentioned, I guess it is the translation of "The Stone Building "and Other Places". However, several years ago, if you asked me, would I identify myself as an activist translator, I would probably say no. I would probably sort of hesitate assuming the title translator, that came to me much later. I was speaking about it as I translate. That was a safer space to occupy. When I began translating "The Stone Building" in 2016, really publishing that translation was not on my mind. I was mostly translating for very selfish reasons. I was curious about the process of translating. I was very much interested in Asli Erdogan's language, what she was doing with the Turkish language, how she was flexing that language to create those very bizarre, strange images that populated the pages of the book. I thought that will be quite a challenge for me to render in English. And basically, I didn't know where I was going with that translation. I also, as Anton mentioned, I was going to teach women in world literature course in that fall, and I thought well, if I can come up with a translation, I can share that with my students. Asli Erdogan was not available in English at that time. So basically this is what was motivating my translation practice. And the publication was not on my mind at all. The same year, August 2016, 16 August, August 16, a date I will probably never forget, I was reading the news on the internet and I read that Asli Erdogan was arrested and imprisoned in Turkey. So that was quite shocking. That was a wake-up call. And of course, all this comes after July 2016, when the failed military coup took place in Turkey and its aftermath, when president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government began this very systematic crackdown on what they considered as dissent. Thousands of journalists, writers, academics, teachers, students were imprisoned, just because of a tweet, sometimes. They were intimidated. Some of them got very afraid. They left the country, and Asli Erdogan was one of those people who were imprisoned. She was arrested on the pretext of being a member of terrorist organization. And in the Turkish context, this basically means advocating for the rights of the Kurdish citizens. She remained in prison for about four months before even her trial began. So, indeed this was a wake-up call. I realized that maintaining a selfish translation in the drawer of my desk was a luxury I could not afford anymore. I realized that unless that became a public discourse, it was useless. And this is when I began writing to publishers inquiring about their interest in publishing this fabulous woman, the writer from Turkey, and there was no interest. Absolutely no interest. At the same time, I began writing to human rights organizations, PEN America, Human Rights Watch. I ventured to write to international award committees talking about this writer, talking about her work, and stressing that she's in prison. Eventually "The Stone Building" appeared on the shelves, that was 2018, and garnered some significant international awards, including PEN Translation Award. It was a finalist for PEN Translation Award. Such an honor for me. But the point here is that all this activity before even the book appeared as a copy on the bookshelves, that brought a lot of attention to Asli Erdogan's case. It did put pressure on the Turkish government to release her from prison. It didn't look good on the government to keep this writer in prison while she was receiving all these awards in Europe. Eventually they released her, but they kept a hold on her passport. She couldn't travel to one of her first award ceremonies, to which I attended on her behalf. And I guess there is a lot to be said about the role of the translator in relation to this case. Before I let Jen introduce us to the good things she's doing, let me very briefly read from the Turkish so that you can hear the sound, and I will read a little bit from my translation, and then we can come back and convene here. I will share with your permission my PowerPoint, so that you can see exactly what I'm reading. And here's "The Stone Building" in English. "The facts are obvious, contradictory, "coarse, and blaring. "I leave the facts like a mound of giant stones "to those who busy themselves with important matters. "What interests me is the murmur among them. "Indistinct, obsessive. "Digging through the rock pile of facts, "I'm after a handful of truths, "or what used to be called that. "These days, it doesn't have a name. "Lured on by flickering light, "what if I were to dive deeper and deeper, "if I could reach the bottom and make it back, "I'm after a handful of sand, the song of the sand "that slips through my fingers and disappears. "Those who speak of the shadow, speak the truth. "Truth speaks through shadows. "Today I will speak of the stone building, "the one that the narrative has avoided at all costs, "or at least kept at a safe distance, "looking out at it from behind words. "Constructed long before I was born, "it is five stories tall, if we don't count the basement, "and there are steps leading up to the entrance. "One must write with the body, with the naked, "defenseless body beneath the skin. "Yet words only call out to other words. "You take the letter L and F, a couple of vowels, I and E, "and you write life. "The only key is not to confuse the order, "misplace a letter, and you turn the living clay "into simple inert matter, as the legend goes, "like in the legend. "Life as I write it belongs to those who can grab it "with a deep sigh, not with a mere breath, "like plucking a fruit from its branch, "a root from the earth. "As for you, what's left is but an echo, "like the hum of waves that you hear "when you hold an empty shell to your ear. "Life, a word imbibed and consumed "down to its very marrow, "the hum of a wave of quiet grief, an oceanful of waves." Final word. Asli Erdogan lives in Germany in exile since September, 2017, when she was able finally to travel to receive a very prestigious another award, the Erich Maria Remarque award. The trial is pending. She was acquitted temporarily early this year, although in July, the accusations have been renewed, and the persecutors are asking for 16 years in prison. This is not a joke. Jen, it's your turn to share with us the good work you're doing.
Jen: Thank you so much. I feel like I just want Sevinç to keep reading to me. So I feel really, really blessed to be in company with the two of you. And also I've been listening to as many of the recordings as I can from this series, and it just feels like an incredible privilege to be part of this larger company that was so artfully and beautifully curated. The last thing that you said Sevinç, which is an update on the writer's current situation, which I really appreciate makes me think about, you're talking about one person, and how many thousands of people are affected by the regime in Turkey, or in so many places. I do a lot of very close work with refugee communities as an interpreter. I also have people in my extended chosen family who are asylum seekers or asylum receivers, and I think about the incredible reverberations when one person or one family is subjected to that kind of brutality, and the effects of that, and then how many tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and just the incredible magnification of the pain and trauma that occurs, and just how much there is to deal with, how much that's in the air. The word Aire, Antena was originally conceived as Antena, it became Antena Aire because we have two sister collectives that are locally based in Los Angeles and Houston, where JD Pluecker, who is my beloved collaborator and was actually supposed to be on this panel, but couldn't be here today, so shout out to them. Please look for their work, it's amazing. When JD and I originally founded Antena, it was just the two of us and just one collective, and the aesthetic work that we do that's based in cross language practice, which I'll talk about more in a moment, we think of as a kind of aire, a kind of air that permeates everything we do. And I'm coming to you from Tongva land in California. I'm in Los Angeles where the air is extremely permeated at this moment, by all kinds of particulate matter that comes from all kinds of places. And so that's both literal in my life, and in many people's lives, and also figurative in terms of thinking about the air of harm and pain that we breathe, and then the responsibility to repair. And so I wanted to start by actually joining something that I heard Anton say, and something that I heard Sevinç say that really moved me. Anton, you kept apologizing for like, not being an activist enough, which maybe is the mark of an activist, the same way as a poet. I've always been like, I'm not really a poet, which sort of links then to Sevinç saying, I prefer to say I translate rather than I am a translator. And I think what's important about both of those things other than just like, let go of what our expectations are for ourselves, and let's just be who we are and see how we can meet up and engage with one another, is that what you ended up talking about, Anton, was having an activist mindset in everything you do as a translator, versus some kind of action that an activist is supposed to take. And language, I mean, we are language workers. That's what we do. Language touches everything we do, and as does our approach to the collective responsibility and effort toward justice, that touches everything we do. So being an activist, as I think of it as less about doing a particular action, or putting my body or my efforts into particular kinds of spaces that are coded as activists, that's important to do. And some people have the capacity to do that, and some people don't. But it's more about a way of being and working. And similarly, to move towards saying I translate versus I am a translator, is much more, it keeps it verbal, right? It's more about what we do and how we do it, and less about like I'm codifying who I am in the world. So in relationship to the work of Antena Aire, and also the idea that language touches everything we do, I wanted to start by sharing my screen, and asking everyone, so at the beginning, and so when I do this, let's see. Okay, I actually can't see the Zoom screen anymore, so I'm gonna ask Anton or Sevinç, would one of you unmute and tell me that you can see what I'm showing on my screen? 'Cause I can't tell if you can or not. I'm hoping you can.
Anton: I can see it.
Jen: Great, thank you. So this is a project that Antena Aire did. It's an experiment in participatory research called . You can access the slides at this, the link that I have on the screen, which was also mentioned in the beautiful introduction. So what I'm inviting folks to do is to respond on one of the following pages by typing into the text boxes, to the following questions. I'm gonna read them in English. They appear in both English and Spanish on your screen. Where does language live in your body? Does the language you use belong to you or do you belong to it? If you'd like, describe what belonging means to you. And I'm gonna go back to the screen where you can access the slides. Which languages do you use daily? Which languages do you see or hear daily? Note, if you'd say you only use, see, or hear English, ask yourself how many Englishes exist in your daily life. Imagine the ground you stand on as a body. Is that body made of words? Which ones? And then finally, what is one word you consider very much your own? Why? So, what I'm hoping is that some of you will actually access this website and write into these blank boxes that the arrows are pointing to. And if you'd like to give us your name and email so we can catch up with you later, we will do that. So you can access these slides anytime. And I wanted to start with that. To get out of that there. There we go. Partly just to suggest how Antena Aire is conceiving of language and cross-language practice. I want to acknowledge that the work that JD and I do, we work between Spanish and English, which are both colonizing languages, and those questions about language and power, and language and colonization, function differently in different spaces. So, Spanish can be a colonizing language in Latin America and a colonized or marginalized language in the US. And I know that's true of many of the languages that we work between. But part of, I'm getting Zoom bombed by Cupcake the cat. Part of our thinking is always about language dominance, and how to unsettle, not just the dominance of English in the US American context, or the world context, because we know it exists there as well, but also how to unsettle the dominance of dominant Englishes. How can we access those other Englishes, or those other Spanishes, or those spaces, the multiple spaces between languages, that for us often manifest in Spanglish, but I know that there's that Lish ending to many other languages. My friends who are users of Chinese often talk about Chinglish, or I was talking to a Malaysian colleague recently who was talking to me about Singlish, or many other kinds of mixed languages, and how do those activate our language and activate our thinking about language. I want to talk briefly about language justice, which is the framework that we use in doing on the ground cross-language work as interpreters and text translators and interpreter trainers and consultants with working with all kinds of groups from extremely grassroots community-based organizations, to nonprofits, both large and small, to giant foundations, city governments, county governments, like all kinds of different organizations, some more flexible than others, let's just say. But to think about language justice, that work that we do that might be considered more concrete, or more typically activist in the sense that you were maybe gesturing toward, Anton, the ways that that work informs our aesthetic work and vice versa.
At the root of language justice is the idea that those who are most impacted by any decision or any situation have a right to participate in strategizing around how to approach that situation.
So, just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, so to speak around the terms I'm using, when we think about language dominance, we're also thinking about linguicism, which is a term that I first encountered a couple of years ago, actually in work that I was doing in collaboration with California Rural Legal Assistance, which was mentioned at the top of the event. Linguicism is discrimination or oppression based on language. So it has all kinds of manifestations that we can think in terms of access to the justice system, access to healthcare, access to education, economic justice issues. And it's very clear, I'm sure even just from that tiny laundry list that I just shared, the ways that linguicism intersects with so many of the other isms that we confront all of the time, racism, heterosexism, misogyny, and all kinds of other, ableism, there's a lot of links between language justice and disability justice. So the same way that we might say that racial justice is a response to racism, language justice is a response to linguicism. As I said, it's very connected to the disability justice movement. We often think about the motto developed in the seventies by disability justice, activists, nothing about us without us. And language justice, at the root of language justice is the idea that those who are most impacted by any decision or any situation have a right to participate in strategizing around how to approach that situation. And the other heart of language justice is the idea that when we're able to use our own languages, which are preserved and respected, and everybody's language rights are respected, we're able to bring our full selves into the spaces that we inhabit, and the spaces where we work. So that entails, and language justice suggests a set of principles and a set of practices, which I won't go into now, because there isn't time. But if you're interested, I have a lot to say about it, as does everyone else who works Antena Los Angelas and Antena Houston and Antena Aire. But language justice at heart also entails a kind of radical listening, where we are thinking differently about our relationship, the relationship of self to other, or self to world. And I want to think back to something also that you said, Anton, you were talking about the ways that your identity informs, and actually both of you spoke really powerfully when you talked about your language background, Sevinç, as well, you're talking about the ways that your identity informs the decisions you make as a translator, and that it's not only about converting languages, or encountering the other in a kind of patronizing or patriarchal way, as we know, so many translators have approached work in the past in that way. And the kind of radical listening that's at the heart of language justice is really also about listening to the effect on us of the work that we do, the effect on us of the encounter, of an encounter with a language or something that people are saying or thinking about that's outside what we know. So at the heart of language justice is also the idea that in order to participate fully in all of the spaces that we inhabit, we need to be able to hear something different than what we can access only through our own languages. That we need those things. Important, crucial things are being said or written elsewhere. That we need language workers, like ourselves, and language activists, like ourselves, to be able to access. In terms of the ways that experimental writing and translation informs social justice practice and vice versa, I think you can probably see just from my even initial conceptualizing around how Antena Aire approaches our cross-language work. And we do all kinds of aesthetic practice that's based in this kind of between-ness and radical listening, but the ways that when we're thinking about the kinds of brutalities and the kinds of harms that we are breathing in in the air all the time, and how we can be most conscious and most responsible to attending to those, and to healing from those and repairing those, that that informs the way we practice artwork, but also the kind of radical leaps and imaginative openings that literary work, poetry for me, especially experimental poetry, but of course, prose as well, can offer, can really inform the ways that we strategize on the ground social justice activism in terms of thinking completely outside the status quo frameworks that have been offered to us, which very obviously are not what we need anymore. So what else is out there? And those of us who work between languages and cultures, I think, are uniquely positioned to approach the what else is out there question from a really revolutionary perspective. So I was going to read a little bit from a couple of our pamphlets, but I actually feel like it would be maybe more dynamic to just open it up to everyone. And if it comes up that I'll read, I will. And if not, that's also totally fine. Our pamphlets are available for free on our website. So it's easy to access them if you want to.
Sevinç: Jen, you should definitely read from the pamphlet, please.
Jen: Okay, I can do that. So I'm going to read from two pamphlets. This one is called A Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing. And as I said, if you go to our website, which is just antenaantena.org, it's in my bio, you can access these for free in either Spanish or English, anyone who wants to translate them into another language, feel free. Okay, so I'm just going to read really briefly from this. "Language and world are inseparable. "Language and action are inseparable. "We use language to think about the world, "the world being language. "We turn our minds and bodies to the language we are using, "aware of the constant constraints and impositions "of that language upon us, "the language being the world, "its multiple and multiplicitas brutalities, "the perpetual brutalities of an unjust language. "The perpetual possibilities of justice in language." Skipping a bunch. "We have no patience for the divide between art practice "and political practice. "We have endless patience for doing the hard, "imaginative, and practical work of building "a more humane and just world. "We are here to dismantle the master's house. "Audre Lorde. "'The master's tools will never dismantle "the master's house.' "Yvonne Rainer. "'You can dismantle the master's house "'using the master's tools, if you expose the tools.' "Antena Aire. "'The master's house began to collapse on its own long ago. "'Use any and all tools you can get your hands on, "'and speed the process. "'Demolish the master's house carefully enough "'to recycle the building materials, "'and make tiny houses for everybody. "'With any leftover materials, we'll make small books.'" So this is our Manifesto for Discomfortable Writing, which sort of outlines our practice around experimental writing, and house building and bookmaking. And then we have a pamphlet called A Manifesto for Ultra Translation. These pamphlets are bilingual, so you flip it and it's in Spanish. Let's see. So actually, I had already marked to read this before I heard either of you speak, but I think you'll hear the resonances with some of what both of you said. "Work across languages needs contextualization. "Ultra translation attempts to contextualize "from within the language, within the syntax, "between and around the words, the breath, the utterance, "air, and diaphragm contracting and relaxing. "Ultra translation lures translators out of invisibility "and onto the streets, into the margins, into the footnotes, "into annotation, into activism, into failure "and into irrationality. "The intuitive, a channeling. "The work might speak for itself, "but translation never does, "nor can it be spoken for by the translator "or by anyone else. "Rather, translators speak for ourselves, "addressing questions of stance, position and perspective, "replacing invisibility with transparency, "by writing notes toward an understanding of the tools "and processes that made the translation, "toward an understanding of the ultra translator's practice. "Who we choose to translate is political. "How we choose to translate is political. "The politics of translation make us ultra skeptical "and ultra committed. "Ultra translation is built from radicalism, ultra-ism, "anti-racism, anti superiority, anti assimilation. "We recognize and respect words, details, and impulses "that cannot be translated, a constant divide. "Both translation and it's riotous cousin ultra translation "provide tools for crossing or not crossing. "Whether or not we cross, we need the tools."
Esther: Thank you so much for that, Jen. And thanks to all three of you. We're actually already at 12:45, and time to take questions. I don't know if Lyn wants to come back on screen also, but listening to the three of you, actually, I have a question that I'd like each of you to address, if you could. It's been a fascinating large scale tour of various, almost paratextual issues that have to do with changing the canon, defending marginalized and imperiled individuals and communities, those oppressed by governments, resistance to linguicism, which is this marvelous word that obviously needs to exist, and that I had not heard before, prior to today, Jen. So you've expanded my vocabulary, and I very much appreciate that. But I'm very curious, and I suspect that a lot of people in the audience are also very curious, for examples of activism that you engage in within the verbal fabric of a specific translation, a specific choice that you've made, as the translator of a literary text, that was an activist choice, be it with relation to pronouns or issues of gender, a use of multilingualism, a refusal to translate in certain contexts, or other concerns that may have impacted the way that you chose to put particular words or particular sentences into English. Could you each respond with something very, very specific in that sense? I'd really be grateful. Anton, you want to start?
Anton: So, I guess, I don't know how specific I can get with this, but with the, there's a huge kind of debate between foreignization and domesticization in how, in other words, if I carry over the texture of the source text or the source language into the translation, it may sound awkward or exotic. And I think I used to believe, I used to be completely anti-foreignization, and now I'm not so sure. Now I feel like, well, now that I'm a little bit published than before, there's fewer, unfortunately that's the case, where now that there's less pressure to conform, I guess. So I find myself pushing back against edits more, where sometimes the edits would be very vague, like awkward, or like awkward is a very big red flag that I kind of say, oh, so awkward for who? Is it awkward for you? Is it awkward for this imaginary white reader in your mind? So there are cases where I'm beginning to push back on that kind of thing more, whereas if you see, if you look at my earlier work more, it's like, I'm totally always flattening things, almost, where it kind of sucks the life out of the language, I think, and I think that is a very big issue, a very big sea change in how translations are received now. I think Elena Ferrante's translator Ann Goldstein, I think she did a really great push towards no, I will convey the texture. This is what it sounds like in Italian, and you're just going to have to get used to it, and everyone got used to it. So I think that's a really great kind of tiny but gigantic form of activism within the texts.
Esther: It’s interesting that you mention that, because Maureen Freely who translates Orhan Pamuk, or who used to translate Orhan Pamuk, has commented in an essay that Pamuk refused to allow her to use Turkish words in the translation, including the names of foods, like Turkish foods that everyone knows by the Turkish term. She has to call a burock a cheese pie or something like that. So Sevinç, when you were translating, did that issue of multilingualism arise for you, or other issues within the fabric of the text?
Sevinç: I think the example that I will give is, the third person singular pronoun in Turkish, that is just the letter O, which stands for he, she, it in English. That pronoun is genderless. So how do you translate, especially "The Stone Building", the novella in this collection, that is full of O. So the narrator, the voices that narrator hears. And so I choose to alternate all these three pronouns, he, she, and it, and what did I learn from this exercise? I guess the Turkish values ambiguity, ambivalence, the delay, the deferral. And English forces you to be precise. Who is the person speaking? Tell me, what is their gender? And that speaks a lot to how languages really form our understanding of the world, and our worldview. And the wake up to that is really during the translating process, language differences come and wake us up from our obliviousness. So that is the example that I give.
Esther: And Jen, you?
Jen: Yeah, I want to offer two things. First I want to offer a lineage. It's very rare to be able to actually literally name who you learned a term from, but I want to name that I learned the term linguicism from Alena Uliasz, who is the language justice manager at California Rural Legal Assistance. And we both learned it from someone whose name I'm sure I am going to mispronounce. A Finnish linguist and scholar named Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, I'm gonna put her name into the chat, which I know only those on the Zoom can see, but just so that I'm giving credit where credit is due, and this Finnish scholar's work around linguicism is really, really amazing, and I really recommend that folks continue, it's just revolutionized my thinking about approaches to language, to be able to name language oppression as its own thing, and then interrelated to other forms of discrimination and oppression. So just to say, it may be me from whom you heard that term, Esther, but it is not only me who is using it. I am sharing it with others. So there's a particular term that I've been thinking about quite a lot. I'm about to publish with a small press in New York, Litmus Press, translations of a queer Uruguayan writer named Virginia Lucas. Her book is called "Ame.Rica: Tu Valor de Cambio" or "Ah.Me.Rich.Ah: Your Exchange Value". So you can immediately see the queerness and a kind of anti-capitalist focus in the title. And there's a poem that she has where she references a travesti. This word is kindred to, but is not transvestite, transgender, tranny, trans, it's none of those things and all of those things. It's specifically a Latin American term. And what I ended up doing was writing, using the word travesti, and then writing a footnote, I'm using a kind of radical intervention technique in translating this book, which is a much longer story, but Virginia uses footnotes in her own poems, and so then I'm inserting my translator's notes into the poem translations as well. But that was an example where I couldn't find, there is no English language equivalent, and sometimes adjacency is great, but in this instance, because it's about an identity and a kind of person who has a kind of way of moving through the world that's very particular, it really felt like a travesty, and I use the word travesty playfully on purpose in my translator's note, to try to pin it down to a US-based phrase. I'm thinking about this word a lot, because Antena Aire is doing a collaborative translation of an incredible Peruvian artist's work, Giuseppe Campuzano, who has a book titled "The Museo Travesti del Peru", "The Travesti Museum of Peru". So now we have the opportunity to think about that word in the book title, and as it sort of extends through this entire giant project.
Esther: I love that answer, Jen, because I think that people have always viewed translation as a vehicle for expanding the language, right? For bringing in new words, bringing in new, and that that would also be a political kind of activism has not necessarily been understood at the same time. So I like that you're combining that very old traditional idea of translation as enrichment via new vocabulary with this political sense in which you're taking it. I think that Lyn has a question.
Jen: Quickly to the O that Sevinç was talking about, the way that trans people in the US are inviting us to think about the term “they,” or trans and genderqueer and gender nonconforming people are inviting us to think about “they” as a gender neutral pronoun, I think of that as linked to other languages that have gender neutrality, and the ways that trans existence can actually inform translation are super interesting to me. Thanks for letting me break in. Go ahead, Lyn.
Lyn: Okay. The question I have is another area of translation activism, and that has to do with the publishing industry. As Sevinç's experience points out, we don't often have the choice of what we translate, or if we translate something, we have to find a publisher that's willing to publish it. And how do we deal with the fact that a lot of times the publishers that we deal with are investing, or invested, in maintaining the status quo?
Sevinç: That's a great question. Great question, and I do believe, I mean, I began by taking reservations with the title activist translator, but really translating in the Anglo-American context is resisting that context, sort of alienating us from reaching out to international literature, sort of restricting our access to international literature. And so translation, translating, comes with an activist edge, you know it or not. So, in my case, reaching out to publishers was a disaster. I felt like I'm beating a dead horse, and this is not going to work. The fact that this was a woman writer, barely mattered, that she was great writer, absolutely not. Finally, City Lights from San Francisco showed interest, and I thought, I couldn't have imagined a better home for "The Stone Building". And why, because this is a publisher with a history of publishing banned books, publishing progressive politics. The history of the publisher goes back to beat generation in the United States. They published several titles by Noam Chomsky. And so doing a little research about the publisher helps there, but I also, I think Anton has a great initiative with the Smoking Tigers. And that was a question that I would like to build on, and address to him in that, it seems like this is an initiative of solidarity, Anton, among these translators who would translate from Korean. And my question to you would be how do you negotiate the US publishers' demands that they want to publish a specific text from Korean, and then weaving into this your own agendas as translator, how do you negotiate that divide?
Anton: Oh God, good question. How do we do it? So I feel like an interesting thing that Smoking Tigers going to do next year. Well, actually we did last year is, but the books are coming out next year, is that we started Korean science fiction in publication. So like, there were no published books of Korean science fiction literature in translation, and basically we all, I think four of us found works that we really loved and we really pushed for it, and then we use everything in our arsenal. We were very lucky that Liu Cixin's "Three-Body Problem" became such a big hit around that time. So for us, we are just so passionate about our authors and about the works that we want to push, that I think publishers do respond to that to an extent. They see that we are basically agents for some of these works. It is an uphill battle. And Korean literature is helped by all these fantastic institutions, neoliberal institution, Korean literature, that's done Korean literature in translation without which it would be very, very, difficult to enter into the system, which is why some people tell us that why don't you set up your own publishing house? And we're like, wow, so we have to translate the books and publish them.
Sevinç: And publish them.
Anton: Jen, Jen publishes books. And so I feel like, like Antena Aire, from what I understand, they're basically vertically integrated, I'm sorry for using all these neoliberal terms, but they're basically a vertically integrated where they have experience of every step of the publication process. And I really wanted to ask Jen that question, about what is that experience like of being a publisher, because that is such an incredibly proactive banging your head repeatedly against the wall, trying to make things happen kind of level of having to do something. So I'm kind of like curious, horrified, and in awe of what you do. So I just wanted to ask you about what that experience is like for you.
Jen: Well, it's already 10 o'clock, so maybe curious, horrified, and in awe is the note we have to end on. I was gonna stand up and show you something, sorry. So when you say that we publish, let me just be clear that this is a really good example of what we publish. This is a Cartonera book. It's hand sewn. It's just Xerox copy on the inside. It's a multilingual book that we did in collaboration with a few different, amazing small presses, including Kodama Cartonera in Tijuana. And just making sure I mention them all, and Cartonera Santanera in Santa Ana, Kaya, which is an amazing Asian American and Asian diasporic literary press, and Tiny Splendor Press here in Los Angeles. So when we say we publish, we are making bilingual or multilingual DIY publications. If you want the kind of support that City Lights can offer, don't come to Antena Aire. Mostly what we're doing is documenting and making textured homemade objects you can hold in the hand, which also just in the pandemic, it's so important to have that physicality, that we can share and trade, and share with the people that we care about. So, we are hardly a publishing company, and I also would be horrified if we tried to be. And I have so much respect for those who do that labor of love. And we do a lot of work in Antena Aire to create platforms to uplift the work of folks who do small, independent press labors of love, to support the work of the writers that we translate, and ourselves as translators and writers.
Esther: Thank you so much, Jen. That's inspiring. You've all three been inspiring, but we are at the end of our hour. So we have to say goodbye. And before we do, I just want to say that once again, we'd like to thank our partners, HowlRound, PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, the Coleman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center also at CUNY. And of course, thanks most of all to today's wonderful speakers, Anton, Jen, and Sevinç. We'll see everybody next Tuesday. And oh, especially tribute to Anton, for whom I believe it is currently 2:00 AM. So, he wins the late night award. All right, time to say goodbye. Thanks to everybody. Signing off now.
About this Conference and Conversation Series
Translating the Future launched with weekly hour-long online conversations with renowned translators throughout the late spring and summer and will culminate in late September with several large-scale programs, including a symposium among Olga Tokarczuk's translators into languages including English, Japanese, Hindi, and more.
The conference, co-sponsored by PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center CUNY, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, with additional support from the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, commemorates and carries forward PEN's 1970 World of Translation conference, convened by Gregory Rabassa and Robert Payne, and featuring Muriel Rukeyser, Irving Howe, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many others. It billed itself as "the first international literary translation conference in the United States" and had a major impact on US literary culture.
The conversations are hosted by Esther Allen & Allison Markin Powell.
About HowlRound TV
HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.