fbpx Democracy and Translation | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Livestreamed on this page on Thursday 24 September 2020 at 7:00 p.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 6:00 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 5:00 p.m. MDT (Denver, UTC -6) / 2:00 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 1 p.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC -8) / 11 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC -10).

New York City
Thursday 24 September 2020

Democracy and Translation

With Marilyn Nelson, Natalie Diaz, and Ken Liu

Thursday 24 September 2020

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 Democracy and Translation livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Thursday 24 September 2020 at 7:00 p.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 6:00 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 5:00 p.m. MDT (Denver, UTC -6) / 2:00 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 1 p.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC -8) / 11 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC -10).

Democracy means different things to each of us. In this perilous time for language, as Natalie Diaz describes it, what multiplicity of forms does the struggle to liberate ourselves from structurally embedded violence take? How much does democracy need translation, and what role do translation and multilingualism play in our democracy? This conversation features MacArthur award-winning poet Natalie Diaz; Ken Liu, author of The Dandelion Dynasty series and translator of Chinese science fiction; and Marilyn Nelson, award-winning poet, translator, and author of How I Discovered Poetry.

This evening is supported by the Promise and Perils of Democracy project, which is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Democracy and Translation is part of the Translating the Future conference and conversation series, which is co-sponsored by PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, with additional support from the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.

Natalie Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press, and her second book, Postcolonial Love Poem, was published by Graywolf Press in March 2020. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow, a United States Artists Ford Fellow, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Marilyn Nelson, a three-time finalist for the National Book Award, is one of America’s most celebrated poets. She is the author or translator of seventeen poetry books for adults and children, five chapbooks, and in 2014 she published a memoir, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, entitled How I Discovered Poetry—a series of 50 poems about growing up in the 1950’s in a military family, each poem stamped with a place and date from the many places they lived. Her honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 2019 Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, an A.C.L.S. Contemplative Practices Fellowship, the Department of the Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Frost Medal-the Poetry Society of America’s most prestigious award, for a “distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.” Nelson is a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut; was (2004-2010) founder/director and host of Soul Mountain Retreat, a small non-profit writers’ colony; and held the office of Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2006.

Ken Liu is an American author of speculative fiction. He has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, as well as top genre honors in Japan, Spain, and France, among other countries. Liu’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, is the first volume in a silkpunk epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, in which engineers play the role of wizards. His debut collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, has been published in more than a dozen languages. A second collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, followed. He also wrote the Star Wars novel, The Legends of Luke Skywalker. Liu is, as well, the translator for Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing” and Vagabonds, Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide, and the editor of Invisible Planets and Broken Stars, anthologies of contemporary Chinese science fiction.


Esther Allen: Welcome. I'm Esther Allen, a professor at city university of New York. And I'm here with Allison Markin Powell who translates Japanese literature and works with the PEN Translation Committee. She and I are co-organizers of Translating the Future.

Allison Markin Powell: Thank you, Esther. And thank you all for joining us for what was once long ago meant to be the keystone event for an in person conference this week, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the world of translation, which in 1970 was built as the first international conference on literary translation held in the United States. Instead we're here for the finale week of Translating the Future, which due to circumstances, we're all very well aware of ended up launching online four months ago on the actual anniversary of the May, 1970 world of translation conference.

Esther: This evening's conversation, democracy and translation, will be an exploration of the context and conditions of democracy, how we conceive of it, how languages describe and disseminate it, and who has the authority to define it. We're honored and delighted to have with us poet and Mojave language activists, Natalie Diaz, science fiction writer, and translator Ken Liu and poet memoirist and translator from the Danish Marilyn Nelson to address a subject that feels more urgent than ever the day after the president of the United States at a press conference refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and said, verbatim, “get rid of the ballots. And there won't be a transfer, frankly there'll be a continuation.”

Allison: We are particularly grateful to the Graduate Center's public programs and its promise and perils of democracy project supported by the Carnegie corporation of New York for generously sponsoring today's conversation. And we literally could not have executed the pivot to a virtual format for Translating the Future without our central partner, The Center for the Humanities at the graduate center, CUNY, we will soon hear remarks from the director, Keith Wilson who will introduce tonight's speakers. Keith and his team at The Center for the Humanities have been unwavering in their support for this conference. And we are particularly grateful to Sampson Starkweather and Kara Jordan for everything they've done behind the scenes.

Esther: Tonight’s conversation will be followed by a Q&A. Please email your questions for Natalie Diaz, Ken Liu and Marilyn Nelson to [email protected], we'll keep questions anonymous, unless you note in your email that you'd like us to read your name.

Allison: Translating the Future is convened by PEN America's trends 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 interesting international literature. The committee is currently co-chaired by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Larissa Kyzer. For more information, look for [email protected]

Esther: If you know anyone who was unable to join us for today's live stream or any of the other programs in this conference, recordings are available on the how round and Center for the Humanities sites, as well as on PEN's archive. Before we turn it over to Keith, we'd like to offer our infinite gratitude to our partners at the Center for the Humanities at the graduate center, CUNY, the Martin East Segal Theatre Center, the Coleman center for scholars and writers at the New York public library and Penn America. And of course to the masters of dark zoom magic at how round who make this live stream possible. Keith, over to you,

Keith Wilson: Thank you both so much. I wanna thank our hosts for the opportunity to present our highly distinguished panel for this evening's event. But firstly, I'd like to take this chance to offer my heartfelt thanks to Alison and to Esther for their fine work throughout the summer. That's culminating in this marvelous finale week. I know I speak on behalf of the whole Center for the Humanities team here at the graduate center, CUNY. When I say what an absolute delight it's been to cohost this timely series that you've both worked so hard to deliver. So thank you, Alison, and thank you, Esther, and do check out our website, centerforthehumanities.org You'll see the great array of fantastic events that have been running, culminating today and tomorrow with our finale week. This evening's event entitled democracy and translation is supported also by the GC presents promise and perils of democracy project, which is funded by the Carnegie corporation of New York. Democracy means different things to each of us in this perilous time for language as Natalie Diaz describes it. What multiplicity of forms does the struggle to liberate ourselves from structurally embedded violence take? How much does democracy need translation and what role did translation and multilingualism play in our democracy? So to our speakers this evening, Natalie Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian tribe. Her first poetry collection "When My Brother Was an Aztec" was published by Copper Canyon Press and her second book "Postcolonial Love Poem" was published by Graywolf Press in March, 2020. She's a MacArthur fellow, Atlanta literary fellow a United States artists Ford fellow, and a native arts council foundation artist fellow. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall chair in modern and contemporary poetry at Arizona state university. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Marilyn Nelson, a three time finalist for the national book award is one of America's most celebrated poets. She's the author or translator of 17 poetry book, for adults and children, five chatbooks. And in 2014 she published a memoir named one of NPRs best books of 2014 entitled "How I Discovered Poetry" a series of 50 poems about growing up in the 1950s in a military family, each poem stamped with a place and date from the many places they lived. Her honors included two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 2019 Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize the 1990 Connecticut arts award and HCLs contemplative practices fellowship. The department of armies commander's award for public service, a Fulbright teaching fellowship, a fellowship from the JS Guggenheim Memorial foundation and the Frost Medal, the poetry society of America's most prestigious award for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. Nelson is a emerita of English at the university of Connecticut. And from 2004 to 2010 was founder director and host of Soul Mountain Retreat a small nonprofit writers colony, and had the office of poet Laureate of the state of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006. Ken Liu is an American author of speculative fiction he's won the Nebula, Hugo and world fantasy awards, as well as top genre awards in Japan, Spain and France among other countries, Liu debut novel, "The Grace of Kings" is the first volume in a silk punk Epic fantasy series the Dandelion Dynasty in which engineers play the role of wizards. His debut collection "The Paper Menagerie" and other stories has been published in more than a dozen languages. The second collection, "The Hidden Girl and Other Stories" followed. He also wrote the star Wars novel, "The Legends of Luke Skywalker." Liu is as well, the translator for Liu Cixin "The Three-Body Problem," Hao Jingfang, "Folding Beijing" and "Vagabonds," Chen Qiufan's "Waste Tide" and the editor of "Invisible Planets and Broken Stars "anthologies of contemporary Chinese fiction." Without further ado, I'm delighted to hand over to our esteem participants, Natalie, Marilyn, and Ken for this evening's conversation.

Natalie Diaz: Hello everybody, gracias for having me. I am lucky to be joining Ken and Marilyn. And, thank you for Esther, Alison, Keith, everyone who's put this together. I am going to read a little bit from Toni Morrison's "Beloved." And I'm gonna read us a few small passages, in relationship to Sixo relationship with English, and then I'll kind of make a few comments and then I'll hand it over to Marilyn and Ken. So this is from chapter two. And I've been very struck since first reading this, I'm thinking about Sixo and their relationship with language, but also their relationship with land and how that has very much been, an opening for me to return to some of my own relationships. So I'm thinking a lot about, the fact that democracy is built of English, and thinking not only about democracy, but about English, what of me can be translated or what is of me is not, possible in that. So, and I'm beginning at a part where, they're referring to the trees. So they're outside. "His choice he called Brother, and sat under it, alone sometimes, sometimes with Halle or the other Pauls, but more often with Sixo, who was gentle then and still speaking English. Indigo with a flame-red tongue, Sixo experimented with night-cooked potatoes, trying to pin down exactly when to put smoking-hot rocks in a hole, potatoes on top, and cover the whole thing with twigs so that by the time they broke for the meal, hitched the animals, left the field and got to Brother, the potatoes would be at the peak of perfection. He might get up in the middle of the night, go all the way out there, start the earth-over by starlight, or he would make the stones less hot and put the next day's potatoes on them right after the meal. He never got it right, but they ate those undercooked, overcooked, dried-out or raw potatoes anyway, laughing, spitting and giving him advice. Time never worked the way Sixo thought, so of course he never got it right. Once he plotted down to the minute a thirty-mile trip to see a woman. He left on a Saturday when the moon was in the place he wanted it to be, arrived at her cabin before church on Sunday and had just enough time to say good morning before he had to start back again so he'd make the field call on time Monday morning. He had walked for seventeen hours, sat down for one, turned around and walked seventeen more. Halle and the Pauls spent the whole day covering Sixo's fatigue from Mr. Garner. They ate no potatoes that day, sweet or white. Sprawled near Brother, his flame-red tongue hidden from them, his indigo face closed Sixo slept through dinner like a corpse. Now there was a man, and that was a tree. Himself lying in the bed and the tree lying next to him didn't compare. And I'm gonna skip, ahead a few paragraphs. And. So we we've been told that Sixo was still speaking English then. And in this moment, Paul D is recalling, Sixo and one of his meetings with 30 mile woman. It took three months and two 34 mile round trips to do it. To persuade her to walk one-third of the way toward him, to a place he knew. A deserted stone structure that Redmen used way back when they thought the land was theirs. Sixo discovered it on one of his night creeps, and asked its permission to enter. Inside, having felt what it felt like, he asked the Redmen's Presence if he could bring his woman there. It said yes and Sixo painstakingly instructed her how to get there, exactly when to start out, how his welcoming or warning whistles would sound. Since neither could go anywhere on business of their own, and since the 30 mile Woman was already fourteen and scheduled for somebody's arms, the danger was real. When he arrived, she had not. He whistled and got no answer. He went into the Redmen's deserted lodge. She was not there. He returned to the meeting spot. She was not there. He waited longer. She still did not come. He grew frightened for her and walked down the road in the direction she should be coming from. Three or four miles, and he stopped. It was hopeless to go on that way, so he stood in the wind and asked for help. Listening close for some sign, he heard a whimper. He turned toward it, waited and heard it again. Un-cautious now, he hollered her name. She answered in a voice that sounded like life to him not death. "Not move!" he shouted. "Breathe hard I can find you." He did. She believed she was already at the meeting place and was crying because she thought he had not kept his promise. Now it was too late for the rendezvous to happen at the Redmen's house, so they dropped where they were. Later he punctured her calf to simulate snakebite so she could use it in some way as an excuse for not being on time to shake worms from tobacco leaves. He gave her detailed directions about following the stream as a shortcut back, and saw her off. When he got to the road it was very light and he had his clothes in his hands. Suddenly from around a bend a wagon trundled toward him. Its driver, wide-eyed, raised a whip while the woman seated beside him covered her face. But Sixo had already melted into the woods before the lash could unfurl itself on his indigo behind. He told the story to Paul F, Halle, Paul A and Paul D in the peculiar way that made them cry-laugh. Sixo went among trees at night. For dancing, he said, to keep his bloodlines open, he said. Privately, alone, he did it. None of the rest of them had seen him at it, but they could imagine it, and the picture they pictured made them eager to laugh at him-in daylight that is when it was safe. But that was before he stopped speaking English because there was no future in it."

I've been thinking a lot about democracy as an imagination of the English language. It's built from it, it's delivered and meet it out through the English language.

And one of the things I've been thinking a lot of, one just being indigenous, being Latina, but also all of the conversations about the election, about democracy, where I live on the border, which like I'm thinking a lot about, when we're thinking about translation. And even when we're thinking about what is democracy, what is the language of democracy? I'm thinking a lot about the fact that the inability to understand or to be translated is a really important sensuality. And that's one of the reasons why the moment with Sixo there, I'm thinking a lot about the importance of that sensuality, and how that's often forgotten from the ways we're thinking about knowledge and relationality and relationship and the importance of realizing that some knowledges are not for me and some knowledges are not for you. And what does that mean of what cannot be consumed or ordered or structured. And I've been thinking a lot about democracy as an imagination of the English language. It's built from it, it's delivered and meet it out through the English language. And I'm thinking lately about the fact that I grew up thinking democracy was a good thing and that I was a part of it. And the, as I'm coming to my own and language and finding different powers of language or resisting certain powers of language, I'm thinking a lot about democracy doesn't make us live better. However, democracy does tell us who deserves to have a good life. And that's been something that's been very hard to reckon with as an indigenous person who knows I'm from a place not of this structure. And yet I am very much a part of this structure. So I'm thinking a little bit about as thinking about translation in the ways that my Mojave language resisted, what that power structure means of democracy and that, again, it's this facade of equality or understanding or empathy. And so there's this false sense of goodness. And I've bought into that in so many ways, and I've been rewarded for certain manifestations of that, that idea that the one is for all in the all is for one. And again, these are not like groundbreaking thoughts. They're very simplistic, but it's which makes them difficult, I think, to return to in a way that can kind of crack them open. And so I'm going to read this last little piece, of something I've been writing about the English language and the ways that I'm moving in it or moving outside of it. And one of the things I've been thinking is that what will never be rendered in translation is the same thing that will also never be rendered in democracy, which is my body, which is the values that I have. And so I'm thinking a lot about that, and the impossibility of it, which I don't think cancels out my possibility. And so I just kinda wanted to show this just so I don't know if people are familiar with weaving, but, this is just, I'm going to read a small paragraph, but this is the warp and the weft. So you'll know what I'm talking about. And so the warp being, the materials that run downward and the weft being what moves across it, so as you're weaving, the weft moves this way and actually builds the narrative that we see. Weaving as the relationship between the warp and the weft, a relationship of the one who enters and the one who is entered repeatedly, I become the warp across which America's weft, coheres are native narratives, body by body, land and river by acre and acre-foot. Accumulated we are an majestic epic against and through which the nation re iterates itself. America and its symbolic Eagle with heavy metal poisoning, it's wild West and frontier land of prosperity, and Amber waves of grain missions and uranium mines, allotments, and pandemics, it's Indian killers and Lincoln Memorial it's for fracking, dams and wall streets, it's gentrification and immigration, all of these wagered native bodies of land, water, and person for these reasons good weavers know, the warp must be strong. The warp is ever stretched, able to withstand and hold high tension so that the weft can displace tension, never responsible for it. The weft though it pretends to be the most important agent in the weaving is naturally weaker than the warp and relies on the warp. Yet the warp is named for a thing thrown away after it is used. Writing in English is also to be woven into the state, to hold its tension until you become tension, relieving the state of any strain at the ready to prove your utility, your capacity for labor, we perform the maintenance of the state and democracy even while not able to maintain ourselves. And so I'll just kind of pause there. That's just a small collage of ways that I'm arriving, to Marilyn and Ken.

Ken Liu: Wow, thank you, Natalie, for that. I wanna start by thanking everyone for organizing this event and for being here to hear us speak, I feel very lucky to have this chance to talk to all of you, and to speak about a subject that, has given me a lot of difficulty and has caused me to rethink a lot of assumptions I once had. I guess I will continue in the theme that Natalie started a lot of what she said really resonated with me. And I want to start by talking about something that, again, in her words seem simplistic, but because they're so basic, we don't think about it because they are really fundamental. And that is the idea of power in translation. When we speak about translation, especially in academic settings, we often treated as a kind of exchange between equals, we speak about it as a kind of power relation ship between two equal languages two equal communities, two equal participants. But the reality is translations are rarely equal, especially in the modern world. There's always a side with more power and the side with less power. And it's worthwhile to think about the inequality and to ask questions about it because democracy fundamentally is a particular story about power. It's a particular form of exercise of power, and to think about democracy in translation, the same context is to think about who is included in democracy, who gets to exercise power, who is not excluded and made invisible, right? One of the fundamental assumptions about democracy is that, it's a wonderful thing because it allows it's a supposedly a guard against tyranny, but something that's so fundamental and basic that we don't even pay attention to it is that in order to be protected by it, you actually have to be a number of the democracy. The United States exercises great power over peoples around the world. Most of whom do not get to voting our elections. We don't therefore somehow consider our democracy illegitimate. But in the eyes of those who do not get to participate in it, who nonetheless must pay for our decisions, their view of this democracy is very different. In translation, power is a fundamental unit of analysis. And what frustrates me a little bit is a lot of the academic discussions about translation, never pay attention to this power. Translating from a high procedure language like English into a low prestige language like Chinese is a fundamentally different thing than translating from a low prestige language like Chinese into a high prestige language like English. So this may not be so obvious to us. I'll use some examples to sort of tease this out. One of the ways in which this plays out is who gets to decide what gets translated, who pays for it, who gets to decide whether a translation is good or bad, who gets to decide, what sort of works, which authors are worthy of translation, who gets to decide what kind of translation not to be performed when there's a point of ambiguity, which way should the ambiguity be resolved? At one point, Chinese is considered so low prestige that it was believed that you don't even need to know it, in order to translate from it. Ezra Pound famously, as well known for translating a lot of classical Chinese poetry, despite knowing none of it. That sort of thing you may think is sort of a prestige of an older time, but it's really not. I've served on juries for translation projects and I see proposals all the time from, folks who believe that they can translate from Chinese into English, despite knowing almost nothing about the language or the culture, or who claim that I can do it with my native informant. That is the way this sort of thing has done. Moreover when translations are done into English, just listen to the way readers respond to it can tell you something about the way power flows, when something is translated into English, and readers, praise it you often hear comments like, "I'm surprised at the author talks about Shakespeare. "I'm surprised at the author talks about bach. "I didn't think that Chinese authors were worth anything "until they started talking about bach and Shakespeare." The fact that they know Western references to these readers is a sign that they're actually worthy of being read themselves. But if they don't, obviously they're not, this sort of thing happens over and over again, to the point where it's simply not possible to be ignored. When you're struggling to translate from language of grade of a very low prestige into a high prestigious language, you're faced with this sort of content resistance and, basic lack of interest is a kind way to put it. It's more hostility is what I often have to deal with. Which leads me to my next point, which is about another way in which I think about translation and democracy, in context, which is, democracy has as one of its fundamental assumptions that we are one political community, all participants are actually part of one political community. There is a shared story that unites all of us, a shared sense of empathy and translation often is thought of as the way to build that kind of empathy between different communities. A way to bring together those who are otherwise apart. But what I want to invite all of us to think about is whether that kind of empathy building is even possible in translation. And then in turn whether that sort of, empathy as possible, democracy at all. So let me start by trying to get you to think about some quality, some value that matters a great deal to you, be it patriotism, love, kindness, or democracy, if that's the value you want to think about. So just think about it. Okay. And think about what images, what ideas, what words, what thoughts surface as you focus on that word, I'll tell you something that I'm thinking about when I think about the word love, what comes to mind is this image from when I was a little boy, and it was late at night, I was sitting by the dining table working on my homework. I was trying to finish all these math problems and it seemed impossible. It was already late. I was tired. I just, I could not imagine how I was gonna finish all of it. My grandmother came to check on me and she said, "how are you doing?" I said, "I'm just, I'm, I feel terrible. "I can't finish these, "I don't know what I'm gonna do." And she said, "oh, that's totally no problem. "I gonna, I will sit down next to you "and I'll keep you company." And so she sat down with a sweater she was knitting and I could hear the needles, click clack, click clack, click clack and somehow just by her sitting there it made me feel like I could go on. So I started working on my problems and I could hear the needles going, and I could hear the click clack slowing down, slowing down, slowing down. And then I look over and I could see my grandmother was dozing off. So I said, "no, you should just go to bed." And she said, "oh, no, "I don't know what you're talking about. "I'm not tired at all. "I'm totally energized." And, she started knitting again. So I go back to working on my problem, I could here again, the needles slowing down after a while, and sort of stopping. And I didn't look over because I actually wanted her to sleep. I didn't want to wake her up. But I could hear it just a second later. My grandmother saying, "oh, I'm totally awake. "I'm not sleepy. "I'm not tired. "Who's tired?" And then she started knitting again, and this just went on and on. And, I don't know how long it went on, but this is a story that comes to mind. And then I think for whatever value you were thinking of, and I guarantee you that you were not thinking of dictionary definitions, you were not thinking of abstract philosophy. You were not thinking about, how to translate this into what the words in another language you were thinking of some story, some story that defines it for you, okay. This is, as Natalie was mentioning earlier, the way we understand these very fundamental values to us is the way we feel in our bodies and our bones. It's not in abstractions it's not in these verbal formula. It's in these very personal concrete stories that we then seek to emulate in our own lives. We seek to love others the way we were loved. We seek to be brave for others. The way those who loved us were brave for us, okay. This is how we go along. But what you want to do is think about what this means at the level of cultures and peoples. Cultures and peoples and communities understand words and values in the same way through stories, okay? There's a, this is why a language is often described as the memory of our ancestors, okay. That's what it means. A language it's not just a set of words in a dictionary. It's a set of stories, okay? Idioms don't make any sense unless you know the story behind them, every language contains these stories in them that record the experiences and wisdom and thoughts of generations of people who have suffered and loved and died in order to build for their descendants, a better future. Every language is like that. And so when you think about translation, how can you possibly think that the way someone else who's not American? Just think about a word, let's say, something like patriotism, right? If you're educated in American grade schools, especially in the Northeast, the story that often comes to mind is of Nathan Hale telling the British soldiers I regret that I have one life to give for my country. Okay. If you think about Liberty, if you're educated being American gray schools, what comes to mind often is Patrick Henry saying, give me Liberty, or give me death. Do you think that these are the same stories that people in other countries will think about when they think about these words? So the fact that the words are deemed to be translations in a dictionary is meaningless, really? Because that kind of translation doesn't translate across anything about the stories behind them, about the memories the real meaning behind the words. I've explained to you how, even the way we understand love is so deeply personal and individualistic. The idea that translation can somehow convey the membranes of the entire people across is ridiculous. Yet here is where power comes into play, okay. One of the things that I found to be deeply fascinating is when you're going from English into Chinese translators almost never modify or change the illusions and the references. Whereas when you're going from Chinese to English, you're often asked as a translator to change things, to make things more accessible, okay. Now, for those of us who have lived always in a code switching multicultural context, navigating between different power groups, the explanation is very simple. When you live in a low power culture, you are expected to understand the stories and the references of the high power cultures. But when you are native to a high power culture, you are not expected to know the stories or the meanings of those who have no power. That's just the way it is. One of the reasons you know that the, where you are in the social hierarchy is whether you're expected to cater to the stories of other people. And in translation this is the case when you're going from English, the high, high prestige language to other languages, often there is no need to change anything in terms of references and stories behind, because it's assumed that what Americans know, and to a lesser extent, what folks in the UK know is by default, world culture, but English doesn't just belong to America or the UK. It's a world language. When English is also used as the language of all the colonized peoples. Their stories don't therefore become part of default assumption of what English is about. They're treated as a foreign, it's worth looking into why it is we still have this idea of stories that are core to English and stories that are not core to it even though English is supposedly being used as a world language. And then finally, the, there are a couple of other questions, again, simplistic that I want us to think about, which is this, I often hear people praising a translation by saying that it reads so smoothly as though it had already had originally been written in English, we treat that as some sort of praise, but why that actually makes no sense. If democracy is about understanding empathy and trying to take the perspective of those who are different from you. Then translation is even more so about trying to understand something that is fundamentally different. You're trying to understand a set of stories that are not yours. It will be very strange to say that you want to be comfortable and you want to be in no way challenged that you wish to not learn anything at all. That's not the way it is all around the world, and that's not historically the way it has to be, right? Those of you who have studied the history of other languages that come into contact with European languages know that there's often this period where, the local language is heavily, heavily influenced and modified by translations from English, French, German what have you. I know the example of Japanese and Chinese particularly well built languages were actually actively, consciously and deliberately modified at the level of vocabulary and grammar, fundamental grammar by translation based on models from European languages under the assumption that in order to understand these concepts that did not exist before our languages must change to express these ideas under the assumption that these languages, English, German, and French brought over ideas that are so worthy, that we are willing to change ourselves to embrace them. Okay, that's the positive reading of it. Of course, the more, there is a reading of this, that's much more about colonial power, exercise, but I'm gonna stick to the more positive embracing version of it. This is so such an important part of it that you can now go and examine, famous writers, model writers in Japanese and Chinese, and see the extent to which their prose is influenced by Western models via translation. Often these writers are themselves translators, and they deliberately copy from the source language of their translation to modify their writing. We don't see that really in the way English writers are praised, or in the way English novelist do their work. Our model seems to be a good translation has to be so smooth, so not different from what we already accept as good English pros that we want to learn nothing, we wish to expand ourselves in not even a little bit, okay. So one of the questions I want us to ask is how do we judge what is a good translation? How do we tell the difference between a bad translation and just an uncomfortable one? How do we actually learn from translations that will help us grow? And how do we just change our entire attitude to be able to embrace the full possibility that translations can actually bring about. And then finally, and an even more radical question might be is translation even a good idea, translations in some ways, doesn't actually, it provides the illusion of understanding without delivering the substance of it. When you're translating something from one language to another you're delivering something that's a recreation's, that's a different story than the story that you're starting with. So if the goal of translation is to quote unquote "preserve the original" it will never succeed. So is the fact that translation is actually never possible. Does that mean that we should not engage in it at all? That even the act of engaging translation in some ways is a betrayal of the fundamental difference between different stories and different languages and different memories. Okay. That's what I wanted to say. And I'm gonna turn this over now to Marilyn.

Marilyn Nelson: I just said, yikes before I turn the mic on. I'm so awestruck by both of you what you call simple and simplistic comments, there are not simple at all. And what I have to say is probably very scattershot because I am determined to read something of a translation. But I want to thank you, Ken, for pointing out the fundamental impossibility of translation that, translating is like, describing something to someone else. I see a green tree there and the other person says, "I see a green tree do too." How do you're seeing the same green tree, the same green is green the same. And so I think you have to accept the proposition that language is a kind of prism. And, that in translation all an individual translator can do is to hold the prism up and see what light that person sees from this angle. And another person holding up the same prism may very well see something different. I'm not sure a translation can finally be true. But, the to the question of translation and democracy, I would, push that expand that a bit, to encompass literacy and democracy. And that literacy is a way of engaging with a larger community of people and literacy. I'm thinking about people who were enslaved in the new world, the entire new world, and were not allowed to be taught to read and the power that they were conscious of. As soon as they were able to read something. I've a good friend, who's a African-American abstract painter. And one of her paintings which I love is a painting of what looks like wallpaper. And there's a rectangle in the middle of the canvas in which the wallpaper is a lighter color. And on that lighter colored rectangle someone, she has written words, free man, I mean, just arbitrary words but the impression is that this is a place where someone who was enslaved was practicing or writing, push the dresser aside and write on the wall. That's why the wallpaper is lighter as something that I think says a lot about literacy and democracy, literacy and freedom. And I would say that for me, the act of translation is an act of bringing things into the circle, into let's call it the circle of I don't know democracy. I'm struck by Natalie's metaphor of weaving, and I'm not sure as I think about it, which is the warp and which is the weft. I suspect that's a warp is larger than the individual. And that what the individual does is to bring things into this larger weaving by being the weft. And I'm very much interested in the question of not who, well, for me it's a question of who owns the right to translate. Translation has been so much limited to, speakers of more than one language. So translation seems to require a level of education, which is not available to everyone. And, I think that level of education is kept away purposely from some people. I'm sorry, this is I've already confessed it. This is gonna be scattershot. I have notes, but I'm also thinking about, what the two of you have said. My own experience with translation are two things I taught for a year in a sort of a junior college in a village in Denmark many years ago. And one of the things I had the privilege to teach was Baldwin's, "Go Tell It on the Mountain" in a Danish student edition.

I think you have to accept the proposition that language is a kind of prism. And, that in translation all an individual translator can do is to hold the prism up and see what light that person sees from this angle.

So as you were saying, Ken, there, all these stories in the language stories in the idioms, this book had been edited by Danish professors of English. They didn't know anything about the culture Baldwin was talking about. So you would get to, I'm sorry, this was many years ago. I can't give a specific example, but you might get a sentence in which I don't know, Baldwin make some kind of reference specifically to African American culture. And there would be a little footnote when you go to the bottom of the page and the footnote had absolutely nothing to do with what Baldwin was talking about. And it was my privilege to have my little group of Danish students who left my semester really knowing something about the novel. Unlike the other Danish students who didn't have a guide who could explain the histories of the words and the histories of the idioms. But I as I said, I want to read a little bit of a translation, but I also want to come back to the idea of translation as being a way of contributing to the large, larger weave of this rug of democracy. And to say that one of the poets I first discovered in translation was Rilke. My freshman year college roommate gave me a little book of translations of Rilke and, I've loved his poetry ever since. In one of my books, I included a translation of one of Rilke's Duino Elegies because I had read probably six or eight different translations of this one. It's the third Duino Elegies and I read all of these English translations of this one poem. And every single one of them gets one word wrong. And every time I read this in English, I think English speakers are not going to understand the depth of this line because the translators are changing the word to give it a literal translation. There it's the word alone. Rilke says the alone. It's about a young man who leaves his in bed at night. I think it's about sexual fantasies in teenage boys and he's in bed alone. And the poem says he leaves thee alone and the translators always turn that into, he leaves the loneliness, they turn it into a noun, but I believe Rilke who was interested in mysticism. I believe he's referring to the philosophy of Plotinus and Christian mysticism and to Sufi mysticism in which the mystic by being alone comes into contact with the alone. The capital A alone, you are alone in order to greet thee alone. And if you don't get that, you're missing something really deep in the poem. So I had to do a translation of the whole poem, which is a long poem just to get that one line out so that if someone reads it, I have contributed one word to the weave of understanding of that poem. And that leads me again to the question of who owns the right to translate because the most challenging translation I've ever done came to me just out of the blue. I happened to know this translator, David Slavitt and had met him someplace. And one summer in about July. He sent me a letter asking me if I had ever done any translation, because he was the series editor of the university of Pennsylvania press Greek drama series. And he had set up already all of the other translation translators for a volume of Euripides, but he hadn't found anybody to translate one play. And he asked me if I wanted to take this on as a challenge, I don't know any Greek. I was teaching. It was, he asked me in July or August, I had to teach that semester. I worked on it all semester. And at the end of the semester, I finished it and he said, it's great. It's fine. Now I need you to write a translator's introduction. So I wrote about four paragraphs in which I said by an incredible coincidence, I was working on translating your Euripides "Hecuba" during a semester when I was teaching a graduate seminar on African American women's slave narratives. And I was struck all semester by how deeply Euripides understood the situation of these Trojan women who are about to be marched off into slavery in Greece and how similar the lines of the poems of the play were to the narratives I was teaching. Okay, this volume was published and I've only seeing one published review of the volume, but the first performance, the first production of this play was done in Washington, DC by an African American theatre company. And the director tried to be true to Greek tragedy tradition. Half of the characters were wearing masks. There were other things that the chorus was moving back and forth across the stage. The Washington post sent not their main reviewer, but a second string reviewer who trashed the play in the Washington post because she thought it was a production of the Trojan women, which is a completely different play by the same playwright but it's a different play. So that all of her review was about the nerve of this African American woman to change the play and to make it not true to Euripides original. Okay, and then the volume was reviewed in the New York times by famous translator scholar, Daniel Mendelsohn. He dismissed my Hecuba in two sentences, which I will read. These sentences, seem to me to indicate that he hadn't read the play. He had read the little introduction I wrote about how this play resonated with me because I'm an African American. Marilyn Nelson, the translator of Hecuba includes echoes of the spiritual nobody knows the trouble I've seen in that strange drama's choruses because Nelson who was an African American writes, Hecuba story is my great, great, great grandmother's story. However well, intentioned the gesture smacks of grand standing, it tells you a lot more about Nelson's interests and agendas than it does about Euripides. This reviewer went to great lengths in his review to disparage the translator to are all poets for not knowing Greek for not knowing ancient Greek. How can you dare to take on translation like this? If you haven't studied ancient Greek, I went to public high school. A public high school, public universities for all of my degrees. And I don't even know if ancient Greek, it certainly wasn't a possibility in high school. So I would just like to read, because Ken you said something about empathy? And I feel that one of the things a translation can do is to allow readers empathy, which they might not be able to achieve. We open the door to them to be able to empathize with experiences, which are not their own. And I think, do I have time to read for a minute or so? Hecuba about was the queen of Troy this place this play takes place right after the Trojans have lost the war. The Greeks are stranded in Troy because there's no wind. And they're waiting for the wind to come and just sort of sorting out what they have to do. And the ghost of Achilles comes and demands, Hecuba's daughter be sacrificed in his memory. And so Hecuba who's lost everything now loses a daughter and her son has been murdered. So she had, has nothing. And I would just like to read two speeches. This is Hecuba. The chorus has just told her that her daughter's been killed. My daughter, which of this throng of griefs demands most. I yield to one and they clamor around me each with its own heartbreak grief after grief a relentless tide of sorrows. And with this last wave, I find myself drowning in a sea of mother's tears, even so a cold comfort comes from knowing how free you were as you died. Isn't it strange how this little ground cultivated by the gods overflows the granary while the good soil, the God's forget grows a dry uncombed tangle. Human nature never changes the bad stay bad to the end. The good even touched by a disaster are as changeable as stars. Are we born to our nature? Or is it something learned? Surely goodness is a wise teacher and a person well taught comes to understand evil by seeing the true beauty of the good, but these are the aimless arrows of despair. And this is the last speech of the play. It's the chorus. And this is the speech in which I echoed a spiritual. We must go to our masters tents. Nobody knows why, what will happen to us there must happen. From the Harbor we must voyage to life upon the shore of bondage. Nobody knows why this must be. Fate knows no mercy, necessity is hard. Why must everything happened as it must? What is this must and why nobody knows. Nobody knows. Well, I just wanna defend myself against the allegation that this is grand standing. It seems to me to be a perfectly appropriate, suggestion and a very small suggestion, but a suggestion of parallels between the experience of an ancient woman entering slavery and the experiences of women in our country, less than 200 years ago, experiencing the same thing. That's all I had to say.

Natalie: I’m thinking. Wait, maybe we should check in, are we. Esther are we good to?

Esther: Yes.

Natalie: I think we can.

Esther: Yes, absolutely. Please just comment.

Natalie: Yeah, I mean I'm thinking a lot of the speeches, Marilyn, from Hecuba and also some of the questions that Ken was asking. And I think one of the tensions that I have with translation is that, we've been talking about power, even I think the response and the inability to hold this translation, Marilyn, I think speaks to it as well, is that the translations are often toward the citizen. And so they're reiterations of the citizen, to be of the city. And so then immediately reiterating who is not of the city, so that power structure. And I don't know if it's, if we're able to subvert it, and I'm thinking a lot of like our ideas of the profane being outside the temple yet we've come to think of the profane as having no reverence of having, of not necessarily being a center of knowledge. And I struggle a lot with empathy and also with understanding, I don't know, I actually think human beings the way we define human anyway, we're much too young or I wonder if we're too young to have empathy, like the empathy of trees I'm thinking of course, back to Sixo, and the idea of like his blood breathing, like going back to that place, even before that the human body and language as a kind of knowledge. But I guess the one question I have is that I'm thinking like, is it possible to treat translation as being with versus imagining ourselves as being able to be inside? Or so if I can't be of that language and language being that body that experience that beyond time. And I guess that's my question in terms of that power, like, what is translation, if we don't pin it down with I understand, so what does that mean? Can you be, can we be with still, which I think we do every day with things we don't understand. And so, yeah, I mean, I'm kind of playing back some of your questions Kim, especially like, is translation ever a good idea, which I think is always, that's such a powerful question. And then of course, like thinking to some of those ideas of goodness that were, being tackled in Marilyn's translation. So.

Ken: Natalie and Marilyn that's, wow, this is just, so great. I haven't had a conversation that goes into this such depth about these issues in a long while, and I'm really grateful that we're doing it. One of the things that, your remarks led me to think about is this whole idea of translation itself as an exercise of power. I was talking earlier about how, translation is always between unequal power dynamics, structures, communities, but translation itself is often an exercise of power. And I think, again, what I'm saying now may be very obvious, but I think it's important to point out what is obvious and just so people can see it. There's a huge amount of difference in saying folks like Marilyn or me who have been traditionally excluded from being deemed as viable translators of ancient classical Greek. This is a high, high prestige language. Only people who look a certain way are allowed to do it. So there's a huge difference in saying, "hey, maybe somebody else like Marilyn "can get to do the translation and say something new "that these other translators have never been able to see "or be able to eat evoke before." There's a huge difference between that versus again, say a white male who says, I don't know any Chinese, but so what I'm gonna take that and then make a translation out of it. I'm gonna own it. If you can't see the difference between those two, then I'm not sure you're really ready for having this conversation, but I think I want to point that out because sometimes, people either out of honest ignorance or just welfare trolling will say, wow, these are very similar things. Why is one, okay, not the other? Well, no, they're not the similar things at all. One they're fundamentally different because one of them is about supplementing and filling holes. Maryland's translation does not claim to exclude other translations. It does not claim to be the dominant translation from which all other translations must be excluded. It's not, it's an exercise of speaking up of laying claim to what is the highest level of Western culture to say, I have a place, we have a place. This is a act of making democracies promises come true. When someone claimed, who has no relationship to indigenous peoples or the sacred literature's that are translating and who say, "oh, I don't know anything "about classical Chinese, "but I'm gonna do a doubt as in translation, "even though I know nothing about it, "I'm just gonna put my name on it and copyright it. "And now this is my thing. "I'm a white dude and I get to do it because I'm awesome." That's a fundamentally different kind of exercise of power. And it's just, they're not even remotely comparable. And yet people often will bring these things up and say, "why are you saying this is okay "and this is not okay." Well, you can't pretend to treat things that are obviously different the same. This seems like such an obvious point, but I still wanted to make it because I know if I don't, there will be trolls who will jump in.

Marilyn: One supplementary note is that, I, myself, this, Euripides, as I said, I don't know any Greek, but the play has been translated several times into English. So I used all of the other translations and just didn't use their words. But otherwise I felt, I feel very uncomfortable pretending to translate something that's written in a language I don't know. I've only done it once somebody had prepared a trot and I just kind of prettied up the literal translation that he had made, but I don't feel comfortable doing that. And when I have taught translations, I've always insisted that students have to look at more than one translation. And then think about the fact that one translator might be able to, as I said about my Euripides one word, one translator might be interested in translating meter. And one might be interested in trying to capture the fact that the original rhymes and I mean, everybody has their one little thing, but no in my opinion, nobody can do the entirety of a work. And certainly not someone who's not a native speaker of the language. I mean, God, that really takes.

Natalie: It’s funny because as like artists, right, we're writers, it's the exact, I mean, I try not to speak in such it's the exact, but it's not different from the mindset. So we're thinking like art should be different, right. But we make sure that that asylum forms are in Arabic or migration, immigration forms are in Arabic yet this was the first year. And because I don't actually know if they did it, but that they were going to translate, or they were contemplating translating, including directionally the census form into Arabic. I believe that was this year. And so it's crazy that it's the same lens to me that we're applying in these other scenarios of power of what we decide is knowledge that should be disseminated and who it should be disseminated to. I'm thinking a lot about the credible fear questionnaire. And so a lot of our, migrants coming across the us Mexico border, many of whom are not from central or South America, but who are from Africa and other places, but there is like very few translations. And yet we were asking them questions that if they don't understand, like we're actually not worried about that because our translations are meant to reiterate those structures of power. And I, in some ways I'm just kind of hearing this treatment again, it's as if saying like translation, but only if it supports the main story, only if it supports the narrative and that narrative is, has no capacity for tension or difference, or, in some ways the unknown meaning the imagination. And so I'm also thinking of that, like, where does the imagination lie when we're thinking about translation? And yeah. And just how that is such an innate part of relationality. Like, I think the ways I think about relationality being where I was raised and how I was raised, it doesn't translate to understanding, it allows for not knowing or not understanding and somehow to still be in some sort of proximity.

Esther: I don't really want to intervene at this point because this has been such a fascinating and intense conversation. And I feel really privileged to have been part of it, to have listened to it. And I've, but I do have a question for the three of you that, I've sort of formulated listening to the three of you. You've told us a lot about ways in which democracy and translation are similar. They're both about power. They both presuppose a possibility of empathy, but that may be false, a false possibility. They're both abstract concepts that only exist truly in embodied language. And I guess my question, which really has been throughout the organization of this conference since May, or even long before that, as we knew that we were preparing something that was going to happen six weeks before an election, that was going to be a hugely important and traumatic election. This sort of deep question that I feel like Marilyn has given an answer to, and I'm not, I don't wanna say what it is, but I feel I've had sense of Marilyn's answer, but I'm very curious about Ken and Natalie's answer is as we see these, well, what we might call the crumbling of our democracy, the end of our democracy, and in some way that we had understood it to exist, can translation be a form of resistance to that? Does it offer any possibilities as a form of resistance to that? What do you think?

Ken: I have an answer, it's not a very well thought out answer, but it's one that I believe in very deeply. I've often said to people that I think, when we talk about democracies, we don't talk enough about the stuff that's outside of the constitution and the institutions that, the soft stuff that helps the hardware function, which is what Natalie referred to this sort of myth or this story of the city, of citizens. I will say this again, many people seem to suddenly be discovering our democracies are very fragile and they're sort of going crazy over the fact that the constitution actually says nothing about how electors should be picked. So, if one party wants to, they can certainly ignore the election results and to point electors to vote a certain way. People are going, are very surprised to hear that there seems to be so many loopholes in our constitution that allows things to be done. You know what, all constitutions are gonna be like that because they presuppose some shared set of stories that people in the polity tell each other and fill in the blanks. You will never, if you're a lawyer, you will never designed a document or institution that will prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Esther: You’re a lawyer, aren't you Ken?

Ken: I am a lawyer. So if you're gonna do this, you will never design a document or institutions that will be full proof. The only way democracy is function is when enough people who are voters still believing that shared mythology, that shared story. And so in terms of how this plays into translation, I think it's a question about, do we live in a world in which translation is no longer possible? I mean, translation, not in a pure linguistic sense. What I mean is, I said, repeatedly stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories are how we give meaning to abstract words. When somebody who supports president Trump says things like freedom and beauty and faith. Do they have the same stories in mind as those who are not voting for him. Is it possible to even translate between them. And I am no longer so sure. And I'm not so sure even that the act is a worthwhile one to do. When just I mean, there's so many thoughts sorting through my mind, but I'll just focus on a couple. This election is very much about competing stories. It's just that one story appears to be a story that we're all sort of, we all sort of accept and believe is, has a long, set of justifications for why and maybe the true story. The other story is the sort of story that swirls around Facebook, QAnon. And then of these other mass stories. These are stories that many people are collectively telling themselves that they construct a reality and give meaning to their lives and define words and allow them to think about love and freedom and equality and all these things in a different sense. But the fact that we now live in a world in which it is possible to have this entirely alternate reality, if you will, this entirely shared collective storytelling running in parallel with the other story it's astounding to me that we can do this. I'm not convinced that other democracies have necessarily gone through a process like this. So, to the extent that we're witnessing the crumbling of our democracy, it's in some ways a failure of collective storytelling, we are no longer able to tell the same story. And these competing stories are so incompatible that we cannot even translate between them. That's how I feel about it. I, it's not well thought out, but it's one that I struggle with a lot. And I think this is the view that makes the most sense to me.

Esther: Natalie.

Natalie: Yeah, I mean, I think I can create a proximity to democracy and the ways I feel about it and translation, and just the ways I come to language, I think is that I think translation is any translation is one origin. It's an origin, like not a beginning of something, but it's a way of like coming back to the cycle of energy and origin as in like to rise. So it's another rising. And in some ways I, not in some ways and maybe every way, right. And it will be uncomfortable, but I do want democracy to fall. And I mean, that sounds irrational to us, right. It sounds as irrational as abolition. It sounds as irrational, we're coming around with abolition. But what I mean by that is like, and I, this is kind of, I think, rising up and maybe because of something that Ken was saying about the story, right, is that, I don't know why democracy thought it would be one story, like when did that happen, that it became too afraid to create new origins within it, especially since so many of us do anyway, right. We have to, I mean, to imagine, like, I am, I can look out my window right now and see my creation mountain. And yet every day in America, I have to have a new origin so I can exist here, to exist with my wife to exist with my family, to exist in academia, to exist as speaking English like and so I guess that's what I'm thinking is that in terms of like the like translation is in some ways a submission to not knowing, right. And we're afraid of that. We're afraid of that tension. I'm afraid of it. I don't know what it's it will take for, I don't know how uncomfortable I am willing to be for what might need to happen in order for a collective of us to arrive, well beyond, or even beyond backward returning to a place that is not this right now. And so for me thinking about translation, it's, in all the ways I'm critical of it or wary of it. It's also another way of start of not starting, but just of rising again, knowing there will be a fall, but somewhere along the way we pretend that democracy couldn't have its descent meanwhile, it's been grinding some of us into the dirt. And so I, as much as I'm thinking about the possibility, I'm also thinking that there for me I don't know what it would look like or what, again, what I'm willing to do for it. But I do, I'm working hard to move myself toward a possibility that is not this democracy. The impossibility of that it feels quite large. So, yeah.

Esther: Marilyn, what are your thoughts?

Marilyn: Adjusted democracy isn't the final word, human social organization, there have been other possibilities presented. None of them so far seems to work particularly well. But it's always possible that there is someone thinking right now and coming up with, a new system that hasn't yet been introduced publicly. And that I think is where we have to hope. I think we have to hope. And as far as translation, I have a hard time talking about translation as an entity, for me translation is an act of love and everything I've ever worked on as a translator, I've worked on it because I cared about it because I love it because it seems like a way of making a contribution to the language I was born to. And therefore love. I just finished translating a novel written by a dear friend of mine. And I don't know whether anybody's gonna publish it, but it doesn't really matter. I love doing it. I started doing it because she died and it seemed like a good Memorial tribute. And then I got involved in it. And then I started noticing how she was experimenting stylistically. And then I started noticing how full the Danish language is of Onomatopoeic verbs, and how my friend was playing with them. She would give you two verbs that sounded like what they were saying. And then she would take that sound and write something else about it. And I, it got me through the first four months of this pandemic shutdown, I got up and made a cup of coffee and sat down with this Danish novel and got lost in a little village in Jutland in 1950s. And these girls who were experiencing sex for the first time, and it was a joy to do it. And so for me, the work of, I don't think about what kind of place my translations may some day take in the world. I just am enjoying playing with language and in loving the way that languages plural exist. It's amazing that we can communicate with each other at all. Just started watching this Netflix film, "My Octopus Teacher" it's just amazing. Imagine that someday, we'll be able to communicate with an octopus, the amazing thing that would, what do they think? How would we translate their experience into our experience? Is that possible? Probably not, but hey, that's an interesting idea. And in some ways that's what we're doing. I mean, actually I think Netflix and others, but Netflix might is my go to is making a tremendous contribution to the intersections of cultures. And the more, we're able to bring experiences of other linguistic communities and cultural communities into, I know, I'm sorry, I'm kind of running out of steam here, but, I spend a lot of time watching Korean television and I don't know any Korean, although I think I've probably learned maybe two words. But it's really especially historical things. It's really wonderful to enter a world, which is not at all familiar to me and to be humbled by caring about characters. I know nothing about learning, how to care about, I'm sorry, I'm blathering here.

Esther: You’re not blathering at all. In fact, I think that you have talked us down and given us something really, really beautiful, to take away from this and hope. I think you could given us hope Marilyn.

Marilyn: What can we do if we can't hope? There is a person in the world who is trying to kill our hope. That's one of his aims. And if we allow that, then we might as well just lie down and let him roll over us with a cement roller. We can't do that. We have to hope and stand against it. Okay, I'm not gonna say anything else.

Esther: I’m afraid that I have to cut everybody off because our live captioner has to leave at 8:30 and we've already gone over time. So, I, this has been extraordinary. And I can't thank you enough. Alison, do you wanna do want to say our final words?

Allison: I would also like to thank Marilyn and Ken and Natalie. It was sublime listening to each of you speak and speak together. Once again, we'd like to thank our partners. How round, PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at the graduate center, CUNY, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center. and to the GC presents promise and perils of democracy project by the Carnegie corporation of New York for their support of this evening's event. Thank you all again.

Marilyn: Thank you. I had so much pleasure in this. Thank you.

Ken: Thank you, it was amazing. Thank you everyone.

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 [email protected], or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.

Find all of our upcoming events here.

Upcoming Events


Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First