[OPE-L] Language imperialism, lost in translation

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Apr 14 2007 - 09:12:17 EDT

New translations battle "language imperialism"
by Lenora Todaro
April 9th, 2007 4:19 PM

Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers
Edited by Samantha Schnee, Alane Salierno Mason, and Dedi Felman
Anchor, 367 pp., $14

Words Without Borders does Lonely Planet one better: It mainlines the
experience of elsewhere-the wanderlust, the delirium of dislocation. Culled
by the editors of Wordswithoutborders.org, the online magazine for
literature in translation, these 28 stories, essays, and poems by mostly
unknown writers (at least to American readers) are introduced by writers
better known to us: Jonathan Safran Foer on Chinese "revolutionary humanist"
Ma Jian, whose story "Where Are You Running To?" joins Communism and music
to the loss of human dignity in a whirlwind of anxiety; Heidi Julavits on
the young Norwegian writer Johan Harstad's "Vietnam. Thursday," which draws
a depressed shrink out of his torpor while talking with a woman scarred by
napalm; Josť Saramago on Argentine writer Juan Josť Saer's "Baked Mud," in
which a deaf man is plied with wine "so he'd tell us about droughts he had
seen that were worse than this one, just to know that such calamities . . .
did not mean that this bitch of a life was coming to an end." Bleakness
abounds, but rarely gratuitously.

Read two or three a day, these stories etch maps in your mind, an Amazing
Race drawn from literature: Find the Tajrish Bridge in Iran, or the Cola
Bridge in West Beirut. Surrealism and realism flourish equally. Indonesian
writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma's "Children of the Sky" is an incantatory opera
in prose about impoverished children "slithering out of sewage drains."

The lone African entry, "The Uses of English" by Nigerian Akinwumi Isola,
stands out for its vivid characters, whose skill at hurling insults reach a
fever pitch in the village when a woman's son is sent out to use his
rudimentary, comically misunderstood English to ratchet up the mockery.

"Language imperialism," a phrase Wole Soyinka uses in his introduction to
the story, is appropriate to this anthology as a whole, intended as a
corrective to the disheartening statistic that out of all books in
translation now published worldwide, 50 percent are rendered from English
but only 6 percent into English. The message of this anthology is clear: Let
a thousand English translations bloom.

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