Friday Finds: Translating Trash

The series “Friday Finds” started in 2016, as a way to talk about Lina Mounzer’s “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria“:

Now, Mounzer writes on translating trash. Since we take apart this trash talking in the next Bulaq — the last before our summer hiatus — we’d love you to read it (once, twice, ten times) before listening.

It opens:

When we speak of translation in these end-of-days, it is often in the loftiest of tones, as though it were a sacred duty undertaken by devoted adepts prostrating themselves before the altar of language. The self is renounced, the greed for authorship forsworn in service of a greater calling, which is no less than bridging the gaps between the peoples and cultures of the world.

This is certainly true if you’re translating, say, Don Quixote, or Heian-period Japanese poetry, or a new novel by Senegal’s latest rising star. But only a small minority of translators have the skill, opportunity, and financial security required to take on such labors of love. The rest of us, to earn a living wage, will have to make do with whatever garbage we can get. By garbage I mean any or all of the following: corporate-speak, brand manifestos, NGO reports, think tank reports, letters from government agencies replying to American oil companies, letters from government agencies replying to human rights organizations, prose written by self-professed wunderkinds whose trust funds and unearned self-confidence are paying for the translation, and that vilest genre of all, the art text.

Read the whole essay at The Paris Review.