From Jacques Lezra’s End of Translation:
“The question of how humanists make the case for the value of their disciplines to others […] is a matter, it is understood, of translation.”
Translation and politics are intimately linked in the view of this paper and he notes that translation is a “master term” when discussing the understanding of the Humanities and their current state, and the place they hold in a society in which they are dwindling.
I am a Comparative Literature major, and our program is very small. In addition to the fact that the humanities are dwindling, we have a firm requirement of taking upper level courses in a language other than English. This tends to scare people away from the program, which is unfortunate because it is a great one (I’ll admit, I’m biased as the Undergraduate Departmental Representative of the major!)
As someone who is very passionate about language, culture and communication I am always startled when I come across people who aren’t because to me language is one of, if not the most essential ways that we communicate with one another and I believe that we should be encouraging multilingualism because with different languages come different ways of thinking, and everyone can benefit from that. I’m not saying that language learning is something that everyone needs to do (I know that for some people it is an impossibility) but rather that widening our gazes into other ways of life is essential towards looking at each other deeply and complexly, and being multilingual can help with that.
At the very least, I believe that one should study other cultures and traditions, even if only from a monolingual standpoint, in order to gain a mutual understanding with others on this earth. In the wake of this, translation, in all its complexity, is made even more necessary. Not only do we have to translate the words, but sometimes even concepts.
People sometimes argue nature vs. nurture. Whatever one might believe, it is indubitable that where we grow affects how we do so. There is no denying there is inequality in this world, and as my Mythology Professor pointed said the other day in class – despite what we tell our children not everyone can do everything they set out to in life, and many people are born into this world who are at a crippling disadvantage. Some crosses are too hard to bear. Looking at the world like this can be bleak, but it is a reality. And I seriously doubt that we can ever fully grasp the realities of others without humanities and without translation.
In the same essay referenced before, End of Translation, Lezra speaks about rights and asks whether they are “translatable across cultures, languages, races, religions in the name, or under the aegis, of a purportedly universal standard which is also a universal translating machine: ‘Human’ rights?” This is a startling question, and one I cannot possibly answer in a blog post. I will leave you with this question and encourage you to read the essay in full.*
I hope that readers of this blog enjoy my musings, because while I’ll write them anyway, it’s fun to see what other people think.
*Jacques Lezra, End of Translation: https://humanitiesfutures.org/papers/end-of-translation/