Why is collaborative translation so problematic? Is everything not interpretation? A form of translation? Though not necessarily purely written language based — but aren’t those layers of language how we get to a meaning of something — either create or derive something from something else?
Translation is not a defined act. It is not baking a cake which requires more defined ratios of ingredients or else it will not bake properly, or a plant that will die if watered too much — a drowned orchid — it is much more flexible, resilient — perhaps: beautifully plastic — because it morphs into one another — into different shapes and comes out in a similar shape. Maybe it is like dough in the most general sense of what dough is.
It is also possible to shape that dough with one or multiple hands. It is possible to create a dough in the same way with one or multiple persons’ hands. The fingerprints are different — the result is different but same. Every person(s) that makes the dough may use the same recipe but the dough is always in the shape and form of their own unique touch(es). But it doesn’t necessarily erase authorship or create a form of puppetry. It does not litigate. It is another form of the same work. And maybe the idea behind that is not even necessarily some concrete substance but more of the ineffable essence that must be conveyed — but also back to baking metaphors maybe it is a little of each that is needed to create the final ‘product’ — a treatment that is multilayered and nonlinear (baking is [tends to be] a very linear process) [So maybe it is more of a rhizomatic economy that springs up but doesn’t necessarily have a center/beginning but always is in the middle of action — in media res — and that is the shape of the body of translation].
Maybe this is completely naive but it is also the idea of authorship and the pressures of perfection and language that have precisely pushed my own mouth and mind and hand away from translation for fear that what I create out of the act of translation will be wholly false. A false idol of the original work. But this is not something to dwell on but interrogate as this feeling, I think, is pervasive for a multitude of reasons — but also for someone who is fluent and people who are not — like myself — I mean, how can one ever know what exactly is on someone else’s mind when they wrote what they wrote? Especially if they are not dead? But of course questions can be asked. However, isn’t the inhabitation of memory too — the same as interpretation that happens during acts of translation? It is an idea of an idea — a thought of a thought. Which is not to deny that there is artwork out there that is born of a very specific time/place — physical influence — emotional influence — but I also want to speak to the slipperiness of the mind. And that there is a lack of purity of thought and hence why I think that although there may have been a kind of ‘purity’ during creation this is also why we create symbols and images that have meaning other than their purpose and object usage/definition. Such as an image of an umbrella, or sunlight, or rain — most simplistic but these are images without context that have an opening for interpretation. For example, no one truly knows what this plastic cup means to me — and no one would know unless I explained it so if I tried to write about surgery but it winds up talking about a plastic cup — how are those connections made? If translated what would be taken from my life to create context? What if it was taken only for their words? See — all of these things present their own issues and obstacles to fight with/against and through.
So, I think that the act of translation is always a deeply collaborative process — there is always a dialogue whether:
author <-> translator
translator <-> author
multiple-author <-> translator
translator <-> multiple-author
multiple-author <-> multiple-translator
multiple-translator <-> multiple-author
author <-> author
translator <-> translator
multiple-author <-> multiple-author
multiple-translator <-> multiple-translator
So why is it problematic to have multiple translators when that is a beautiful collaboration of coming into meaning via a chorus of voices? Is the single author/single translator not a duo in harmony as well? Perhaps the idea is that we are baking cookies. We both bring ingredients and measure them out, we combine them, and pop them into a cooking device and out comes a beautiful cookie.
Kim Koga is the author of Ligature Strain from Tinfish Press. Her work can be found in 1913 a journal of forms, Erotoplasty, and Burning House Press. Since completing an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, her day job has moved from publishing to tech yet she continues to write, make art, and maintains a breadbox in southern California. @KimKoga