Not Getting Lost in Translation

The Europeans are having a small fit right now over translating Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” More than one translator has been asked to do the work and then had the request rescinded. When I first heard this a week ago it made sense to me, the Black American experience is unique. There are words and turns of phrases unique to their communities and experiences. It’s not enough to translate a work, we have lost so much of the artistry of many works in their translations. Works need to be translated by those who can best embody the voice and intent of the original writer.

Today, another article, another translator commented on his ability to translate Gorman’s work by stating he respects the complicated nature of the subject, but if he can’t translate a work written by a black 21st century woman, neither should he be translating Homer or Shakespeare as he is not a BC era Greek nor a 16th century Englishman. This is a hogwash statement and the translator should know better. If I had to guess, this mentality is what caused him to “not fit the profile” the publisher was looking for.

Two people alive at the same time are considered contemporaries. There are different standards we should be holding ourselves to when it comes to contemporary art. 600 years from now everyone on the planet will be able to consider Amanda Gorman’s work part of their collective narrative, but right now, in this time, it is not yours. Amanda Gorman and Amanda Gorman alone can determine who she deems fit to accurately represent her voice in a foreign language. If we can’t give contemporary creators control over their works, how can we ever expect to maintain the integrity of their original intent?

Let us not forget, no one is telling these people they can’t translate the work for their own edification. No one is stopping you from translating a modern work into another language to share it with your grandmother. But this is paid work. Amanda Gorman’s works will monetarily benefit those that translate them for publishers. If she doesn’t want to forward the career of a particular translator that is her right.

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I mostly write for me and on the off chance that someone can gain something from my thoughts I publish them here.

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Samuel Smurlo

I mostly write for me and on the off chance that someone can gain something from my thoughts I publish them here.