Madhuri Lalwani responds to Writing Back, in Translation by Robert J. C. Young
‘Translators’, we are told, ‘want to translate, love to translate’. Do they love to translate, or love in order to translate? – Robert Young, Writing Back, in Translation
Reading these lines, I wonder if it can be a question, with a lurking privilege of choice in the hands of a translator. Through various stories of love, of translation, of writing back in an unconventional, lyrical and refreshing manner, the readers experience the two situations—of translating to love and loving in order to translate. He offers a fresh perspective on translation and ties together the various conversations about it with stories of contemporary relevance. The form employed is not just exceptionally poetic; one can wander through episodes of arrivals and departures—almost journeying through all that remains sent yet unsaid, lingering between the two ends. He draws for us a picture of soulful exchanges, beginning with a letter he musters all his courage responding to a postcard by T—one that bears the weight of words “Don’t write back”, a letter he calls “a declaration of detachment and separation”. She wrote back to him, without having received his letter. Another letter that never reached its destination was returned to her by the new owner. But after the protagonist had moved. These failed attempts at communication (as furious and sorrowful they make me) hint at the untranslatable—that which wanders between languages and can’t fully be expressed—not because of the failure of the translator, but notorious words that escape two positions of finality, between two languages.
Young simultaneously aligns the self, the translator, and the lover in a meta-narrative. One speaking of the lover betrays the lover—but only intends to give the lover an eternity, in writing and in translation. Here, a translator may translate because they love to, but they would also inevitably translate to love.
His question, “Is not all writing in some sense a writing back?” (7), truly captures the position of the self, of writing, and of translators at any point of time, in a rhizomatic world. In its endless multiplicities, the world will always make room for more translations, more lovers, more arrivals and departures. To Write Back to the colonizer is then one of the attempts to write, question and, resist the other (here, colonizer), and perhaps the other within the self, or even the past. Translations “can never be arrested in their movements, sinuous, unpredictable, sliding through the sensuality of their signifiers, compelled by a love that knows no return” (9). And maybe a love that mustn’t worry about returning! I believe it is an act of love, one that requires a leap of faith into a territory not always known and perhaps doesn’t concern the refugee, who has learned to appreciate the in-between. It is an act of resistance simply because it refuses the reality assigned to the translated, the other. It is an act of transformation because of the endless possibilities of change it can create and enable—like an assemblage—connections that were earlier disparate: be connections of past and present, lover and beloved, translator and translated, or colonizer and colonized. Translations—the multiple, the untranslatable—threaten authority and finality and allow for harmony and togetherness, mediating endless possibilities of love, of “empowerment, transformation and radical self-translation” (10), and of becoming. In true rhizomatic fashion, we must ask how can one not love to translate and translate to love?
1. Young, Robert JC. “Writing Back, In Translation.” Writing Back In/and Translation. Edited by Raoul J. Granqvist, Peter Lang, 2006.