Thanks to the Col·lectiu Emma we have found this delightful article published in Granta by the poet and translator, Rowan Ricardo Philips.
Translation, at the best of times, should be a form of welcome. But for me, translating from Catalan into English sometimes feels more like a form of farewell. As I work I feel both languages equally alive, equally limber; equally conversant, competitive and playful. At these moments I am free from the immense gravitational pull of English and free from the centric tug of Spanish. If only, I think to myself in the middle of a translation, I could keep both the banality of ‘she whispered’ and the absurd beauty of the original word xiuxiuejava, how by a strange twist of fate the two words strongly hint at a rhyme, how simply cool the rangy assonance of a phrase as plain as ‘Ah! Ho haveu vist?’ (‘Ah! Have you seen it?’) is for the mouth and the mind.
Has a more beautiful language ever flowered from Vulgar Latin than Catalan? This naked joy gained from the simultaneity betwixt and between two languages is the translator’s great pleasure and also, eventually, the translator’s great and inevitable loss. With Catalan I feel that loss rather sharply as the English version further comes into focus, options discarded, everything soon ossifying into the final draft and subsequent published translation. This is in part due to Catalan’s diaphanous literary status and our sad tendency to settle for the illusion of a single-tongued Spain: a mirage of a house with Castilian spackling its holes like sores. The result has been a very visitable but not entirely visible Spain. And now with economic crises everywhere you turn and fewer people visiting, Spain is clearly not well. It has sold itself until prosperous and now has spent itself to quick ruin. Let’s hope this is temporary. In the meantime, we readers should take this opportunity to get a better view inside of this imagined house. We should strip the walls and look at Spain as Spain really is, not as it’s practical for us to pretend it to be. Translation from the Catalan – as well as from Basque, Galician and the other languages of the peninsula – is one of the most useful and poignant vehicles through which to do so.
Yet translation by itself solves little. The work of translation is to act out everything and explain nothing. As your skin is not an explanation of who you are, a translation is hardly an explanation of another culture. I translate from Catalan to English not so that the latter stands in for the former but to encourage the English-language reader that much closer to Catalan culture. The rest is up to the will of the reader. May she or he strive to be a citizen of the world. This is precisely why translation is a form of farewell: it demands a letting go.
Tyrants have tried, legislators have tried – but nothing can glean a language from the face of the earth like translation. And thus although translation is essential to knowing who we are, how we live and what we have achieved, it should never become under any circumstances what will suffice.