In On Translation, Paul Ricoeur highlighted the role of mourning in the act of translation. In Ricoeur’s view, the translator must renounce the ideal of the perfect translation, the translation that is fully equivalent to the source. This is akin to the work of mourning in psychoanalysis, where the fact of original separation must be acknowledged so that life can move forward. This is why Ricoeur writes (in Eileen Brennan’s rendering): “In translation…work is advanced with some salvaging and some acceptance of loss.”
The subject of mourning seems especially pertinent in these fraught, uncertain times. We launch this Spring 2020 issue of Exchanges into a world that is heavy with disenchantment and loss during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the Literary Translation MFA at the University of Iowa, we too are dealing with the pain of isolation from our cherished colleagues and friends. Many of our first-year students are cancelling summers abroad and immersion in their source languages; while graduating second-years are bidding what feels like a premature goodbye to this program and our brilliant professors.
Like everyone, we are seeking connection wherever we can, assembling the current issue from within the safety of our respective homes. The issue’s theme, Enclosures, was partly inspired by the interiors depicted in the gorgeous artwork of YooJung Hong. But the theme also resonated due to the unexpected confluence of two of our pieces: Julia de Souza’s “[diptych]” (tr. Daniel Persia) and Juan Diego Pérez’s “Triptych” (tr. Hannah Kauders). Both of these pieces evoke the polyptych, a type of painting sectioned into different panels that can be opened and shut. We were charmed by the idea of the source and translation as a kind of polyptych, as two halves of a greater whole, each part serving as a counterpart and complement to the other. Our very page design, displaying source and translation side by side, happily fit this idea as well.
The enclosure of a polyptych also serves to protect the artwork inside. To trot out yet another translation metaphor, it was Walter Benjamin who compared language to a house, to the dwelling place that safeguards the act of communication. We observe the uncanny evocation of enclosures in Afrizal Malna’s “A Ruler to Measure Shadows” (tr. Hannah Ekin), where the protagonist’s “whole body worked to guard an inner feeling of warmth…So the cold wind wouldn’t make a home within his body.” Shut within our homes, locked inside our Zoom boxes, we are constantly reminded of the vulnerability of our bodies. Fragile though we are, the writers and translators of Enclosures are committed to the fragile act of communication, together with all its risks, all its rewards.
—David Smith, Managing Editor